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Steve Rifkind on Loud Records, Spring Sound, Wu-Tang Clan, and the Family Business

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Steve Rifkind is the founder of Loud Records, SRC Records, and his new label Spring Sound. Loud Records, which celebrated its 25th anniversary last January 2020, is one of the most influential record labels in hip-hop with artists like Wu Tang Clan, Twista, and Akon. In this episode, Steve shares what it was like when he first started out in the industry, walking us through the changes he has seen since then until now. He also talks about Loud Record’s anniversary event and his close relationship with DMX.

Reminisce about the ‘90s and early 2000s, and see things from the perspective of a legend in the music industry.

Episode Highlights:

[03:28] What the music industry was like 40 years ago compared to now

[07:52] On Akon’s popularity and the rise of Youtube

[12:38] On leveraging joint ventures with artists

[17:28] What Steve is capable of offering and doing as a record label executive

[19:58] Why the emergence of CDs led to a downshift in the industry

[23:35] On the brand and identity of Steve’s artists

[28:15] The importance of music in culture

[30:25] How Steve is preparing his daughter for the role of CEO

[32:02] Loud Records’ 25-anniversary event

[33:58] On Steve’s close relationship with DMX

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Watch:

Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co

Guest: Steve Rifkind, @steverifkind, Spring Sound 

Trapital is home for the business of hip-hop. Gain the latest insights from hip-hop’s biggest players by reading Trapital’s free weekly memo

Transcript

Dan: Hey, welcome to the Trapital podcast. I’m your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie.

Today’s conversation was fun. I had a really good conversation with Steve Rifkind who is the founder of Loud Records, founder of SRC, and the founder of Spring Sound, which is a new record label that he recently started.

Steve’s a legend in the game and he’s a legend in hip-hop too. He actually got into the industry, he worked closely with his father who was a record label executive, and then Steve became a record label exec himself. Loud Records was big time. It had some of the biggest acts of the 90s and the 2000s. They had Wu-Tang Clan, Twista, Terror Squad, Akon.

They had such a strong roster and we talked through that and it was great to reminisce because they had a 25th anniversary celebration of Loud Records right before the pandemic started. So, in January 2020, they had a 25th anniversary event right in Manhattan and it was really special to see all those acts come through.

One of the surprises at the event was DMX. He wasn’t formally part of Loud Records at the time but he developed a pretty close relationship with Steve and Steve became his business manager for the most recent years up until the time that he passed and Steve and him had developed a pretty close relationship and we talked a lot about that too.

Listen, Steve and I covered a lot in this conversation. It was really great to talk to him. I learned a lot. I hope you do too. Here’s my chat with Steve Rifkind.

 

INTERVIEW

Dan: We got Steve Rifkind here, who is the founder of Loud Records, one of the most influential record labels in hip-hop and I gotta ask, you’ve been in the industry for so many years, you are a family person in this industry, your son, your father as well being involved, how does it feel? Because I feel like that just must bring everything together with everything that you’ve accomplished in music.

 

Steve: Man, that’s really — it’s funny that you asked that question because I was thinking about it last night. I found a picture of me and my dad and I must have been like 18, 19 years old and then I, you know, calculated like how old — he was 30 years older than me so he was 50, you know, and it’s like I’m older than him now. Like from that picture, I’m 59 so I was like, man, and then just comparing my relationship with him and then my relationship with my kids. It’s mind boggling to me.

I mean, I just had lunch with, like I mean with Shawn Holiday, who used to be president of Columbia Urban Music and now he’s with Azoff and, you know, I was just telling him how it was different when I was starting to now, but I’m really enjoying it now where, you know, I just started a new label with my son and my nephew and we named the label after my dad’s label and it’s really just given me life, like I wake up motivated, I wake up hungry. I mean, I gotta lose 15 pounds but it’s something that I’m really, really, really, really excited about.

 

Dan: And that’s cool, especially just how much you’ve seen in such a long period of time but also just the changes as well and the fact that you’re excited about it, I feel like there’s just so much that is different and I guess we could start there. What has been the biggest differences for you? Because I’m sure, at its heart, this is music, you’re putting it out, you need to adapt to whatever the climate is, but this is a very different era than the one you started in, right?

 

Steve: Another great question, Dan. It’s funny that you said that. So, when I started, 43 years ago, take the streaming and the business away for a second, the model pretty much is the same. Now, it’s about single-driven business and being consistent and having a steady flow of product. When I started, going through an independent distributor, which Spring did, it was always about a consistent flow of products so you know you could get paid from the distributors. 

So, the business, the dollars and cents are different, but it’s like, all right, it’s a single and just keep on putting it — you know, my dad would put out, I think, it’s anywhere between 10 to 15 but let’s just say 10 for the sake of saying 10, he would put out 10 singles a month and we would sell, and this was 12-inch vinyl, right? I’m not even talking about the cassettes, I’m not even talking about the 45s.

This is 1980, where we would sell the single for $2 to a retail store and the retail store would buy it for like — sell it for like $3.99. So, if we put out 10 singles a month and we say we just did 2,000 each single, right? That’s $20,000, times two, we were making $40,000 a month and that was our philosophy and the album, if we ever came to an album, that would be $4.

So, when I started Spring, I sat down with my son, Alex, and my nephew, Cooper, and I said, “Listen, I wanna put out a single a week,” right? We have five artists now and then we’re gonna sign a whole bunch of other artists, everything else like that, but if we’re consistent, that’s how we’re gonna get paid. And two of them are definitely gonna break.

So, I’m using what I learned in my beginning dates to right now and I’m learning from them the whole digital marketing and everything like that but the philosophy of just putting out the records and getting cash flow is by putting out singles.

 

Dan: And hearing you break down those numbers of the vinyl days, I feel like there’s certain artists now that would love if that was the case now, if they could put out a single and then they knew that, okay, we put out 2,000 of these, we’re gonna get $20,000, but now it’s just so different. I mean, it’s less than a penny per stream, just based on how things often flow. It’s different, of course, if you’re owning your own record label and those things but, at its core, it’s still the same, even though I’m sure the numbers are so different.

 

Steve: Yeah, I don’t even know what the numbers, like I’m scratching my head every single day. It’s like, all right, if we do 5 million streams, what is that? You know? It sounds like a lot. It’s like, you know, when you go to — I mean, I think Italy now, you know, is with the Euro but I remember when they had their own money, like I remember going to Italy for the first time and just cashing out and they gave me like $20 million but it was only like $100.

Like, I mean, so I don’t even know what it means, you know, if we do 5 million or 10 million but, you know what? If we put out 10 singles a month in each one of those five, 10 times 5, that’s 50 million singles a month I’m doing and I just gotta figure out what that math is and, you know, that’s just streaming. I mean, who knows what it is on YouTube, so on and so on.

 

Dan: Right, and I imagine on the other side too, has there been a look at, okay, with Spring, specifically, in the old days, you could have monetized just the music and been fine but, here, there’s all these other ways to continue to look beyond it, whether it’s your merch or your touring and a lot of that stuff existed before, for sure, but now I feel like there’s a bit more pressure to monetize those things just given how much volume you need from streaming to make up that same number.

 

Steve: 100 percent. 100 percent, you know? And it’s something that, again, I’m really excited about, you know? A few weeks ago, I went on YouTube and just all my old stuff that I don’t own anyone, that, you know — but I looked and I was, I’m gonna say 10 billion in views but it was a little bit less, it was like 9, you know? So, it’s just like, man, if I own 25 percent of that, I’m making real money.

 

Dan: That’s legit. That’s legit, yeah, and I don’t know if you have the breakdown but from that old stuff, I’m curious. is most of that Wu-Tang or I know you had so many artists but I know that they were, you know, so big for —

 

Steve: No. Most of those, Akon was 3 billion alone.

 

Dan: Oh, wow. Wow. Yeah, no, that makes sense. I mean, so much of his music, especially some of that stuff from the 2000s, still gets played a lot now but, yeah, I think that would surprise you because I think a lot of people would have expected Wu-Tang, not just that but just given how valuable them as a group and IP, just their legacy, how much has continued.

 

Steve: You know, but I think the reason why Akon is so — that number so big, you know, that album came out exactly when YouTube was started so Akon’s second album came out 2006 so you’re talking about Wu-Tang came out ’93 so that’s 13 years but, yeah, it was like 3.4 billion with Akon records.

 

Dan: Yeah, and that’s a good point about the streaming piece and, I mean, “Smack That” and “I Wanna Love You,” I think those are the two biggest songs from that album. Those still get so much play.

 

Steve: And “Don’t Matter.” 

 

Dan: Oh, yeah, “Don’t Matter” too.

 

Steve: “Don’t Matter”, I think, was bigger than “Smack That.”

 

Dan: Oh, wow.

 

Steve: You know? And then they were ringtones.

 

Dan: Oh, yeah, that’s true.

 

Steve: And that was, you know, so the ringtones were like, I didn’t care, you know? I remember having a conversation with somebody from the LA Times and they were saying, “Are you upset that you didn’t debut number one?” I said, “I don’t care that I didn’t debut number one,” because if there was a chart, which there’s a chart now, I guarantee you, I made more money than anybody did when we came out that week because Game came in number one, we came in number two, but we had “Smack That” and “I Wanna Love You” as ringtones 10 times to 15 times more than the next opponent and that’s where the real fortune was making with us because that was new money. That was like, you know, on your P&L like this new line item, I was like, “Where the fuck is this coming from?”

 

Dan: And I feel like that too, and you correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t necessarily feel like you all had an intention of like, “Let’s go make ringtone rap music,” ’cause I know that was a wave back then. I feel like those songs just happened to blow up.

 

Steve: I had no idea what that was. I didn’t even know — I remember the CFO at Republic said to me, “This thing — the ringtone level is…” I’m like, “What’s a ringtone?” and after the meeting, he took me into his office and he showed and I was like — and David Banner had a huge ringtone too with “Play” so I was like — he goes — it was like when the CD came so going back to the math, when we would sell the album for $4, same marketing cost, the CD came and I’m selling the CD for $10 so, all of a sudden, you had a $6 margin and that’s why the record companies got lazy, right? So, all of a sudden, we have a new line item and it’s like this thing is bringing in millions of dollars to the bottom line out of nowhere.

 

Dan: Yeah, because I remember, I think T-Pain had said once that he was making more from ringtones than he was from the albums and I know he wasn’t alone. A lot of people were. 

 

Steve: Him and Khan had a — I mean, they just had

 

Dan: Yeah. Did that make you wanna shift anything specifically to be like, okay, now that this happened, how can we capitalize on this or was there any urge to make ringtone rap?

 

Steve: I wasn’t that smart. I just wanted to keep on breaking artists and that, if I heard a great record, that’s what still excited me. I never said, “Oh, man, how’s this gonna do on ringtones?” That was the farthest thing from my mind.

 

Dan: And, honestly, I think that probably worked to your advantage to not think like that, because a lot of those artists —

 

Steve: Yeah —

 

Dan: Yeah, like they just kind of rose and fell with the medium as opposed to truly living beyond it, right? And I don’t know if a lot — like I don’t know the last time I heard “Party Like a Rockstar,” right? Like so many of those songs just don’t live on to the same type of work.

 

Steve: Well, that was, yeah, so I was just looking that record up, so I remember people were saying they wanted me to sign as a single and I was like, “There’s no follow-up.” 

 

Dan: Right.

 

Steve: And, I mean, I think he only put out that one — I mean, Republic still had the record but I passed on.

 

Dan: Yeah, and it can be tough for them, right? But that’s what it was. There were so many people that just had those hits and some of them did well, but it was tough. I mean, maybe folks like Soulja Boy were a bit of an anomaly where they had continued success but it was more rare that they were like that than having, you know, just one hit.

 

Steve: Exactly.

 

Dan: Definitely, yeah.

 

Steve: Exactly.

 

Dan: Such an era, though. I mean, even with that, you saw so many eras with this and just understanding, okay, when to adapt, when to look at things, and you mentioned yourself, in the CD era, the industry did get lazy but I guess, for you, when Loud Records was having Wu-Tang and so many of the artists there in the 90s, what was it like from that business perspective? Because I’m sure you still wanted to continue hustling, hustling, and then you yourself were getting the label even stronger.

 

Steve: So, you know, we never really saw — the record business is a funny business, right? So, we were a real JV so, you know, most of these companies, they’re real companies but they’re not, say, a real JV where a lot of these companies are just 50-50 profit splits so if they sell the company or if they sell the rights to the master, there might not be a capital gains, you know? It really all depends on how the wording is.

So, with us, no matter what type of year that we had, we’d never really see profits so what I would do is just go back — every time that we had success, I would tell my attorney to go back in and renegotiate the deal and that’s how we saw money. So, it wasn’t like, you know, with Wu-Tang Forever, like I think we did 8 million, 9 million, you know, whatever that number was so that was like $90 million in billing.

When it came time to get the check for the end of the fiscal year, like they wrote us a check for like $200,000 and I’m like, “What the fuck is this?” you know? And I was like, “This has to be a mistake.” He said, “No, well, there’s records…” CDs sitting on the floor that they manufac—you know, so they just cut it so I was like, you know what, fuck you, not even in an angry way. I just told my attorney, go in and this is what we want. We want more of a percentage back of the company so we would be the majority person and we want x, y, z amount in cash.

 

Dan: And, I’ll be honest, that’s one piece of the industry that I found always frustrating that I know that leverage is part of the game but the fact that you really had to lawyer up every time that you wanted to get a fair deal or you wanted to get something that you felt was yours but I know it wasn’t just you, this is how things were but that’s one piece of it that I wish would change because I think a lot of that still exists today.

 

Steve: No, it still exists. I just wish that the lawyers would really get their artists or their clients a real JV where they would really own half the masters and really own half the company, where they really have to sign off on every deal that comes for them to see profit.

 

Dan: Yeah, and do you think the reason that they don’t do that is just because they don’t have the leverage or they’re not willing to have the patience to build up the leverage or they just don’t know the difference of asking for what 50-50 is versus a true joint venture?

 

Steve: I mean, if you’re a lawyer, you have to be pretty smart so I think they know the difference. I think it’s a little of both. I think the labels don’t wanna do it just because it’s a lot of fucking work and a lot of manpower. You gotta set up a company, you gotta put a board to get—you know? It’s a shitload of work so they just figure, you know, 50-50, you know, in this buyout, some type of buyout provision at the end of it, but with that buyout provision, who knows if you can really get, you know, if you do sell for $10, say, you know, you really get a capital gains singer or is it, you know, ordinary income?

 

Dan: Right, right, yeah. I think that the lawyers obviously know and I think that, especially for artists now, especially from what I’ve seen, especially this wave of artists now, everyone wants to own their masters, everyone wants to have everything,

I think people want these things so at least they’re asking for it but having the leverage, at least, seems to be not the missing piece but that’s the piece where there’s more opportunity to either make sure that you have what you need in order to get that or negotiate it, but then, on the other side too, some of this rhetoric of people just wanting to own everything can prevent them from signing good deals when there’s those in front of them and that may not necessarily have been a challenge that I think you may have seen in the 90s because I think there was so much eagerness to get put on, it was harder to break out on your own, but maybe you’re seeing this a bit more recently with Spring Sound where artists you may be looking at or considering, they’re coming to you and they’re like, “Hey, I wanna own everything,” before they may have the leverage to do so. Is that something that you’ve seen?

 

Steve: With Spring Sound, we have five artists, right? And, you know, we’ve got a woman by the name of Jarline, we have an artist by the name of Ryrif, we have an artist with the name of Lil Kari, an artist by the name of Bird Bennett, and an artist by the name of EJ. 

So, Lil Kari and Jarline and Ryrif, they have a little bit of a social following. Bird and EJ really have no social following yet so I have no problem giving ownership when things hit a certain point but, right now, you know, we’re putting up the money and I’m just giving them the 50-50 deal and I will give them ownership once they have some success.

 

Dan: That makes sense, and do you see yourself staying as a label, staying solely independent with it or do you think there will be a future where there is a deeper distribution, a relationship that you may have with a major?

 

Steve: This is the thing. I mean, all my closest and dearest friends are at majors, but what can a major do that I can’t do? If I’m having success, that means I have the catch. I’m still getting everything first. A major wouldn’t look at any of these artists for another two, three years just where they are socially. A major can’t negotiate a better deal than I can at YouTube. Same thing at Apple and the same thing at Spotify.

I mean, I’ve been doing this for 41 years. Half the people at these streaming services were either business associates or worked for me at one time or another, you know? It’s like Lyor is head of YouTube, right? And, at the end of the day, we weren’t even business associates, we were just peers that literally started together in the 80s. There’s not that many people left who are still doing what me and Lyor did in the 80s so, as much as I love Monte Lipman, it’s a different relationship.

 

Dan: It’s impressive that you and Lyor have been around as long as you have too because, you’re right, there are a lot of labels that are run by people who are much earlier in their career, they started after the wave that you all had seen and at least it’s good to see, at least from my perspective, because it adds variety to things, right? You can’t just have new blood in there, you need to have people that have seen things to be able to help the entire ecosystem go.

And your perspective, yeah, like you know what makes sense, you know what they need, and you don’t necessarily feel like there’s anything else that they can offer that you can’t and I think in today’s era, it’s like if you’re willing to be patient and if you’re willing to make the connections, you can at least have a strong level of reach and distribution to where you may want it to go. 

It may not happen as fast as it may happen on a major label, you may not see the big flashing things, but it stems back to, okay, what are your goals as an artist? What do you wanna see? What do you wanna accomplish?

 

Steve: No, so that’s what it is, and I’m learning from these young kids. So, you know, I will say, I said it 40 years ago and I’ll say it today, my job is to make your dreams become a reality and as long as we’re transparent and we communicate with each other, we’re gonna be fine and I have no problem with it if you know and that’s why it worked with me in business so well.

RZA would come to the office every single day with a notepad with a whole bunch of things that he would want done and I said yes, say, 97 percent of the time and then he’d say, “Why are you saying yes to me?” I said because it’s making sense.

You know, the record business couldn’t really be an easy business. Put your ego to the side, listen to what the artists want. Go with your gut. The reason why we had that downshift in the industry, right? When the CD came, the labels, everybody got lazy because it was, all of a sudden, an extra $6. Everybody got a raise, everybody got a promotion, and if you sold — if you had one hit single, you would sell a million units, $10 million worth of billing. Forget about the catalogue, right? And everybody just, you know, whoever the flavor of the month was, it was RZA from Wu-Tang or Dre or Pharrell or this one or that one, the creativity was lost because everybody would just sit behind their desk with the fat expense account, the huge salary, and knowing that they only needed one single.

Now, here, it’s like, all right, let’s get back to work. Nobody’s gonna outwork me, on one leg, two legs, whatever, so I’m gonna take what I know from the 80s and the 90s mesh it in with what my son and nephew know in what’s going on today. You know, the reason why QC is winning is because they got both. They literally own the streets and they understand the whole digital game, right? So, if you mesh that, you’re not gonna lose.

 

Dan: Yeah. And you mentioned an interesting point — oh, go ahead, keep going.

 

Steve: You know, so that’s why I take my hat off to Coach and Pee, like because that’s really, I mean, that’s what they’re doing and it’s like, you know, we have five artists but, you know, we have Bird that’s making serious noise in Portland, we got Lil Kari and Ryrif making a lot of noise in South Florida and we’re taking the old with the new and it’s really, you know, and it’s merging it and, you know, eventually, we’ll get that movement and we’ll get the streets but you need both.

 

Dan: You mentioned a few interesting things in there that I wanna touch on. First was that period in the late 90s when the labels were getting fat and the margins were just crazy and like people were sleeping on what was coming. In that moment, did you feel like you saw that, okay, this may not last so we’re going back to like ’97, ’98 when the music videos were starting to get crazy and you could clearly see that money was pouring in, did you think that this may end soon in that moment?

 

Steve: No. I mean, the only thing that I really thought about was what’s next, you know? My goal is always to break one artist a year in those days. So, if you go from ’91, between that and SRC, from ’91 to 2012, I pretty much broke an artist every year, a brand new artist.

So, that was always my philosophy. So, as one is breaking, we’re developing the other one, two, or three and then, when iTunes started, everybody started getting worried about bootlegging and, you know, that’s when I was like, wow, the industry really is fucked, but you know what? A hit record is still a hit record.

So, you know, a hit record might, you know, whatever it means today and whatever it meant 20 years ago, it’s still a hit record, right? It’s still gonna get, you know, if it’s played on Spotify, if it’s played on the radio, you know, and like if you’re affiliated with that record, it’s just gonna work. Who knows what the dollars and cents are gonna be. So that was always my model.

 

Dan: That makes sense. And I think the thing too, you mentioned breaking an artist every year, one of the things that I always noted about Loud was it did feel like there was a specific vibe, especially there in the 90s. There was a specific type of artist that seemed like they had that New York grit street style and was having that brand something that was top of mind at the time or was it more so, okay, like how can we just get the best artist possible? Because it seemed like you were able to do a good combination of both.

 

Steve: To me, it was always about the best artists, right? So, listen, I’m not from the street. I grew up in Long Island at the end of the day, right? But I lived on the road for three years and I respected the street, you know, and I have a corny saying, “The street doesn’t lie,” so they’re gonna just tell you like it is.

So, the first one, who’s gonna listen to the street is gonna win. I never wanted to dictate anything. I was always uncomfortable with that. I would always listen and that’s why our track record was so high. If they said the record was wack, I’m bringing the record back and finding out why it’s wack and then making the changes what everybody said should be, you know?

And so, my A&R team thought that way, my promotion team thought that way, and my marketing team thought that way. So, that was the philosophy and, like I said, I grew up in Long Island. My dad owned the company that discovered James Brown, so it’s like I grew up okay but my thing was always just to listen.

 

Dan: Yeah, and I do think that being able to just have the sound pull through and even some of the artists whether, you know, Twista, everyone that was in Wu-Tang, you had such a strong run, Terror Squad as well. I think that — because I’ve always thought this, I do think having that brand and that identity helped a lot but I think too, a lot of it, you mentioned just having an ear to the sound, that probably ties back to your background in being in promotions, you’ve — 

I know you’ve said in a few interviews yourself, like you see yourself much more as a promotions person and seeing that energy carry through because a lot of that I know is probably different now with Spring but a lot of it’s still the same because it’s still music. How has it been navigating that piece of it, especially now?

 

Steve: It’s funny, we had a meeting yesterday and I went off on my son and my nephew, and my daughter, who I’m training to be the CEO, I was like, “You motherfuckers gotta get on the road and start touching people.” Enough of sending somebody a DM, this, that, you know, whatever, and it was an interesting conversation but I think it worked.

So, I mean, that’s where I am, you know? I’m a little stubborn but I’m open for change. So, looking now, like seeing what QC did, seeing what Top did, you know, seeing what the guys in Chicago who have, you know, all OG, so it’s like I’m the old man now so all I do is just watch, right?

And then I’m like, you know what? Let’s do that but, you know what, let’s make a slight right turn, bring it in a little bit, you know? So I’m making changes that I think would work for us.

 

Dan: So what are some of those slight right turns? Like what are some of those changes you made for you all?

 

Steve: Like how everybody, you know, like, to me, as I’ve been saying pretty much through the whole conversation, I still feel you need the streets, the real streets, not the Instagram streets, not the Facebook streets, not the YouTube Streets, but real streets and, you know, where you’re getting the touch, the smell of what they’re really saying about the record and it’s proving, like we have this kid, Lil Kari, out of South Florida, who’s working. I mean, we quadrupled in streams from Monday to today. We’ll be close to 20,000 streams a day within the next day or two and we spent no money.

 

Dan: Nice.

 

Steve: Right this second.

 

Dan: Nice. And would you say that then, since the streets has been so key, would — are you still doing the same type of street team and that same approach that you were years ago or…?

 

Steve: No, I think we’re using the artists more. Let the artist go in with his crew, let them touch the people, let them see people, let them go into the boys’ and girls’ clubs, you know, and like, you know, Florida is an easy state because it’s just one island, literally from Miami to Tallahassee, right? So, just step off where you feel you need to be stepped off at, end up at the club that night and just touch people and the records need to speak for themselves too.

 

Dan: Definitely, definitely. Yeah, because that’s the piece and, obviously, I think the pandemic made this very difficult but this summer has probably been a good litmus test for a lot of that, right? Everything’s opened back up, things have been open for a while, especially in Florida, and you can start to see, okay, like this is what’s been missing, how are the people resonating with this, and I think now, with a lot of the artists you’re signing too, at least at this point, they’re assembling teams around them so, hopefully, they have a little bit more to the table so that you can continue to push things and go with it, like music still needs to be felt and heard outside.

I think it was easy to get caught up in the on-demand of streaming and everything with what you can do through Spotify, but, yeah.

 

Steve: Music is the closest thing to God, if you ask me. It makes you laugh. It makes you cry. It touches your emotions like there’s no end. Like how many times have you driven in a car and you look to your right and there’s like somebody blasting a record, dancing by himself, nobody else in the car and like screaming or singing at the top of his lungs? I mean, that’s just spirit right there, man, you know? So it’s like that’s why I’ve always said, music is the closest thing to God to me. So you need to have those records.

 

Dan: I love that. Then, for me, this is why I think that music has been the most interesting piece of culture in so many ways. People often ask me like, oh, who do I think is more impactful, this musician or this movie star or this basketball player, and I’m always like music can hit and reach culture in ways that it just doesn’t elsewhere. It hits globally and people are gonna know the songs in the same way that a movie may not be as accessible or a basketball game may not be as accessible. It’s not in the same level of playing field.

 

Steve: No, it’s too different because, you know, the star of that movie is just a star of that movie. He’s playing another character in the next movie, right? You know? Then if you take, you know, LeBron, who is King James, like — and I’m not taking anything away from him, you know? Once he retires, yeah, you might be able to see an old game, say, “Wow, he really was the goat,” you know?

But there are so many music channels now that just play old school music so you could just find something like this and then, you know, you go to a Mary J. Blige concert, you’re not gonna find a more of a loyal fan than any actress, any ball player, you know? And that’s how I look at it and that’s your spirit.

 

Dan: That’s real, that’s real, yeah. She’s great, she’s incredible, and I think that just speaks with music overall, just in terms of the impact. I wanna go back to something you said, you mentioned that you’re training your daughter to take over as CEO. I’ll be honest, you don’t seem like someone that’s gonna step aside and stop working. I feel like you’re gonna continue working and you just love this. I don’t know, I can’t see you retiring.

 

Steve: I do love it but, you know, I’m gonna be 60 and it’s like my daughter’s in school. I mean, I offered her a million dollars to go to law school and she said no.

 

Dan: Oh, wow.

 

Steve: You know? She said no, so like she said, “I wanna be a CEO,” I’m like, “All right then, you can be CEO of this company.” Like she doesn’t play. It’s like I’m not scared of much, maybe her and God and my mom, but, otherwise, like she doesn’t play so I’m gonna let her have the reins —

 

Dan: Nice.

 

Steve: — but, you know, we’re developing a relationship now where she’s coming to me and asking me a lot of questions and just like, you know, and then, you know, my two boys really run their creative and then she runs the business and she’s really creative herself but she doesn’t play.

 

Dan: So this is like a low-key version of Succession in real life, right? I mean, you’re the one handing down the business to the ones in the family, you have the daughter, that’s the one that’s gearing up and…

 

Steve: You know, I just watched Succession so I guess you’re right.

 

Dan: I will say, you do not —

 

Steve: I make sure, you know, we don’t have the 20 planes and the 10 helicopters, but, you know, we do okay.

 

Dan: You do not strike me as a lone good boy type, though, I will say that. You don’t strike me as a lone good boy type. Something else. Well, that’s exciting though. That’s awesome and I’m sure that, you know, she must be really excited for that with everything that you’re doing.

Another thing that I thought was really cool that you had done, this was right before the pandemic, you were able to celebrate and have that 25th anniversary celebration for Loud. You were able to have it right in the city and this was one of the last like big events in New York right before things shut down so not only was it awesome, I feel like the timing was great too.

 

Steve: I think it was the last, to be honest with you. I think it was the last. Yeah, that really was a dream come true, you know? I could have done Madison Square Garden and I could have done every arena in New York but there was always something about Radio City Music Hall that, you know, I lived — one of my apartments when I was starting was right at the block from Radio City so I would see that sign every single day and then you just walk on Sixth Avenue and seeing The Loud Experience Presents, you know, 25-year anniversary and then just seeing, you know, just being on stage where you have the MTV Awards and just, you know, whatever it was and selling out where people were hanging from the rafters. It was mindboggling, you know?

Somebody said to me this past weekend, “What are you gonna do for your 60th?” and I said, you know, I haven’t even really thought about it yet. “Why don’t you do another show?” With The Loud Experience, just call it, you know, like a 60th birthday party.

 

Dan: That’ll be fun.

 

Steve: That would be real fun so — but that would be Loud and SRC together, so that show would be ridiculous. I just gotta figure out where, when, and how.

 

Dan: And one of the cool things too that I thought was nice about that show, especially given recent events that have happened, is the fact that you were able to have DMX in.

 

Steve: Were you at the show?

 

Dan: I wasn’t there, no. I wish I was there.

 

Steve: It was special.

 

Dan: Yeah, it looked great. You’ll have to hit me up at the 60th celebration when it comes through.

 

Steve: Yeah.

 

Dan: Definitely, you’ll have to hit me up there.

 

Steve: 100 percent.

 

Dan: One of the things that I thought was cool about the show and especially good, just given events that have happened in recent months, is that DMX was able to be involved with it and I know he’s someone that you were able to build a relationship with in recent years, especially leading up to the time that he passed. Can you talk a little bit about that relationship and what it was like to be as close to him as you were?

 

Steve: Yeah. I mean, it happened authentically. Do you remember like when Kanye was doing the Sunday services?

 

Dan: Yeah.

 

Steve: So, I went to a Sunday service and I would always be the first one there because that would be my time, I would always get there early so I could have 5 to 10 minutes with Kanye alone and then he said, “You see DMX?” and like, “He’s over there,” he goes, “I got him performing today at the church.” I didn’t know X and I went, I introduced myself and, that night, I had a dream that I was gonna be involved with the making of his next record and I spoke to — I called a guy with the name of Pat Gallo, he and Pat spoke and I said, “I’ll meet you in New York,” and Pat brought me in immediately to run the business side of X and we just got to know each other coming out and just talking, you know, and just like the pain and the struggle that he was in was, you know, it touched me to no end where all I really wanted to do was help, you know, and then, you know, me and the Ruff Ryders knew each other but, you know, we never really did business together, you know?

And one day Swizz called and I said, “Swizz, this is all on you now,” you know, it’s like you — you know, X was still alive, I said, “You’re the general here, like you’re gonna make the most incredible album and you just tell what — just tell me what you need from me and I’ll do everything in my power, you know, to get that done. I’ll break the walls at Def Jam to do, you know, whatever needs to get done but you guys do this together. Like Steve Rifkind can’t tell either one of you what to do and, you know, it’s been a great partnership with that.

 

Dan: Yeah, no, that’s good. That’s good. And, I mean, it was also just, you know, I think refreshing too just seeing how close the two of you got and I know that you were right there next to him by his bedside and everything and you had to come out and give the message to people to be like, “Hey, no, he’s still here with us,” and that’s an —

 

Steve: No, I wasn’t at the hospital. I mean, I just thought it was disgusting where like people were saying he’s dead already and there was leaks coming from the hospital, you know? And it was just like we knew how severe it was but it was just enough — I just wanted everybody to shut up so the family can mourn and whatever decision had to be made and that’s all really that was, but when somebody passes in the house, like that really just has to be for family and just like when my dad passed, like within a half hour, his brothers came, you know, and these are — you know, his two best friends, you know, it was just 12 of us until his last breath so it was just like, “I’m here and whatever you guys need, I’ll quarterback everything here but you guys gotta say your goodbye to him.”

 

Dan: That’s special and I think that’s the way it should be and I wish that it was more like that and that’s one of the things that’s really disappointing about deaths in celebrity culture, especially the way that they are now. Social media just runs with these rumors and it can be so annoying and this is why I have so much credit for how things were handled with, let’s say, Chadwick Boseman or even MF Doom.

The families were able to have these conversations and moments by themselves and then they let the public know on their terms and, yeah, it’s just unfortunate when that doesn’t happen but I appreciate you for helping to spread the truth in that moment because people desperately needed it.

 

Steve: Man, but you gotta give a special shout-out to Swizz and the Ruff Ryders because what Swizz is doing, like nobody else would do that. I mean, leaving his family for weeks at a time to really just — to help X’s kids and family, you know?

I don’t know if it was Mother’s Day or Father’s Day but he posted a picture with him, his wife, and X’s fiancée at a dinner so it’s like, I mean, they were truly family. They might not have been blood but you couldn’t get any closer than that.

 

Dan: Swizz definitely seems like he’s good people with all this stuff, even how he handled Triller and Verzuz and that whole sale, making sure that all of the participants, including X at the time, were able to get on that cap table, we’re able to get a piece of that equity. Thought that was really important and also highlighted a lot of the same character that you’re talking about.

 

Steve: 100 percent.

 

Dan: Definitely.

 

Steve: No, he’s a special individual, in a good way.

 

Dan: Yeah, for sure. For sure. Well, Steve, we’re getting to the tail end here and this has been a great conversation. We’ve covered a lot but, before we let you go, I know you mentioned some of the artists you have on Spring Sound but is there anything else you wanna plug or let the Trapital audience know? What’s coming up soon?

 

Steve: It’s just all about Spring Sound. The music is gonna speak for itself. Again, we get Jarline who’s from Queens, New York. We have Lil Kari from Pompano, Florida. We have Ryrif who’s living in Florida now because he’s going to school there but from LA. We got EJ, Take45 from San Diego. We’ve got Bird Bennett from Portland, Oregon. And, musically, they’ll go toe to toe with anybody.

 

Dan: That’s amazing. Good stuff.

 

Steve: That’s it.

 

Dan: Steve, it’s been a pleasure. Thanks for coming on.

 

Steve: All right, man. This was great. This was great. This was a lot of fun. Thank you.

Dan Runcie

Dan Runcie

Founder of Trapital

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