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Weekly Interview - Apr 9, 2001

The week of Apr 9, 2001 features:

Kawan Prather, A&R for Outkast, Pink and Usher, Atlanta and New York

Kawan Prather is A&R at La Face Records, based in Atlanta and New York, and saw Outkast, Usher and Pink through their first successes and is also their current A&R along with acts GooDie Mob and Youngbloodz

HitQ: How did you get started in the music business and how did you become an A&R?

As a DJ for a group called Parental Advisory. We were introduced to Pebbles ( mastermind behind TLC Ė Ed. ) through a friend, Tionne "T-Boz" Watkins of TLC, who in time also introduced me to Antonio "LA" Reid ( Executive Producer for TLC and founder of La Face together with partner Kenneth "Babyface" Edmonds Ė Ed. ). And through just conversations and the sharing of opinions, we found a common ground and he asked me if I was interested in coming to work for him. This was in 1992. Since then, the group I was in signed to Pebblesí label, Savvy Records, who had a deal with MCA Records ( one album released, "Ghetto Street Funk", in 1993 Ė Ed. ), it didnít last ( a second album was released in 1998 though, "Straight No Chase", and a third in 2000, "My Life, Your Entertainment", on Dreamworks Ė Ed. ), but luckily I had the relationship with LA Reid. He told me he saw something in me, and he put me to work on the Usher project in 1994, and that record came out and it was very successful. It had to do with trust, in my opinion, and with the relationships I had with the artists whom I grew up with: Outkast and GooDie Mob.

HitQ: And you have your own label Ghet-O-Vison?

Yes, it came about because with La Face thereís a certain image; thereís the Toni Braxtons, the TLCs, etc. I donít want to call it Pop, but itís just more polished, more sophisticated music. I wanted to be able to put out records that were more street-based, more urban, so me and LA came up with the idea of having another imprint, Ghet-O-Vision, for that kind of music. I started it in 1999 and since then Iíve put out a group called YoungBloodz, and the Shaft soundtrack. I also have a new artist, T.I.P., whoís about to come out on that label.

HitQ: What experiences have been important to you in developing your skills as an A&R?

Simply being around artists who have clear ideas and a vision of what they want to do. And the influences of LA Reid, Pebbles and the many people I have come into contact with, who enabled me to make creative and business decisions. We, a lot of the time, as creative people, can be very personal about our music, and we get upset when people have things to say about our music. The music business has helped me to take a step back and look at it from the point of view of the consumer or the fan. And itís helped a lot, because in my involvement with my artists, they understand that Iím not just trying to make them something that theyíre not, that Iím only trying to get them to fulfill their true potential.

HitQ: Which qualities, in your opinion, are needed to be a successful A&R?

You have to be open and not think that your opinion is the law. A lot of A&R people think they make the artist, but it ainít really like that: you should be there to assist the artist, A&R people work for the artist, helping them to get their vision across. But a lot of them really believe that theyíre the reason why the artists are there.

HitQ: What are you currently working on?

Iím about to start working on the new Pink album, the new YoungBloodz album, finishing Usherís 3rd album, and possibly the 1Life2Live album ( Jan 2001 - ED ).

HitQ: How did your involvement with Outkast, Usher and Youngbloodz come about?

I grew up with Outkast; we slept on the same floors together, we kind of found each other. And in my dealings with LA Reid, it was just easy to bring them to him, I just introduced them, and that was before I actually started working at LaFace. It was kind of like in my trial period when I was just bringing favour, and he was like, "ok, that works". This was in Atlanta.

Usher was actually elevated before I got there: he was signed through LA Reid, but at the label they hadnít actually found Usherís place yet. So when I got on the project I was able to listen to him and figure out where he wanted to go, I just assisted LA and helped Usher get his direction together.

YoungBloodz actually just walked up to me in a studio ( Patchwork ). They didnít have a demo or any record, but I just thought they had a look about themselves, and an energy that came with it, so we went into the studio and it actually panned out, it worked. But it really was a chance thing; it was just because I thought they had good energy.

HitQ: As La Face merges with Arista/BMG, how does the future look for LaFace?

Basically, the merger will help the artists and us employees get our vision across. When LaFace was an independent, we had to constantly prove that we knew what we were doing or what we were going for, but now weíre in a position to make the decisions and roll with it. So it helps creatively. We will still have an office in Atlanta, but the main office will be in New York.

HitQ: How do you find songs and producers for your acts?

Just by being places where the producers are, like in the studio, at parties, clubs. A lot of the time itís not that they play me something for me to buy it, itís just that we respect each otherís opinions, so they just want to get an opinion on it. And then I hook them up, like for example, with Pink and the record ĎThere U Goí, obviously Sheíkspere had just been successful with ĎNo Scrubsí, and he had records and he had ideas; he had a very hungry, eager energy, and Pink had that same energy, she just wanted to win, so we decided to put them together to see what would happen. That record they wrote together with Kandi Burruss ( see weekly success story March 5th - ED ), they sat in the studio one night and came out with it. Pink had an idea of a situation that she went through, and it was one of these situations that was so universal that everybody in the world could just flow with it.

HitQ: What proportion of your time is spent looking for new acts to sign?

Every waking minute. Iím always the one whoís called on to listen to new stuff. Luckily the new artists that I have donít want anything that could discredit their family, because right now we have a family of superstars, incredible superstars. Itís almost like Iím a kind of gatekeeper, I sit down with the family to see if the newcomers fit. We all respect each otherís opinion; if I find something new, I play it for Outkast, if I find a new song, I play it for Pink, I play it for Usher, to get their opinions, because I value their opinions as much as they value mine. Weíre a very close unit.

HitQ: How do you find new talent ?

It usually finds me. I really do believe Iíve been blessed and put in places, in situations where the right artists are. I canít say that I go out a lot looking, or that I wake up and go to the clubs and say, "Iím going to find the next artist". Iím usually put in positions where I can hear stuff and Iím not expected to be there in a signing capacity; Iím usually just there in a chill-out cool capacity, and it works itself out. If you think you have a specific source, youíre probably more prone to burn out. You have to look at every option; you have to look at each situation as one in which you can find something new.

Itís also about the respect for each other, like the new act T.I.P.; he approached me because he knew of my association with Outkast. So itís almost like being around cool artists makes me cool, and if I understood Outkast that means Iím not just the average-everyday-trying-to-make-a-commercial-record A&R. He could see that I like interesting, new, innovative things, and he wants to be new and innovative, so he approached me.

HitQ: What do you look for in an artist?

The star energy, the desire to win. Itís just that intangible thing that you canít quite put your finger on, but you know you want to be around that artist, and you know that people would want to be like that artist. I just like good music and great talent, and I donít limit myself to Rap or Pop or R&B music.

HitQ: Do you pay attention to things like who the manager is, who the attorney is, who the team is, when considering signing a new act?

No, because honestly thatís the artistís decision. They make the decision on who their managers and who their lawyers are, because they have to work for them.

HitQ: What do you think unsigned acts should be aware of when approaching the music business?

Just put your heart, your all into it. As a new artist, your most important asset is that you havenít yet been judged, you can do anything you want to. Itís the best time to be innovative, because after you get in, people will start to pigeonhole you a lot of the time and then it can become very hard to reinvent yourself.

HitQ: Do you, or would you, work with acts from outside the US?

I havenít had that pleasure yet. Producers yes, because we worked with Max Martin ( Swedish producer for, amongst others, Backstreet Boys and Britney Spears Ė Ed. ), and others from outside the US. We have relationships with a lot of outside producers, it doesnít really matter, because music is universal and finds its way in all kinds of different places.

HitQ: Do your acts have a common feature?

All the acts I work with are different. The common feature would be that they are interesting and talented people.

HitQ: Do you accept unsolicited material?

No, not unsolicited. It has to come to me through someone I know, because if something comes to you unsolicited and you listen to it, later on if they hear something that they want to say sounds like their music, it brings all kinds of legal problems. I havenít found anything through demos, at least not yet.

HitQ: How much input do you usually have on the productions?

As much as is needed, although I like to spend most of my time in the studio with an artist when theyíre recording.

HitQ: Where do you see Urban music going in the future?

Right now I see a lot of innovation, it seems that a lot of people are tired of commercial music. Itís probably going to go a little more organic and more soulful. Even in Pop music I think things are going to get a little more soulful, more from the heart Ė thereís going to be more of that type of record.

HitQ: What are the key tools you use in order to break a new artist?

Just getting them to the young people. On the Internet, wherever the cool tapemakers are, you just go where they are, a lot of times you have people on the Internet trying to find something new. Street promotion, anything, getting them to the high schools. Itís always tough, because there are a lot of acts out trying to do the same thing.

HitQ: If you could dramatically change some aspect of the music industry, what would you do?

Just make it more focused on the artist and on music as art.

HitQ: What has been the greatest moment of your music career?

There have been many. The most excited Iíve been was once when I was having dinner with Will Smith and he called my mom. Actually, my mom called me on my cell phone, and she heard me in the background talking, because Will was trying to convince me to eat caviar and I didnít want to. He was like, "Whoís that?" and when I told him it was my mom, he picked up the phone and told my mom, "Make him eat it!" So that was incredible for me, because my mom was watching the Fresh Prince on TV at the time, and it makes her really proud to be able to say that her son is around these people who everyone wants to be like and be around all the time. This was last year.

HitQ: What do you see yourself doing in 5-10 years?

Running my label as an independent entity. Yes, being an A&R, although I think I wonít always be an A&R, I donít necessarily think thatís the key to the music business.

HitQ: What do you think of HitQuarters ? How much do you value it as a resource for unsigned artists ?

I paid a visit yesterday. Itís incredible, because a lot of artists donít have the resources to get their music heard or even just heard about. Itís a new thing that artists were crying out for.

Interviewed by Kimbel Bouwman