Rock City Interview
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With major labels hesitant to release anything without a number one single attached, an uprising has been brewing among artists tired of watching their projects collect dust. Helmed by Virgin Islands-born brothers Timothy (aka Don’t Talk Much) and Theron (aka Da Spokesman) Thomas of rap/R&B duo Rock City, the PTFAO movement has been steadily gaining steam as musicians and fans alike add their voices to the chorus, pleading with the powers that be to “Put the F*ckin’ Album Out” already!
Though their long-awaited debut LP, PTFAO.com (formerly known as Wake the Neighbors), still has yet to receive a release date from the Interscope brass, Rock City recently took matters into their own hands, sending a clear message to the execs with the release of their hit PTFAO: Independence Day mixtape and its Don Cannon-presented follow-up, PTFAO: The Saga Continues. The group’s burgeoning movement has certainly found support in the Booth; with an extensive list of acclaimed features under their belt, including a number of creative revamps of other artists’ hits (see “Best I Ever Heard,” “Lions, Tigers & Bears,” “No Air”) and exclusive freestyle “PTFAO and Still Going,” the duo have proven they’re two of the most talented and versatile artists in the game.
In an exclusive interview with our own DJ “Z,” Da Spokesman steps into the Booth to discuss how Interscope reacted to Rock City’s “Put the F*ckin’ Album Out” mantra, what aspiring artists should know before diving headfirst into the music game, and why, despite the ever-present industry red tape, he and his brother are feeling better than ever.
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Rock City Interview Transcription
DJ Booth: What’s goin’ on, everybody? It’s your boy, “Z,” doin’ it real big, and joining me inside the DJ Booth is one-half of the most diversely talented group currently making music today. Booth favorites since “Losing It” first hit our home page in August of ‘07, please welcome for the second time Da Spokesman of Rock City—how you doin’?
Da Spokesman: I’m good, cannot complain at all.
DJ Booth: That’s what I like to hear. Why complain, right? It’s a new day, every day.
Da Spokesman: Yes, definitely.
DJ Booth: Well, thank you for joinin’ me inside the DJ Booth, and thank you and your brother for participating in our freestyle series; it was huge ]for you guys to start the re-up for us.
Da Spokesman: Oh, man, thank you so much for lettin’ us do that. You know, there’s a lot of people that [assume] we only do R&B, because of the “Losin’ It,” record. If they weren’t following our mixtapes, they wouldn’t even know we were capable of doin’ stuff like that, so we were glad that you let us get our stuff off! [laughs]
DJ Booth: Absolutely! When we chopped it up for the first time back in January of ‘08, we discussed the impending release of your debut, Wake the Neighbors, but, as we both know, we’re 20 months removed from that first interview, and the people still don’t have an album in their hands. Thus, the PTFAO campaign, [which] I will let you discuss.
Da Spokesman: PTFAO started on the BET Black College Tour. We were on the road performing, and the fans asked the question, “Yo, when is Interscope gonna put the f*cking album out?” We were like, “I don’t know, we’re just working,” and tried to give all the political answers we could think of without being assholes about it. Everywhere we went, people kept askin’ the same question, and our manager Ray was like, “Yo, put the effin’ album out.” And then it became this big thing. People were talkin’ about it, and we were like, “Yo, that’s what we’re gonna say! We’re gonna say it out loud: they should just put it out!” ‘Cause, at the end of the day, they’re waiting for this big, number one, smash-hit single, and we’re not that. Don’t get me wrong—God willing, we’ll get one. When we get one, we get one. But it’s like, Jay-Z just [said in] this interview, he’s never had a number one record! He’s one of the biggest artists in the world, with no number one record?! Why? ‘Cause he goes into the studio, and he makes a complete body of work! And me and my brother said, “That’s what’s wrong with the music business: it’s about iTunes and Rhapsody, and you download a song for 99 cents, and then somebody makes 13 songs, and you only like three!” They really don’t care about the body of work—they’re not like, “Yo, we’ve really gotta make sure we sell the best album,” they’re like, “We’ve just gotta make sure we make money on what we’ve spent.” We’re just tryin’ to tell our label, we have fans. We’re like, “What are we doing here—are we not selling music?! Are we not selling music anymore, or are we not selling albums? Let me know, ‘cause we got into the business to sell an album!”
DJ Booth: It’s interesting that you phrase it like that—the Independence Day mixtape had over 100,000 downloads. So, do you see yourselves thinking,”We could get all this success on an independent level, based on what we’ve already been able to do without any label support.” Was it a mistake to go after a major label deal?
Da Spokesman: I don’t think anything was a mistake. I personally feel like everyone is supposed to be where they’re supposed to be. I’m not sitting here saying Interscope isn’t capable of doing right for Rock City, ‘cause, to be honest, every label is f*cked up—all of ‘em! Let’s just throw that out there, let’s not pretend! We could’ve been at Atlantic,Def Jam, J, Jive, it don’t matter! PTFAO doesn’t just represent Rock City, it represents every single artist that’s been shelved on every label, sayin’ the same thing that we’re saying! I’ll just tell anybody right now: do as much as you can on your own, and, if you want to, you can still go to a major. I think the majors are still very important.
DJ Booth: For marketing and for promotion they are, you’re absolutely right. But you have to come to the table with an established fan-base already in place for you to see the most success, absolutely.
Da Spokesman: Yeah.
DJ Booth: How did Interscope feel, initially, when they heard about the subtly threatening crusade, PTFAO—were they cool with it, did they understand, did they think it could help you?
Da Spokesman: They didn’t like “Put the F*ckin’ Album Out.”
DJ Booth: [laughs] I didn’t think they would!
Da Spokesman: That’s when PTFAO came. ‘Cause I was online, and a girl hit me, and she was like, “LMFAO, you’re so crazy,” and I was like, “Yo, that’s dope!” And the fact that you have to ask what it [means] makes it even doper. “Yo, PTFAO!” “What the hell is that?” “Put the f*ckin’ album out!” And we get the same reaction every time: people laugh, like, “Oh man, y’all are crazy!” “Put the f*ckin’ album out,” it just sounds too harsh; it sounds like you’re angry.
DJ Booth: You said that, if it was just to remain “Put the f*ckin’ album out,” it could sound a little harsh, and I do agree. You said, “It might make us seem like we’re angry.” But be honest with me: there is some anger in knowing that you have a certain amount of artistic vision, and you know that you need creative control in order to succeed, and up to this point, that’s what has been put in jeopardy.
Da Spokesman: Like I told you before we started recording, about six months ago I would sit here and tell you, “Yo, we’re frustrated, we’re really mad, this is bullsh*t.” Right now, I will actually say we’re really happy. We’re excited, man. Like, we’ve been embraced by people we never thought we’d be embraced by, as far as artists. And then as far as songwriters, we’re in every room, and every artist that we write songs for, I don’t know what it is, but they really mess with us personally. “I genuinely like you guys—whatever you need from me, [I’ll] help!” Like, we were in the studio with Nicole [Scherzinger] and Pitbull last night, and we played ‘em a song, and we were like, “Yo, we’d like y’all to get on this song.” They were like, “Okay, cool, we’ll do it. Yeah, I got you.” That’s it? It’s that easy? We were in with The Game, and Game was like, “Yo, whatever y’all need. If y’all need a verse, just tell me; I got y’all.” Wow! We’re blessed, man!
DJ Booth: You mentioned songwriting and that is, up to this point, where I think most people would agree you’ve seen the most success. Has there ever been a consideration of simply forgoing your other talents because of the frustrations, and focusing in on writing hit songs for others, and just cash in those publishing checks?
Da Spokesman: Nah, because we love performing. Like, we can perform in front of 20 people. Our motivation wasn’t Philips Arena and millions of screaming fans. Our motivation was, “I really love to do this.” And, guess what? The songwriting thing is like, “Wow, I can make money and do what I love!” Let me tell you something: when me and my brother got into the music business, you know what we thought? “We’re gonna do hotels, we’re gonna be doin’ parties, girls, oh my gosh! It’s about to be poppin’!” And then it’s like, it’s nothing like that!
DJ Booth: You know what’s so interesting, though? You’re being honest about this. So many artists I talk to, it’s not like that for them either, but that is the portrait that they’re painting; they want everybody to believe that.
Da Spokesman: I know a bunch of people leasin’ their chains, and I know a bunch of people that have fake diamonds, and I know a bunch of people that don’t really have what they say they have. But this is what we’ve been taught: in order for people to spend money on you, you have to look like money. And this is not arrogance or nothin’. Me and my brother have more money than half the rappers—I ain’t about to buy no big chain, and I ain’t about to be out here, talkin’ about, “I’m poppin’ bottles…” No! For what? Why? Don’t get me wrong, it’s cool to say it in a song, ‘cause, when you’re makin’ music for the club or something, you’re painting a picture and creating ambiance and I get it. We’re gonna talk about poppin’ bottles, ‘cause, when people are in the club, that’s what they wanna hear. I get painting the picture, to make it live. But when you have an opportunity to speak to people and, nine times out of 10, the people that’s tryin’ to get in the music business are kids… you really need to know that this is what you wanna do, bro.
DJ Booth: And if it’s not, you need to have another option.
Da Spokesman: I’m gonna say this. With me and my brother, this is the realest thing. People are like, “Y’all work so hard, y’all go so hard!” We don’t have no choice! It’s a gift and a curse and it’s great and it’s sad—it’s both, because I’m not good at anything else. No, real talk! Outside of music, I’m kinda lazy! I’m not gonna work a nine-to-five and be great at it, or come to an office and be an A&R and be good at it! No! Are you serious?! We work so hard because, when this goes, it’s done. You said something in the beginning that me and my brother have been hearing a lot: “You guys are two of the most talented people in the industry right now.” And thats, like, the biggest blessing and the most amazing thing, ‘cause, to be honest, everybody feels like they’re the best, everybody feels like they’re better. But, to be honest, I don’t think we’re more talented than the next man.
DJ Booth: I don’t normally kick off interviews with the opening, “...one of the most talented people in the industry, so, you can be humble about it if you’d like, but, trust me, it’s a feeling that a lot of people have about you and your brother.
Da Spokesman: Thank you so much, I really appreciate it! And the fans that we have, and the people that believe in us, guess what? They know we’re not gonna stop. They appreciate everything we’ve been doing, and, like we said on our mixtape, we’re gonna keep givin’ our fans free music until our label gets smart enough to put our album out.
DJ Booth: Well, I think that’s a great plan, and I know that hundreds of thousands of your fans will definitely agree that that is the way to go. Obviously they like the free mixtapes, but what else do you guys have coming up, that you are the artist for or that you are a part of behind the scenes, through the rest of 2009 and then obviously into next year?
Da Spokesman: The Game’s R.E.D. Album; The Game, Rock City, and Pitbull, we did a song together. Definitely work with Fantasia [Barrino], Chris Brown, Usher, Monica, R. Kelly—the new R. Kelly album, we did something on there. As far as us, we’ve got a Gangsta Grillz mixtape comin’, we’ve got a Clinton Sparks mixtape. It’s funny, ‘cause every DJ is tryin’ to…
DJ Booth: [They want] to be a part of Rock City!
Da Spokesman: And the mixtapes we do that people hear, we do those in two days. So, DJs are like, “Yeah, I need the music.” We’ll be writin’ songs and we’ll be like—our manager’s Ray—we’ll be like, “Ray, Thursday and Friday we’re not doing anything, we’re justworkin’ on our stuff.” We go in, we do like 16, 17 songs—this is no lie—and then we’ll be like, “Okay, send it to the DJ!” and we’ll put it out!
DJ Booth: And I’m sure that in the days that you guys are in the studio all day long, dropping 16 and 17 songs, a few of them are freestyles over other people’s material. And it’s common in the DJ Booth for members to discuss how they like the Rock City version of a song far better than the original version that was done by the artist. Have you ever gotten a call or an Email or met up with someone whose original song you did a freestyle over, and they said, “You know what? I really like your version!”
Da Spokesman: Usher liked our version of ”Love in the Club,” he was like, “Yo, that’s crazy!” T.I. liked our version of [“No Matter What.”] There were talks of him even keepin’ [our] hook and puttin’ it on the Paper Trail album, but it was too late, they had already pressed it up. It’s fun, and it’s great that we do that and people embrace it, because our major thing is not to offend nobody.
DJ Booth: You’re not politically allowed to say which song you took from someone else and actually made into a better one, but I can. I’m a huge fan of your version of the Jordin Sparks/Chris Brown duet, “No Air.” I think the Rock City version’s better. I know you can’t agree with me, ‘cause we don’t wanna piss anybody off, but I’m gonna put it out there and just say it.
Da Spokesman: Oh man, thanks a lot, Z. I appreciate that!
DJ Booth: You’re welcome. Go ahead and give everybody your website, and MySpace page, your Twitter account, so they can find out more about what you guys have got goin’ on all the time.
Da Spokesman: Definitely, man! Check Rock City out at ptfao.com, hit me on Twitter at twitter.com/r_city, hit my brother at twitter.com/rockcityvi, and, of course, myspace.com/rcitylive. And, like I said, Z, thank you so much, man. It’s always a pleasure getting’ to talk to you. Our interviews turn into seminars!
DJ Booth: [laughs] It’s been an absolute pleasure! I wish both you guys the best of luck. And one last thing: we talked about earlier you guys wanting to go on, eventually, a world tour. When that happens, can you bring me along? Is that cool?
Da Spokesman: You know what? I’m gonna say it on DJBooth.net, so we have it documented: if we get on a world tour, we’re gonna bring you on a couple of the dates, You need to come out and document it for our DJBooth.net fans, ‘cause you’ve been ridin’ with us from the beginning!
DJ Booth: Great! Only thing I ask is that the dates that you allow me to come with are in warm, tropical destinations. How does that sound?
Da Spokesman: Okay, definitely! Thanks a lot, Z!
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