When it comes to discovering and developing new talent, there aren’t many better in the music business than Michael “Mr. Collipark” Crooms. Once In just over a decade, the Georgia native brought us chart-topping artists like Ying Yang Twins, Hurricane Chris and Soulja Boy, and has produced tracks for the likes of Jamie Foxx, Jeezy, Lil Jon, Ciara, Twista and many more.
Fast forward some awards (including BMI Songwriter of the Year in 2007), Grammy nominations and a few million records later, and Mr. Collipark is making a formidable career change – but not in the direction you might think. Rather than pushing to go bigger, the astute businessman is taking things, as he says, back to the basics. But what exactly does that mean in such a convoluted age of entertainment?
UrbLife.com took a few moments with Mr. Collipark to find out his thoughts on the current state of music, responsibility of our generation for the next, and the best tough love advice he can give to aspiring artists out there.
Tell us what that means when you say you’re going ‘back to the basics’.
Mr. Collipark: The ‘Collipark’ was at the top of the evolution of where I was in the music business. It was never my desire to be an artist or to be the type of producer that was in everyone’s videos. That just came about with me wanting to brand what I was doing. If you notice, when Ying Yang Twins were out, I was rarely in any videos until the album with “Whisper Song” on it.
The reason I did that is because I felt like we didn’t do a good enough job branding what we’d done as far as the whole crunk movement. Our roles in that movement, I feel that it was kind of slept on and not given the credit that I though it deserved. So when we came up with the sounds of the whispers and all of that, I said, “This time I’m putting a look to it, I’m putting a name on it, and I’m putting a face on it.”
That was the whole suit, cigar, adult, sexy thing back then. I’m back to where I came from now. It’s more about the music now than the [promotion]aspect of it. I just feel like the music is what’s missing right now. When we get the music right, we can start worrying about all of the other stuff.
Do you feel that you have been forced to make changes, or have you done this in a calculating way?
MC: A little bit of both. I think even what we just talked about was a little calculated, coming back with the Ying Yang Twins and “Whisper Song,” but it was also a little forced, being that I didn’t want to get the credit taken away from us like it had been.
Even going into the Soulja Boy era and Hurricane Chris stuff, that was very calculated in that you wanted to be looked at as an executive, as a label head, someone who could build a brand. I just really neglected my music side of it, and I do regret that. I feel like once you have on that executive hat, it’s hard to be creative at the same time.
That’s why you don’t see a lot of creative people with successful labels and vice versa. When I was doing the whole executive thing, I found it hard to get in the studio and not just do mechanical type stuff. I’ve never been the type of producer to do what people saw me do the last time.
What some solid tough love career advice that someone has given you?
MC: It was [from] Step Johnson, who was the head of Interscope at the time. He came down to Atlanta when I was developing Vistoso Bosses project . Interscope had a horrible year. I don’t remember the actual quotes, but his whole thing at the time… it was almost ahead of his time, which was backwards to me now that I think about it…
Interscope was bringing in artists and just putting songs on them, they were like big radio records, but it wasn’t connecting or selling. They tanked with a lot of stuff that they thought was going to work. Some of those artists were Black artists not making Black music or urban music. They were trying to be Pop and everything else. He basically was coming down telling us that, “We want urban music now,” because he saw that the [Pop] music from the other artists wasn’t working.
It was a quick fix [to go Pop], but Interscope is used to selling records. I was sitting there with a Black group, Vistoso Bosses, making Pop records – the complete opposite [of their new direction]. That [discussion]stuck with me, because I feel like that’s why music is messed up right now. Nobody is taking the time out to really mold and shape artists the way that we used to do it. They just put them in the studio with whoever, get a quick little record, throw it out, and it doesn’t sell. Then they say that the music industry is messed up.
Now, you take a group that I have in Dallas, Treal Lee and Prince Rick, take them off of Interscope and put them completely independent, because I know the big machines now don’t believe in trying to groom true urban music. When you hear Usher singing “OMG,” that’s not the Usher I grew up to, that’s the ‘sign of the times’ Usher.
I still feel like real Black music will sell, I just don’t think people are giving us a shot before they throw us against the wall to be successful with it.
How do you feel about artists like R. Kelly or Cee-Lo who mix genres, but still keep that soulful quality?
MC: The two artists you just mentioned are true talent. People look at the stuff I’ve done in the past and they may talk about it, but somewhere inside of each artist that I signed laid something special. I saw something in them that I felt was special.
Even after I signed Soulja Boy, you couldn’t imagine all the kid groups that were brought my way. People thought I just wanted to sign groups because they were kids and could dance. They were totally missing the point of what I do.
First of all, I would never try to recreate Soulja Boy, because I’m not into trying to redo what I do. It was a whole lot of other stuff that came along with that kid that I’m not going into, because we all know now between marketing and the internet. There was just so much more to him than people initially realized.
What do you think is important for anyone getting into the music industry now to understand about how they are going to have to develop themselves?
MC: I think now the biggest misconception that artists feel is putting in the work. What artists need to realize is that there is more [weighing]on them than ever before. Before you get to a Mr. Collipark or get into an Interscope, it’s all on them.
You have to interact with you fan base, whether it’s virally or getting out here and touching them. It’s about building a true, core fan base, and I’ve never seen [the industry]like this. I really think now days if you don’t have a true, core fan base – however you get that – you should be able to put out records.
Look at an artist like Lil B, who can go to New York and sell out, or come to Atlanta and sell out without having a deal. If he stays in line with what he’s doing, he’s in line to be a success story whether you like him or not. He has built a core fan base around the country that really checks for what he does.
Look at Wiz Khalifa, he was on Warner Bros. the same time as VIC. Wiz didn’t have a choice but to make the type of music that was acceptable at the time. He went underground and did what he had to do, and now look at him.
What is your tough love advice for artists coming up in the game right now?
MC: Honestly, if you don’t possess some kind of talent, real musical talent, or if you don’t possess some kind of star quality, now is not the time for you. At the end of the day, you can get on and do all this internet stuff, but this is a record ‘business’. You could be a mixtape artist, tour the country, do shows, and that’s cool. If you want to be in the record business as a label head, you have to have people care enough about you to go buy your products.
Atlanta is like the king now of open mics, every night is something new. You have all of these groups, and I try to support that kind of thing as much as I can, but I sit there and think, “Why this group is on this stage?” You can come back a year from now and see the same group on the stage. Someone needs to tell the group that this is not for you; it’s more serious than this now. I feel like that’s what’s wrong with this business now.
It’s a good thing in a sense; it had to get this bad. You have to sh*t out the bad. It’s going to get so bad where if you aren’t the truth,you’re not going to be able to sell anything. I take my own artists, [for example]Soulja Boy who has sold platinum records and multi-platinum singles to selling 13,000 copies on the last album. You have to stay on top of your game out here.
Do you think the over saturation of artists is a negative, or do you think it will be a plus?
MC: I really feel like it’s an absence of OGs out here that are still relevant. There is no one here to police this industry anymore. I went and did a club run in Atlanta, which is run by young cats now. You hear about all of the young talent coming out of Atlanta, and I wanted to see where the music is being broken. The club scene even now is terrible. This makes me feel like it’s my fault.
I can’t get mad at these kids for the music they’re putting out, because where have I been in the past three years? Where is [the mentoring]? It made me start asking questions… who’s here to say what’s wrong and what’s not? That’s the biggest problem.
So where do you find these kids with talent?
MC: The kid that I’m working with now goes by the name of Translee. The kid was with an intern of mine who had been interning with me for two years. They called me in to help with a video that they were doing, and I didn’t mind helping out. I watched it later and saw the song he put on the skit at the end, and I was totally blown away. He’s nothing like anything I ever worked with before.
To me, it just has to be something real about the artist, something that I can connect to on a personal level. He’s the most lyrical artist I ever worked with. I look for talent that’s undeniable to me, and it’s never popular at the time. Most of the A&R’s [in Atlanta]are signing something that’s playing on 107.9 rather than find someone that has real talent. When I look at my most successful artists, Ying Yang and Soulja Boy, it wasn’t popular when I did it.
What’s coming up next for you?
MC: It’s big for me to do this project with Translee, because it’s forcing me to get back in the studio and start producing. It’s me doing the music that I want to do, and not being forced to do. There’s no way that I can lose doing a mixtape, and it allows me to work with the artists that I like to work with.
You can expect to see me in the studio, rather, I’ll be doing a lot of work for a lot of artists. I’m just back out here this year. I’m tired of being in front of the camera like that… but if I have to, I will.