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NO I.D.’S BONA FIDES

Interview by Michelle Santosuosso

Dion No I.D. Wilson, who was tapped as Capitol Music Group EVP in June, following a tenure at Def Jam, earned five Grammy nominations Tuesday, including Producer of the Year and a stake in the Album, Song and Record nods for Jay-Z. He also exec-produced the breakout set by Logic, whom he signed  to Def Jam. All the more puzzling, then, that he agreed to answer questions about his projects, A&R and more from HITSMichelle S., whose own I.D. is written in crayon.

With your presence, this feels like a new era at Capitol.
Yes. For me, it’s all about new ground, new challenges. After several years at Def Jam I needed to move on. Mainly because I don’t view myself as an urban guy or a hip-hop guy; I view myself as a culture guy. The culture at Def Jam was a little too niche for my thoughts and opinions, since I’ve kind of covered that territory. And you know, the top artists there, minus Bieber, I’ve already worked with and met success with. I felt like I needed to grow, and when I went to speak to Lucian, he suggested that I pursue building art again on a larger level, but doing it within Capitol because they’re just such a great worldwide company—and I guess they didn’t have someone like me. It was a good fit to feel like I could go in new directions, and maybe they could too.

How do you guide your new artists now?
The first thing I always say is, “Let’s not make it about me; let’s make it about you. Let’s make people fall in love with you.” It might be a slower process sometimes, but it pays off when you’ve got real fans and you’re not just “the guy with No I.D.” When you become your own self and grow your own identity, then people stick with you, whether I’m there or not.

You did that with Logic too.
Yes, and I think that that’s my job. The same way the art of A&R is a little convoluted, so is the role of producer. A producer is supposed to bring light to the artist and the music, sonically. But when you start scoring points just for yourself, it’s not the point. That’s not what you’re really there to do. It’s just what commerce makes us do.

And when you went to Jay-Z about 4:44, you said you found a new way of doing music that truly excited him about recording. So is part of the producer’s job to motivate and nudge?
Yes, to push them. He wanted to say some things about himself and his past, and it was my job to foster that environment. I actually scored points for myself by helping him be his best self for the present moment. That’s it, and when you take your ego out of it, 20 years from now, we’ll appreciate what happened more than if I put a tag in front of every beat and jumped in videos and tried to prove something for myself. I really am happy he’s happy. That’s it.

Let’s discuss Soundcloud, because you developed Jhené Aiko in large part via that platform. How has streaming and SoundCloud landscape changed A&R?
Well, I don’t think it applies to A&R, it applies to distribution. There was a time when you couldn’t get your music out to people without a distribution company and now distribution is an upload process and you can do it from home. I think A&R lost its course because they could no longer be the gatekeepers to having your music presented to the world. Somehow the art of the A&R process was lost. Now a lot of kids who do music just put it out. Then you just say you’re the A&R because you found it or were assigned to it. But A&R is an artistic conversation. A journey of, “Hey, you think you wanna do this--what do you need? How do you wanna accomplish it? Who can I get for you? How can I make sure everyone’s on the same page?” And I think that that’s where the free distribution services have interrupted creative growth of music.

Are there enough people who are adept at having that conversation with the artist and putting it all together? You say it's a lost art, which mirrors the analogy that Quincy Jones mentioned when he discussed his thoughts on today’s music, that it’s dominated by four-bar loops.
Yes, but that’s what I mean. It’s just a lack of communication, because the stereotypes are enforced, which are youth culture vs. old culture. Quincy is a global treasure. How many young kids want to learn from him or have access to learn from him? Or to learn from someone that he taught? Like that information is getting lost. Right now it’s like a punk movement. The attitude is: I don’t need anybody.

Defiance.
Yes, defiance, perfect word. So, that’s where I go. I’m a super realist in the sense of at this point, I love results. I love to defy myself and defy the odds and make some change, more than I care about numbers. Research to me is a wonderful thing but you know, it rained yesterday, that doesn’t mean it’s raining tomorrow.

You’re certainly known by the artist community, as a mentor.
Yes, I am, and I try to do it. The special part about that is knowing when to fall back, when to step in, and there’s a lot to that. I’m in a place where they need me to be me, whereas in the previous situation I kind of had to adapt to the needs. I don’t really want to change what I do; I want to grow what I do in the proper environment. Sometimes opposition is a good reason to grow, sometimes support is a good reason to grow. I looked at this as an amazing international airport—not too many flights are going where I’m going, and it’s an open runway. I’m planning to take off and fly some really good new planes.

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