Anybody who's listened to grimy urban music in the past 25 years has listened to an artist backed by SRC boss and entrepreneur, Steve Rifkind. Founder of the street team mentality (think hip-hop heads handing out flyers and leaving them under your windshield wipers while you're at a concert), Rifkind also created Loud Records, which at one time featured such benchmark acts as The Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep, and Big Pun, amongst others. Even more impressive, the music mogul's current roster includes Akon, David Banner, and Pharoah Monch in his stable. KING-Mag.com talks to Mr. Rifkind about his business, his internet talent contest, and Akon, his American Idol.
KING-Mag.com: Can you please tell the people about this hip-hop talent contest you have going on at Loud.com?
Steve Rifkind: We're looking for that next MC, you know. The one that gets $100,000 and a recording deal with SRC.
Can you tell me more about SRC; because I heard you have something going on called SRC 2?
Naw, that was going to be a PND deal (Note: I listened to the tape over and over again and I keep hearing PND, whatever that means) where we would just put out records that weren't going to sell as much. But, I mean, there's still going to be SRC, there's no SRC 100.
So what about this new Wu-tang album coming out in the summer?
Yeah, I'm actually going out on Wednesday to pick up the single.
And is the whole Clan going to be there?
Um, I think he's on some records. But he was never officially a part of the Clan.
So, musically, what is the future of Loud? Is it obsolete, is there something going on?
Loud Records? Well, we have Loud.com, and a Loud Energy Drink that we have that's going to be out by the end of the summer. But [as far as Loud Records is concerned], we're working with Sony now where they're going to allow me to put out a few records a year under the Loud umbrella. One is going to be Wu-tang, another's going to be Pharoahe Monch, and another is going to be this West Coast rapper by the name of Topic. He's somebody new I heard that was incredible from my Drama family. He's from West Covina.
Let's talk about the Street Team mentality that you pretty much created. Do you think the internet is killing that energy, or do you think it makes it bigger?
I don't think it's killing it; I think it's helping it. I think whenever there's a new song out, the word of mouth gets spread a lot quicker now through the internet because it's going market by market. You have people talking about something within minutes now.
Is that why you decided to have this contest online?
No, I mean, hip-hop, well, not only hip-hop, but music in general, we have to get more in the creative mode. You know, I grew up not on computers, and it's something where we're building a community where people can start talking and find that next artist to make an incredible record. That's what made Jay so great. He still does write amazing stuff.
So, since the tracks are already online, it's kind of sort of like a rap American Idol.
Well, because you get a record deal, that's the only thing [similar] with American Idol. [With this], you're not competing with anybody, you're competing against yourself to make the next pop album.
Speaking of American Idol, I know you have Akon on your label and Akon was actually on American Idol this season. Do you think urban music is getting too popular for its own good?
No. Nothing ever gets too popular for its own good. I mean, Akon is just hip-popular music; he's more of a pop artist than an R&B artist.
So what would you say is the difference between a pop artist and an R&B artist?
An artist that really crosses over. I mean, popular music is popular music, and it sucks that people have define that you're an R&B artist, or that you're a pop artist. Why can't you just be a creative artist?
What's going on with Kids Block? Is that still good?
Yeah, that's amazing. We're very close to linking it to PBS, and it's just something that I'm very, very, very excited about. I got an email yesterday from this professor at Harvard University, and he called it really innovative and understanding. It's going to be on PBS and DVD and we're going to make a record. It's incredible. It's going to be [geared towards] three to eight year olds. It was going to be [geared towards] two to six, but we developed everything more, and from a scale of age, we went a little higher with electricity and math and everything else like that. We'll have artists on the show. It's the 2007 version of Sesame Street.
Last year, Nas made a claim that hip-hop was dead. What are your feelings on that?
I don't think hip-hop is dead, but hip-hop has to get creative again. We have to take a chance on the young and the new and the recording world has to get back to work. And that's why we're doing LOUD.com. We have to bet on the new, we have to find that next big thing, that next Dr. Dre, that next Scott Scorch. Because right now, if you want a hit record on the radio, you go to one in five producers, and that's because nobody's betting on the new or the young, and that's the future of our music.
You've been in the business for a really long time. Do you have any horror stories you'd like to share?
No, not really. The only horror stories I have I had with Sony, but otherwise, it's been really, really good to me. It feeds my family well, it takes care of me, I'm good.
You always seem to be one step ahead of the game. So where do you think music is going in the next step?
That's the million dollar question. I don't have that answer, but you know, I'm looking for that next cat. There's no question about it. You know, we did it with Akon, and we'll do it again. I think music right now might spin off of a few things, but you have rock, you have hip-hop, and then you get closer to popular music. Maybe live bands. There's so many spin offs, I think the Roots can be stronger than ever.
And have you ever tried to sign a group like The Roots?