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TEAM PLAYER: A CONVERSATION WITH MAVERICK'S GEE ROBERSON
He's Been Instrumental in the Careers of Kanye West, T.I., Lil Wayne, Drake, Nicki Minaj, G-Eazy and More. But He Knows It Takes a Village to Break an Artist.

Gee Roberson’s track record as a discoverer of talent is mind-boggling, and he details some of that history below. As a manager (now part of Guy Oseary’s Maverick consortium) who’s also been a label exec, A&R hustler and radio promo guy, he has a comprehensive understanding of the biz, and artist development in particular. But he’s always careful to underscore the importance of “team work making the dream work.” Still, the last person he wants on his team is bespectacled HITS loser Simon Glickman, who’s accustomed to being picked last.   

Congratulations on G-Eazy’s success. When did he get on your radar?
Around 2012, when he was opening for Lil Wayne, who of course is one of our clients. That’s when the lightbulb went on for me personally. He had a couple of tapes out at the time. Every single artist I’ve ever worked with, they’ve had that “it,” that star quality. You have to have that to spark my interest; my energy was on the tour, but he had that star power. I was like, OK, this guy has melodies, he can spit—there’s something there.

It seemed like a natural fit because it came from a family tree; my partner [Cortez] Tezz  [Bryant] had a relationship with [co-manager] Jamil Davis, and he introduced me to his partner, Matt Bauerschmidt, and G. That was the conducting bridge for all of us.

 How did this become the record where he got big?
There’s no way any of us can give credit for the development of the G-Eazy brand without talking about [2014’s] These Things Happen. The project was A&R’d by Jean Nelson on our team, who’s incredible. G is also a producer himself, but when you can add more fuel to the fire with your knowledge and history and access to producers, the results are great.

 It’s easy for people to overlook the importance of the artist development part of this. That was solely artist development, and that was the purpose of us coming together and dropping These Things Happen first before going into When It’s Dark Out, because we wanted to set the stage.

How did you first get involved in music?
When I was going to Towson University I met an intern at ColumbiaDino Delvaille.

He was getting credits for listening to music, and the lightbulb sparked—I wanted to get in. But I didn’t know a single human being who worked in music except this guy. The following year he got a job at
Payday through PolyGram and hired me as HIS intern. This is probably 1994 or so. He went on to sign Jeru the Damaja and a bunch of other hardcore rap records, including this other artist he only gave a single deal. I was crazy for that artist. I decided to bring him to Baltimore and have him open up for all these frat parties and other shows I was doing.

Going into my senior year, Dino got a job at Universal. He offered me a job with him but I decided to finish college. But I kept in touch with the manager’s brother of the artist who had the single deal at Payday, because, you know, what’s hot is hot. I went to NYC after graduation and interned for them for free. They decided to go indie (via Priority). The artist was Jay Z and the company was Roc-a-Fella

Hop and Gee, back in the day.

Good call.
At that time I was doing college radio promotions for Roc-a-Fella, with the Gavin chart and all that, and a few months later, Mixshow promotions. I was passionate about doing A&R; I knew I had the ear. At the time there was only one A&R guy there—Kyambo “Hip Hop” Joshua. The bulk of the production on In My Lifetime Vol. 1 was done by Puffy’s producers. I said, you know what? We need to start our company of producers and writers. We should have our own management company and our own label. He liked the idea. He brought me into the A&R department, and we started a company together.

 As I keep saying, my life is based on partnerships. In December of 1998 we formed a management and production entity, Rock the World. I naturally called Dino, told him I formed a new company and I’m working in the A&R department at Roc-a-Fella. He played me a rapper named Half A Mill and this producer who’s doing all the beats. I loved the producer and wanted to sign him. I staked out Battery Studio until I heard a familiar beat and found the guy. I said I want to sign you and go hard for you. He said, “OK, let’s do it.” That producer was Just Blaze (Jay Z, Beyoncé, Usher, Eminem).

We were spending a lot of time at Puffy’s studio, Daddy’s House, during the Jay Z record and hanging out with a lot of his producers, and we heard there always guys around giving his producers samples. This one kid in particular from Chicago was using all these ill samples, and they were crazy—Hop and I thought, what if we sign him and build up his production credits off of these samples? Well, he tell us he wants to be signed as a rapper too. OK, cool, so the strategy was to focus at least three years on saturating the sound. There’s no reason we can’t do what Berry Gordy did with his team. And since we have the artists we’ve signed, including Jay, let’s work on getting his sound out there. Once we’ve done that we can focus on his artistry as a rapper. At the end of December 1998 we signed this kid from Chicago, Kanye West.

 Back then it was all about Trackmasters, Timbaland, Swizz Beatz, Jermaine Dupri and Dr. Dre; even back then, Kanye had that passion and vision and believed he could be the best.

 I knew I needed to have my own entity. Believing less was more, I signed two producers, Kanye and Just Blaze, and my mission was to have people say their names in the same sentence with those other guys who were dominating at the time.

←Roberson learns that HITS Editor in Chief Lenny Beer's rap handle is L-Sneezy.
Fast forward to the end of 2002. Hip Hop and I start receiving offers from every label. Sony, Warner Bros., Atlantic, Arista. I called Jay and said, I have a strong offer from Atlantic, but we’re family. Are you cool with this? He said, It’s about growth. If you have growth and can be an extension over there, it’s all good. To me that’s the right way to conduct business when somebody gives you an opportunity.

 So we move over to Atlantic and start there as SVPs of Urban in early 2003. They let us run our division as if it were Roc-a-Fella. The first priority we worked on for them was Twista.

 I had set up my production company venture with Roc-a-Fella before starting at Atlantic, on behalf of Kanye as a rapper. That birthed the company Hip Hop Since 1978, with Kanye as the first artist. I needed to separate the management part of Rock the World from the label part.

 We had a Kanye track called “Slow Jams” and Twista needed a single, so we put it on both albums. Twista does 390k first week on Atlantic. I should be jumping up and down over this big first week and a #1 with my first record there. But I’m in a panic, because I don’t want my Kanye project to do less! But two weeks later his album dropped and did 441k first week. That was the launch of my label venture with my first act, as well as my first act at Atlantic.

So you had big successes on two parallel tracks.
I’ve been blessed. I decided not to have another client until after three albums, and then Hip Hop and I decided we could add one more. We loved the Carter I and Carter II albums and decided we had to get in touch with Lil Wayne. He was killin’ it. We go to L.A. and talk to his guy, Cortez “Tezz” Bryant. The first meeting was like a brother from another mother, and we decide to team up on Wayne’s career and focus on Carter III. We worked on hooks and ideas with them, and it sold over a million first week. It’s weird to hear myself talk about this, because I look at the trajectory and I’m like, damn.

 We decided to set our sights on one or two more things. Tezz played me this mixtape by some kid from Toronto. I said, “Let’s do it.” I took the same logic as I had on the earlier projects. I worked it independently, brought Kanye in to direct the video, used my team 
at radio to work “Best I Ever Had,” and it went #1.

And that was Drake’s first explosion in the mainstream.
I want you to understand what my life was like during that time. I was 
an employee at Atlantic. Meanwhile, Universal is going crazy, wanting to sign this guy—Jimmy Iovine, everybody. I was working on the LeBron [James] soundtrack for More Than a Game with Interscope, and said, what if we had this unsigned new artist on there? Then you had a record called “Forever.” Then I thought: Wouldn’t it be interesting to have an unsigned artist perform on the Grammys? Can I do that? Lo and behold, Grammy stage [Drake performed with Wayne, Eminem and Travis Barker]. Then I wondered if I could get him in a commercial. And we got the Sprite campaign. That’s going into his first album! But that independent mentality came from those prior experiences I’d had.

Roberson and Nicki Minaj get their ethos on with Republic chief Monte Lipman,
promo head Gary Spangler and prexy Chopper Charlie Walk.

And then came Nicki.
That was a natural progression; she was already on Young Money, so we had a natural synergy and decided to work together and it’s just been incredible —from Pepsi to Glu Mobile to clothing to Myx Moscato. She became a cultural brand quickly because her business savvy is remarkable. There hasn’t been another like her. Her cultural impact has now grown to where she’s on the cover of TIME! I’m thankful for my work history to have had the domino effect that led to me meeting her.

How did you pivot to full-on management?
Since 1998 when I started the management and production companies, every cycle has been me doing both label and management. Back then, “360” didn’t exist. It’s normal now. After the Drake album dropped, I accepted the position of Chairman of Geffen with Jimmy. He really dove in on Beats, and I was only there for a year, because if he wasn’t going to be there I didn’t want to be. So I decided, I’m focusing on the management company.

What led you to Maverick?
In the spirt of the partnership with Tezz and to keep growing, I started Blueprint Group, because I’m so passionate about the concept of team, that it takes a village. The vision was a group of managers and building a management firm. The Maverick situation came from a similar way of thinking. Guy Oseary and I were talking and building all the time, so it was natural. In the midst of sharing things, Guy said, what if we brought all these managers together from different genres? I said, let’s get in a room and have a meeting of the minds. It was incredible and we were all on the same page to have this group that represented all genres—Madonna, U2, Paul McCartney, Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj and the new era of G-Eazy and Belly and what have you. It was a natural domino effect when you have like-minded individuals, and when you have Michael Rapino supporting the vision, there are absolutely no ceilings.

Roberson explains to HITS' Simon Glickman that there's a big difference between spitting a verse and doing a spit-take.→

Is it more like a supergroup of management companies, or one big thing with a common flow?
Definitely the latter. It’s the true philosophy of strength in numbers; true communication and conversation. If I need something from Guy or Adam Leber or Ron Laffitte or Scott Rodger or Larry Rudolph, it’s there, and vice versa. We’re all moving forward on opportunities as a collective unit.

What’s on deck?
Marc E. Bassy, a new artist on Republic out of the Bay Area. He opened for G-Eazy on some shows and he has a new single, “You and Me” featuring G-Eazy, coming out soon. He’s teed up and next up to bat.


Which team members would you like to call out?
My partners Tezz Bryant and Shawn Gee—Shawn oversees the touring division; our GM, Al Branch, who runs radio and marketing; Jean Nelson, President of the Blueprint Group label division; Matt Ferrigno, who’s head of branding and endorsement, Brian Sher, who’s head of the film and TV division; Abe Burns; and Bryan Calhoun, who holds down my digital endeavors.

Finally, what do you think is most important for growing and maintaining an artist brand once the artist is established?
The music is the key to it all. And the ability to reinvent yourself every time and be connected to youth culture every time, with every project, is what I’d deem the secret sauce of it all. Because it’s the foundation to the building.

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