Friday, December 31, 2010

Interview with Guy Routté of W.A.R. Media: Building Relationships toward a Music Empire

Odilia Rivera Santos!/bezotes

Guy Routté belongs in the driver’s seat.
He navigates different environments, personalities, trivial and life-changing decisions without forgetting his mission:
to help develop great musical artists. His musical interests are varied; he has managed R& B, Rock, and Hip Hop artists.
At the moment, he is at work in the Hip Hop genre, the most popular art form in the world, dedicating his talents to those in the genre who are thinking artists.
He is an expert in managing relationships and his instincts regarding talent are impressive. As I watch him working with Pharoahe Monch in the recording studio, I see how beautifully myriad threads of his life experience are woven into this important project. Routté and Monch are both perfectionists so the process is not easy. And Monch’s album W.A.R. will be the first project under Routté’s label as a joint venture with Duck Down. He claims to defer to the talent, after many heated discussions, most of the time.
From an early age, Routté was an astute observer, watching his aunt Loretta and the rest of his extended family listen to Al Green, he was impressed with the power of music and how it could elicit different emotional responses and bring people together.
As a kid, he was told he was tone deaf and never studied music formally, yet he has spent the majority of his life as a willing pupil in the music industry. When I express disappointment that someone would discourage his studying music as a child, Routté tells me he will study piano in 2011.
During elementary school, at around the age of twelve, he first heard The Sugar Hill Gang, Force MCs, Grand Master Flash, Treacherous Three, Cosmic Force, The Fly Four, and Dougie Fresh. Routté says this new music really spoke to him and his friends. Force MCs became his mentors, taking him to shows where he began to formulate ideas about where his love of Hip Hop might lead him.
During the summer, he went on tour with Force MCs, whose named had changed to Force MDs, and watched shows in which they opened for New Edition and other high-profile groups of the era.
Listening to Hip Hop, Routté could appreciate the complexity inherent in this improvisational rhythmic art and the acuity of mind needed to engage a demanding audience.
And he was fortunate enough to have gone to Mary Bergtraum High School because Hip Hop was an unofficial part of the curriculum; young teachers encouraged students to incorporate rap in school performances.
He mentions that Run DMC was a great influence because they were the first group to make records and videos without dressing up; they embraced street culture and took it to the masses. During the Reagan era, Black kids were not represented in the media so when Run DMC came along, Routté says that he and his friends felt as if they were looking at themselves on a big screen. The community went from a subculture to a culture.
Routté was always a talented writer; this combined with his experience on tour with The Force MCs motivated him to form a group with his brother Special D, his cousins Lord Shun and Chilly Love, and his long-time friend Jay Bee along with turntablist Mr. 1derful. After several incarnations, the crew became Soul Shocking MCs.
The Soul Shocking MCs performed together for two years; some of its members began breakdancing and formed The Fresh Style Rockers, touring the world.
One of the qualities that has made Routté a great success in getting projects completed and working with incredibly talented artists is his keen eye and ear for talent combined with a willingness to be mentored and mentor others.
He has great respect for talent, and an openness to any change that will improve the quality of his work, which requires a great deal of confidence and humility. As a young kid, he gleaned a lot from his interactions with older males who were already successful performers or determined to pursue a career in Hip Hop and when his family expressed disappointment that he had dropped out of college after two years, he countered the criticism with stories about sitting down to talk with Quincy Jones and other internationally-respected artists and producers.
Routté emphasizes the importance of choosing how one learns best, and for him, the choice was to learn through working in the industry he loved and hoped to improve.
His long involvement with Hip Hop artists, his writing skills and growing confidence made Routté consider aiming for the elusive and much sought-after recording career; Routté and his friend Frost formed a duo called Aftershock. Aftershock was signed by Virgin
But it was not quite the right fit and Routté began questioning his choice of career, thinking he was not as happy as he should be considering he had a recording contract with Virgin, a major hit in the West Coast, and Aftershock had performed at the Cinco de Mayo Festival in front of 500,00 people in Phoenix, Arizona along with Jodeci, Boys to Men and eighteen other acts. He had the respect of his peers and friends but the experience was not fulfilling; he began to reconsider his aspirations and reassess where his true talents might lie.
Routté says that he was not interested in fame or being the focal point and did not consider himself skilled enough as a rapper to be on stage.
It is impressive to hear him speak of reaching for his calling as opposed to working Aftershock as a commodity in the way a typical businessperson would. He turned his back on a sure thing with the accompanying adulation because he had higher aspirations.
Routté was clear that his forte was not rapping or performing, and as a fan of greatness, he vowed to find a place in music in which his greatness would assert itself.
Aftershock was a duo with two people who were not particularly interested in being performers, so after the second album, getting one of their songs in the film Sliver, and playing five dates with Paula Abdul, they disbanded.
When I ask Routté if he ever regrets the decision to leave his performer life behind, he says no without hesitation.
At the age of 23, in the 1990s, his performer career morphed into a management one. After Aftershock was no more, he got his first experience as a business person in the music industry by way of managing Shyheim. After Routté helped Shyheim land a record deal with Virgen, others began asking his opinion about recording. He also managed Goodfellaz, Corey Glover, and The Family Stand. And in the late nineties, Routté managed his old friends Force MDs. In his management career, he met with varying levels of success but most importantly, the relationships remain intact and Routté occasional works and socializes with former clients.
From 2005 to 2007, Routté had a consulting deal with Sony that allowed him the freedom to develop his own business while learning how he did not want to run a business. He was offered a Senior Vice President position at A&R, which he turned down.
Routté and Pharoahe Monch are co-CEOs of W.A.R. Media, which includes a record label under which Pharohe Monch’s next album W.A.R. (We are Renegades) will appear as well as King Reign’s album Nomad. Routté also manages four artists: Pharoahe Monch, Jean Grae, Mela Machinko, and Last American B-Boy. He serves as a consultant for individuals and corporations, coordinating projects from beginning to finish: finding talent, music, DJs, songwriters, videographers.
His favorite part of his work is completing albums because from inception to completion, there are so many pieces of the puzzle that it keeps Routté busy and intellectually-engaged.
He mentions that the music business is changing very rapidly and it is a perfect opportunity for small labels to grow. The brand he is building with W.A.R. is based on seeking greatness, integrity, originality and individualism with real content. Routté states emphatically that his artists are committed and they are writers whose work has real meaning to them and their audience.
Jean Grae represents a great bodacious powerful feminine voice in Hip Hop; he says she is absolutely the most talented person with whom he’s ever worked and someone who needed an advocate in the music industry. Routté is content with taking on the role.
Pharoahe Monch is, according to Routté, the best MC ever and his creative vision is unmatched.
Guy Routté envisions W.A.R. Media as a business geared toward the urban consumer, providing content for television and film, and the plan is to delve into fashion as well. He is a hands-on person who relies on the experiential to guide him through the myriad frustrations of working out deals in, out and around the music business. He is truly a person from whom any neophyte could learn enough to start his or her own record company but he doesn’t have time to spare. His integrity is evidenced by the number of friendships and commitments kept throughout his twenty plus years in the business.
Art business can’t be done in a corporate style and adhering to this idea has made Routté a person with whom everyone works in the hopes of being part of that final product.

For those who have asked about the interviews with Pharoahe Monch and Jean Grae, I was slated to interview both but due to their hectic schedules, this will probably not happen. C'est la vie.

Today is Guy Routté's birthday. Happy birthday, Mr. Routté!!/pharoahemonch!/jeangrae

1 comment:

The Renegade said...

thank you Odilia and of course those interviews will happen, Jean in January and Monch in Feb.