Who knew the DMV had its own record label? I am sure I am not the only one shocked to find this out. So many solo artists and acts here are clamoring for the attention of out-of-town-based labels like Bad Boy, Sony, Slaughterhouse, Def Jam etcetera. Meanwhile, other artists view major label attention as completely unattainable and choose to instead bask in the soothing attention of the local underground fan base complete with groupies, VIP club status and accompanying perks. Today, I have the pleasure of meeting with a much more ambitious soldier in the music game army. He goes by the name of Glen Finao Johnson on Facebook and friends call him J.R. The company can also be found at facebook.com/Years.Never.Corrected. Follow Mr. Johnson on Twitter @djwhoknew.
Today is January 15, 2013.
Me: DJ WhoKnew did you know during your dee-jaying days that you would now be Glen Johnson, the chief executive officer of your own record label?
J.R.: I’d been dee-jaying with no real dream of label ownership. But I always wanted to learn more. So I guess in a way it was always in the back of my mind. Much of what I’d been doing during my dee-jaying days was research and trying to understand each aspect of the music business before I started or really pushed the label.
When I was in high school, I wanted to be a rapper and a music producer. I was always joining ciphers but I wasn’t as polished as everybody else. I had just started rapping in the 11th grade.
Me: So when did you have the vision for the label?
J.R.: The vision for the label started in 2002 when I met one of my best friends, Vidal Moreta. Me, Vidal and my little brother Cortez made up the original Y.N.C, the Young Notorious Crew.
J.R.: Yeah, exactly, so what happened was I used my understanding of the music business at the time to get studio time for us and find a producer. These activities put me in a managerial role.
Also, my uncle Danny McCrimmon was a drummer.
He did work with Stevie Wonder and a lot of R&B acts back in the day. He’s now a gospel producer. He has a studio, McJam Multimedia (https://www.facebook.com/dannymcjamz). He gave us studio time and taught me a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff. I gained an understanding of what makes for impressive marketing material instead of just the usual free-styling and battling.
Our first recording as Young Notorious Crew was through a producer (his name escapes me right now) who had done work with Wu Tang, Styles P. and the Lyricist Lounge Movement. So I understand from a rapper’s standpoint what it takes to be nice. I followed the footsteps of the great rappers of that time. I was getting information from various producers and artists. I was doing party promoting, club security, starting to form a clothing line…and I had a lot of great people around me.
Me: Okay, the name of the label is Y.N.C, but the acronym has changed to stand for Years Never Corrected. Can you elaborate on the meaning?
J.R.: The company started from the group. [He chuckles.] I remember I ran the name by my cousin who said it connoted an image you don’t want to draw to your company. So I tried to figure out how to keep the acronym that we were already known under. I didn’t have a lot of people to help so I started to look at my life and the words just came to me.
We came from the same home. Everyone I started with each came from major cities that were hit by drugs and gangs and single mom homes. We knew a side of the violence and streets so it became fitting to…
Me: When you say “we” who are you referring to?
J.R.: Oh, the original Y.N.C. members, my boy Vidal who was from Queens, my friend, Martin who was from Philly, and me and Cortez were from DC.
Me: Okay, thanks for the clarification.
Now, my limited experience in this business has lent me the knowledge that almost every independent artist wants to be picked up by a record label. That alone lets me know that your knowledge base is different from most. What does it take to run a record label?
J.R.: Wow, that question is like a “why are we here question”. The ability to run a successful record label…the work behind that is staggering. I continually study the movements of the greats, Barry Gordy of Motown, Russell Simmons and Rick Ruben of Def Jam, Jermaine Dupree, Clive Davis of Arista.
[He takes a deep breath of silent admiration and starts again.]
People feel like the business of selling music is selling out but artistry and record sales have to match. That’s why it’s a business. My ultimate goal is to match great music and provide a living for the artist and myself.
Me: Thank you. What’s day to day label management like?
J.R.: There are so many facets of the business that will eat up the kind of day you have and the budget…you have to steer the career of artists who often don’t know where they want to go.
Me: Tell me about that, steering individual egos.
J.R.: Developing an artist is key, i.e. placing novices in the midst of veteran artists. Look at how Barry Gordy put the young Michael Jackson around seasoned artists like Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder. Even though he was a child, he was already disciplined and placing him around experienced musicians allowed him to pull from so much creativity. Also, successful label artists tend to feed off each other in a symbiotic kind of way.
Me: Indeed. Is that how you develop your artists?
J.R.: That’s kind of how I’ve been working with Prophecy (referring to his label artist Profa Loudpack Piffster). When I first met him, I didn’t know who he was but he already had 3 mixtapes recorded. He already had the drive and the discipline.
Now, back when I met Profa, I was bugging P. Cutta for an internship. He was the first deejay that started to put diss records on mixtapes and he gave me a marketing internship. P. Cutta’s Thursday showcases/open mics at Bar None (now Pure Lounge on U St. N.W. D.C.) were called Hip Hop University. So I put Prof in the middle of the artists performing on Thursday nights, Tabi Bonney, AP the Prince, LCD (P Cutta’s producer), Ice the Villain, and my man Work from Baltimore. I put him into ciphers with them.
Me: I understand in order to develop his skills as an artist. Very smart. And now with a developed artist, promotion is obviously key. I know last week Profa performed at the DC Soundstage and next month he’s auditioning for Live at the Apollo in New York….
Explain the need right now for investors and distribution execs.
J.R.: Investor money can contribute to marketing. $5,000 to $10,000, TV shows, interviews, music videos, vlogs (video blogs), major hip hop magazines articles, and radio spins. Promotional materials also cost money. You know, things that leave an impression like flyers, pens, and tee shirts. You need visuals to blow up. Money helps you reach mainstream level people.
Me: I totally understand. So even in the absence of major investors, who is helping you with artist development and marketing?
J.R.: With the company now I have a great group, Latoya Thomas, my Chief Operating Officer, she is my right hand, Charisma Boyce and my cousin Bianca Lee do marketing work.
[Special shout out to fabulous Latoya Thomas for printing my review of Profa’s mixtape, "Weeds", taping it up in her car and forcing everyone who rides with her to read it! Latoya, you rock for that for real!
Now back to the interview…
Me: Who are your artists?
J.R.: Profa, Mr. 1300 , and we have a partnership through another label named 50/50 to work with artist Island Doc. Profa and Island Doc are dropping a mixtape in March. Also we just acquired a new artist named Ritchie Rello.
[Click the link to listen to the latest singles with Profa and Island Doc on Sound Cloud. My personal favorite is “I’m Good.” Singles on Sound Cloud]
Now back to the interview…
Me: Right now you’re working two jobs and filling your mind with knowledge taking classes at the Art Institute. I lived that life and can relate to it. I also know about dedicating all your resources to a dream. Tell me what you are currently funding by yourself. I would love to share examples of your professionalism here.
J.R.: I fund almost the entire business by myself. I also work as a Studio Technician at my school to get more knowledge despite the pay cut.
Me: Who are some people you can point to immediately who you know can put your artists in the limelight with the right funding?
J.R.: Oh, any of the urban radio stations and getting distribution through any of the major record labels like EMI, Sony, Universal or Warner if just for the prestige alone.
Me: Who are some people in both your personal and professional lives that you are glad to work with and inspire you to push on despite setbacks?
J.R.: I am so glad I met Profa. I am not sure how he feels about me but he changed my life. He is so strong in his artistry and he is like-minded. We work together on what makes sense and is attributable to forward movement. Another friend Ndu Ashiogwu is an arm of my checks and balances system. We don’t always see eye to eye but he always makes sense. I have to shout out my Aunt Delores, my grandfather, and my late grandmother. I remember her dying words were “I believe in what you’re doing. Don’t worry about anybody else. Keep doing what you’re doing.” She passed from pancreatic cancer in 2004. What I do is driven by the relationship with my grandmother though.
I can’t forget to mention my mom, Pamela Carter. Even though we don’t see eye to eye and she doesn’t understand anything I’m doing, at the end of the day, she’s there so I can’t be too mad at her.
Me: That reminds me of my sister, Marcia Kimm. She loves me but I don’t think she has even clicked on my blog once.
J.R.: Shout out to Miss Sarah.
Me: Who me? lol
J.R.: Yes. I’m calling you by your first name from now on because you’re the first publication that we have. So we’re in your corner from now on. As we grow you will always have the first interview.
Me: Aww, that is so sweet. You’re the first person I’ve interviewed to tell me something like that during their interview!
J.R.: Shout out to Bold Bite, a restaurant at 4901 Fairmont Avenue Bethesda, MD 20814. Bold Bite gave us our first corporate sponsorship and were willing to give me the sign off, putting my name with their name. Dedication from others means a lot to me because this business is a lot of sleepless nights. I have peoples’ lives invested in this dream.
Me: No doubt. [I felt humbled by his humility.]
J.R.: I want to end with this quote, “We’re born, we live, we die….. But in between there are the connections we make with one another….. The trials we endure mostly keeping a smile all along hurting on the inside…But we stay strong through it all… Because of hope…Faith…Perseverance…We triumph over our obstacles…To reach that part in life we call success… I say never give up on anything that drives you to better yourself…With a dream comes the life style of humanity…’ Think about it.