MB: Talk to me about the next releases coming out on your label, BenOfficial Music and the artists you’re representing?
Jay 'Pauly' Lovejoy: Right now we’ve released, in the past three months, four records and it’s leading up to a project that we’re releasing called College ain’t for everybody. Whereas you may think in hearing it that it means one thing, it’s kind of the total opposite: College just happens to be a street on the East side of Detroit, the East side of Detroit is world-renowned for being kind of treacherous, if you will. The name of the street is College and it sits on the North-East side of Detroit. The project is a lot of artists, artists prevalent from that neighborhood.
This neighborhood has produced artists such as Verdict, Jovie, E.Class, J. Jackson, Peezy, Icewear Vezzo, just to mention a few names.
My guy’s Verdict. He has quite a bit of depth to him and the name of the project is basically saying that the street isn’t for everyone. Verdict has taken a little light, which was me and him linking up. I want to say, maybe back in the summer of 2007, it’s been a long journey, it’s coming to a head now as we’re starting to garner some traction, some notoriety. It’s coming along real well. There’s quite a bit of depth to this project.
This will be an album. In the past, in 2010 we released a hip-hop mixtape called Return of the Ugly – again that name is a thing I want to say it comes out of New York where you hear some good, hardcore hip-hop, it would make for (makes a noise, a kind of groan) ‘Oh that’s nasty. That’s nasty.’
Pauly Lovejoy: You know that was the idea behind that idea of Return of the Ugly that was back in 2010. You can find that as a free download on our website www.benofficialmusic.com
MB: Before you were talking about an artist – Verdict - he comes from this area of East Detroit, or North-East Detroit, is it?
Pauly Lovejoy: Yes, that's right.
MB: Talk to me about him some more; his story. You said there’s quite a lot of depth to him, what do you mean by that?
Pauly Lovejoy: Verdict is just a kid, you know (pauses) coming up in a desolate and tough neighborhood. You know a lot of times all he had to rely on was his imagination. A lot of times, you know, he’d stay in a house and look at things going on from outside, he’d come from … His mom was working-class, so a lot of times, he spent some time at home by himself. He always had a love for art, for hip-hop. He’d just be at home, spending all of his time alone.
Even right now he falls back on being to himself, and when he’s being by himself he comes up with these great stories, and story-lines and hip-hop tales that he has. It’s really tremendous, not only from a hip-hop perspective, he’s completely musically inclined some of his favorite artists are musically impressive – A Tribe Called Quest, Erykah Badu … Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston, even jazz – Marcus Miller. He’s pretty broad with his scope as to how he approaches his craft.
MB: This is something that intrigues me about Detroit and probably pretty central to the reason why I’m doing this project, it’s that extreme contrast between the deprivation – or a ‘desolate’ environment to use your words – and this amazing creativity. Do you think this is something that distinguishes the city?
Pauly Lovejoy: (pauses) You know, of course, I mean dating back as far as I can remember and then with my parents before me, back in the 60s with Motown and all the way up until know (the city) has had a stark and grave reality and sometimes what’s born in that isn’t politically correct but it is what it is. it’s kind of the same thing with the artistry.
It’s tough, but what comes of that, if you have some decent character and you’re willing to listen to those who come before you and if someone loves and cares for you and they share a decent light on you, well, you can stay away from those pitfalls that are out there. If you have some hunger and some urgency about yourself, with due diligence, and if you're patient something can bloom and you can be all that is possible for you to be.
He – Verdict – is the flagship artist for our label, but we have other artists coming up as well.
MB: What I’d like to do now is talk to you about your story, I think I remember hearing that your parents introduced you to music …
Pauly Lovejoy: Okay, well. I was born in the 1970s – in 1976 – those times, I can remember back then Mom would have some friends over, it would be a little party, some of the records that were playing at that time, ‘She a bad mamma jamma’ Marvin Gaye’s 'Sexual Healing' and 'Brick House or Rick James etc.... Some of the music that was there, and then I have a sister – she’s passed away now – she was three years older than me, she was pretty tough herself but I can remember this would maybe be like the early or middle 80s, my sister would have the record player on, I guess Mom or Dad would be gone to work, and then after Dad left, Mom would be gone to work that was what we do, me and my sister, to get over things - listen to music coming from Detroit.
MB: And this music you were listening to, this is back in the 80s, with your older sister; was it hip-hop, or soul or funk or a mix of everything?
Pauly Lovejoy: It was a combination of everything, mostly at that time, I got into alternative rock n roll later, but mostly at the time it was the kind of music my sister listened to, it was R&B, Anita Baker, Chapter 8, Mickey Howard … not to mention the major names, Shirley Murdoch, Rick James, Prince, Michael Jackson, Luther Vandross.
From there I got into hip-hop, at that time I was really listening to Rakim, Kool Moe Dee, LL Cool J, Will Smith that’s what was going on, Run-DMC.
MB: Was there one record or one artist that made you think, god I’ve got to get involved in this?
Pauly Lovejoy: (pauses) I really wouldn’t say that, I would just say one of the favorite artists that I recently has the grace to share the stage with was Rakim, at Bridgeport CT – we was at that bill. My favorite hip-hop record of all time is Eric B for President by Rakim.
Don’t get me wrong, I always listened to music, but there was a time in my life when I had to take out the time to – like all of us do at some point – you got to find yourself, make a living for yourself and learn how and what it is to be a man, I went off and did this thing I came back to Detroit and my younger brother, who was down in the neighborhood gave me a call to come and listen to this young kid flow/rap this is how I met Verdict.
MB: Let's talk about Detroit now, how would you describe the hip-hop scene in general?
Pauly Lovejoy: I think about the hip-hop scene in Detroit is that it’s kind of combustible. It’s been kind of on the brink of an explosion for a while now.
MB: What do you mean by ‘on the brink of an explosion’ what do you mean by that?
Pauly Lovejoy: Well, the world – as you guys know hip-hop and don’t get me wrong cause I can’t speak for everyone else, I just know that there’s talent in Detroit and it’s not coming into its notoriety, you have Eminem, you have Slum Village, J Dilla, now you have Dej Loaf, Big Sean. What I’ll say is and I’m not totally privy to all the information, I don’t want to say I have my hand on it all, when I say explosion I mean in a minute it’s going to be something that’s really Detroit-based, label-wise.
A lot of these artists coming up, with the success that Big Sean has had – not taking nothing from him cause I’m sure he’s worked really hard – but it’s had a great outside impact with Kanye West and that kind of thing, so what I’m trying to say is it’s a growing sentiment, not only from here in Detroit internally, but some of the executives that are coming here, scouting for talent (that the Detroit scene is going to be recognized); it’s a growing sentiment whereas it’s taken us quite a bit of while.
Lady Hip Hop has been around almost everywhere across the States. I mean it’s hit Detroit with pockets of artists, but not as a whole where the whole movement is being accepted and appreciated across the board. You know that’s not completely attributed to the outside, some of it has to do with the music we’ve been pushing. We need to look at ourselves and maybe go about it in a different way and appreciate the culture as a whole and not just the type of music we appreciate here in Detroit. Now I think we’re getting our hands on that a little bit better, we’re working together better so something good is going to come up.
MB: Just a factual question, how many medium-sized independent record labels putting out hip-hop would there be in Detroit now approximately, do you think?
Pauly Lovejoy: (pauses) I can’t put a number on that, independent record labels there are a ton of them running around, it’s probably a substantial amount less that are really going about things in a fashion where they can be taken seriously about what they are doing, but the number is really high.
MB: They're small record companies, people putting out their own music, is that what you mean, rather than in the 90s when you’d have really serious operations?
Pauly Lovejoy: That’s exactly what I’m saying.
MB: I’d like to move into this conversation more now if you don’t mind, cause what’s really striking for me as someone who is relatively new to writing on hip-hop (after following and writing on other genres over the decades) is the way self-releasing is so dominant in hip-hop.
It's good in some ways: it’s DIY, it’s autonomous etc but from a media point of view it’s difficult, as - how do I say this? - people are not presenting themselves as you’d expect them to be, maybe not as professionally as you'd expect. And this means that there are maybe three or so record labels that are getting all the attention, I’m wondering if that’s the same in Detroit?
Pauly Lovejoy: (pauses) You know I want to make sure I grasp what you mean here.
MB: And be careful how you answer, as I don’t want you to cause trouble for yourself when you answer the question (laughs). Okay as a journalist I have a lot of contact with MCs, and a whole lot of them are producing their own music and then releasing their own music. This is not easy to do and not easy to do well.
Now the problem is that there is a huge gulf say between a label like MelloMusicGroup (MMG) - with their publicity and international reputation - and the smaller guys, which often means that the smaller guys don’t get the attention. There seems to be a big divide, and I’m wondering if that is the case in Detroit as well.
Pauly Lovejoy: Well, what I want to say to that is I guess that could make for an issue, but here in Detroit (this situation) speaks to us as a culture. Here in Detroit we’ve always been a Do it Yourself cause where I’m going with this is that economically the city has been challenged with poverty. The music business is very costly, it’s really expensive, it’s not really a cut corners business, so that will make for and speak for the divide, right there. We have to figure it out, to learn at our pace.
You have got to be judicious and prudent at what you’re doing: you’ve got to really take your time. But at the same token you’ve got to be effective, you’ve got to be productive, you know the music business (now) is helter skelter.
If you talk about places like New York and LA. it moves very fast and you got to meet different quotas and requirements. For me I believe not only is it the best way, it is the only way for me – you’ve just got to be really creative with what you’re doing in order to compete.
MB: I think that spirit of work, the autonomy and independence is a great thing and that’s part of the reason why Detroit is so impressive, as observing from the outside, people there seem to have this amazing resilience. I was thinking more how record labels might get stronger, maybe collaborating or having relationships in terms of releases, to unite more perhaps.
The hip-hop scene is very splintered – not just in Detroit – that’s the impression I get, where there are 100s of tiny operations trying to get seen and heard. Maybe it’s the nature of the business at this current time, I don’t know.
You have just been in California, how would you compare what you’ve seen in California compared to Detroit in terms of record labels and their operations?
Pauly Lovejoy: I haven’t really moved around with record labels there in California from a perspective of major record labels. I’ve moved around mostly in the Bay Area and I think the Bay Area is synonymous with independent labels, so I’ve really taken a cue from a few of the artists around there who’ve been doing it for a while. Not only just the music but when you talk about Oakland and San Francisco they’ve been challenged with some of the same issues we’ve been challenged with in Detroit at different times so that has been a benefit for me, thinking about some of the things I’ve picked up on and utilizing (the knowledge).
MB: Returning to your label now, when did you set it up and what is your usual pattern of releases each year?
Pauly Lovejoy: The label was established in 2007. In that time most of what I’d really lay my hat on, or say that I’ve been most effective with has been artist development. Don’t get me wrong we have released Return of the Ugly and East Side High our next release is College ain’t for everybody – in between those we’ve released singles, our first release was back in 2009, 'Choosin' by Verdict featuring Dwele. And it has gotten a good response, it is all over the internet and MTV and VH1 amongst many other digital outlets.
We then did something more local, with an MC who has done really well in the Mid-West region who goes by the name of Big Herk and that record is called The City, we released that record in 2012. We had another record we released after this it’s hip-hop based, but it’s heavily rock n roll – it’s called Home. It’s an adrenalin rush, and then after this we released a record 'Feelings' (by Verdict). It's a single I have no intention of stopping pushing as it’s a theme that never gets old. Anyone I play it for, we did the record last year and shot the visual last year, but no matter where I’m at or who I play it for, it sounds now, you know what I mean?
MB: It’s a real mix of artists, a strong selection of different kinds of artists. Is that something that’s important for you as the boss of a record label to make sure the diversity of the scene is being represented?
Pauly Lovejoy: Huge, that’s huge. Just like I said when I was coming up, sitting on a couch and rocking to the music, that’s really what got us through. It could have been a tough time at the time maybe Dad wasn’t around, maybe we were getting scolded, maybe we were on punishment couldn’t go outside, whatever it was music was the old faithful.
Turn that music on and you’ll get through your day, it’s still the same today. Don’t get me wrong the music scene today leaves a lot to be desired, but one thing rest for assured somebody will come and release something that you’ll really appreciate. It might be Adele, or Alicia Keys, whatever the sound that doesn’t really matter because you can find something in it that moves you and you can appreciate that’s why … I mean it could be Bob Seger.
MB: Bob Seger (laughs)
Pauly Lovejoy: You know it could The Boss, Bruce Springsteen. That’s just what music is there for.
MB: Obviously you have really eclectic tastes, you’re really open to diversity in your line-up, but is there something that unites the artists you release?
Pauly Lovejoy: (pauses) I think that the number one thing, artists have so many different interests but with music they just want to be heard. Coming back to Detroit, it can be hard here, I don’t want to say ‘Get out of here’ but that it can be hard to tap into the opportunities (locally). If I love music and I’m working in their best interests, I’m willing to push the boundaries for the artists, for them to be heard, to be appreciated. That’s the common denominator, or common thread between the artists I release - they want to be heard.
MB: Maybe just to finish, cause I’m asking pretty much all of the interviewees the same question, talk to me about the sound of Detroit, what would you say is the Detroit sound?
Jay Lovejoy: (pauses) Wow that is a topic that is ... (pauses) I’m not sure how to word it the right way that is a topic of conversation across Detroit right now. It’s really hard to say because, like I said, when we were speaking earlier, it’s kind of gravitating to a universal sound but for many, many years the sound of Detroit was the sound of the struggle.
And I’m not saying in the universal sound the sound of the struggle is not incorporated, but before it was really really rough-ended, really hardcore, hard-edged, street rap that you might not want a family member, or a child to listen to. That’s what it was for many, many years, but right now I think we understand the importance of pushing the envelope of making music that is appreciated across the board and if you can do that you’ll have a much better chance of gaining the notoriety and traction you would like, that’s what I think – the sound is shifting to a more universal sound.
MB: And is that an okay thing?
Pauly Lovejoy: Well, just like I said in expressing that to you, there’s no way unless the conditions change, there’s no way you’re going to take the struggle out of the music. Still, it’s how you convey it, how you project it through the lyrics, it just may take you to be a little bit more conscious and a little bit more spirited, as opposed to being solemn. I guess that would be the word, solemn.
MB: Solemn, that’s an interesting word to use, thank you for speaking with me today.
Pauly Lovejoy: You’re welcome.