Connecticut-bred, NYC-based Todd Moscowitz is the very model of a modern music entrepreneur. He acquired his bona fides in the trenches of Def Jam and Rush Management; his passion for hip-hop and ground-level understanding of the biz served him in good stead at Asylum and Violator, and he eventually ascended to Co-President/CEO of Warner Bros. Records before co-developing 300 Entertainment. His own Alamo label, which started at UMG and moved to Sony in 2021, has scored big successes with Rod Wave, Lil Durk, blackbear, Smokepurpp and more. He also continues to manage rapper Gucci Mane.

What was it like growing up, Mosco?
I grew up in Sherman, Connecticut, a town of around 1,500 people. It was pretty much like a John Hughes movie; it was the mid- to late ’80s and there wasn’t that much to do. I was at a boarding school. I had the friends I grew up with, who were like something out of a Brat Pack movie, and this new group of friends, who were mostly kids from New York City boarding in this small town in Connecticut. It was a weird mix of cultures. And it wasn’t like there were computers or the Internet, so you listened to music. With my old friends, I listened to bands like The Cure, New Order, The Smiths and The Sugarcubes. The kids at school were all Deadheads.

What was the first record that really blew your skirt up?
I grew up listening mostly to what my parents listened to—Fleetwood Mac, James Taylor, Carole King, John Denver—classic ’70s stuff. But in high school, it was this very ’80s/new wave thing.

I heard N.W.A for the first time when I went to college. The city kids there were all super into hip-hop, much earlier than I was. I heard N.W.A and D-Nice around the same time, and that’s when I started getting into hip-hop. I think D-Nice’s album was the first rap album I bought.

You went to NYU to become a lawyer. Where’d that come from?
My grandparents. I didn’t know what I wanted to do, and my grandparents hammered it into my head that I was either going to medical school or law school. And that was it—no discussion. It was a foregone conclusion that if I could get in, I was going.

What do you remember most about law school?
When I got to law school, I immediately started interning at Def Jam. I had a friend who had a relationship with them and was like, “My best friend from college really wants to work in music; can I introduce you?” I met them and literally started interning the next day. So most of what I remember from law school was actually working at Def Jam. I think I spent more time there than I did going to class. It became like a full-time job.

This was 1991. Def Jam was still pretty small. It was Rush Management and Def Jam together in two offices, one on Elizabeth Street, which was really the downstairs of Rick Rubin’s apartment, and the other on Broadway. I worked in the Rush space. It was small, not even 30 people. For three years I got to sit on couches and listen to what was going on. Anything that was a contract, they were, like, “He’s in law school; he’ll read it.” And that was how I learned everything. They handed me every contract, every correspondence. I started reading them and picking up on stuff.

Hip-hop was becoming hugely popular but wasn’t all the way mainstream. There had been breakouts like LL Cool J and The Beasties. But for mainstream pop culture, it was just starting to penetrate. And like I said, Def Jam still had that smallish feel where the artists were in the office every day hanging out. It felt normal to be sitting in a room with Q-Tip or Big Daddy Kane or Nice & Smooth. It was a turning point, where it went from being an important but underground cultural thing to a much more mainstream thing, a much bigger business, a much bigger part of the record business… And I was a fly on the wall.

As it became more of a business, how did that affect the culture?
It matured. The people who worked at the company were incredibly young. At the time I had long, long hair and a peace-sign earring. One of the really interesting things was seeing how a company could operate when people weren’t restricted by preconceived notions of how things should be done. That led to brilliant, disruptive approaches to everything from A&R to marketing to promotion. I learned from that how I wanted to build my companies in the future.

What changed was, as the artists became bigger and more mainstream, more known, they grew up. The executives grew up. They learned that the more hours you put in, the more you learn and the better you get at what you’re doing. Over time it became a mature business, to the point where everybody in the industry was looking at Def Jam, like, “Wow, we need to do it like them—we need to replicate what they’re doing.” It went from being an upstart to being the industry leader.

When did you start to make the transition from being the lawyer/business-affairs guy to what you’ve ultimately become?
When I became a manager. After three or four years, I went to Violator to work with Chris Lighty and Loud Records, and that wasn’t a business-affairs role; I was EVP. That was when I left the other stuff behind and just started signing artists and managing things. I was managing Three 6 Mafia, a bunch of producers, 7 Aurelius, who’d produced all the Murder Inc. stuff, the Ashanti, Ja Rule and J.Lo records. He’d had, like, seven worldwide #1s, so he was riding a huge wave. On the Loud side, I was handling a lot of the marketing and promotion. At that point, I’d been around it for 10 years and had absorbed way more than I’d ever realized.

You left Violator to join Asylum around 2004, which was a complete reboot and a rebranding, and you got to do it your way.
It was experimental; I was figuring out what my way was. I’d been working with Three 6 Mafia and was becoming more and more aware of all these regional scenes in hip-hop that seemed really overlooked. There were these amazing entrepreneurs in all these different cities. Three 6 was not only important as a group; they had their label, Hypnotize Minds, representing in Memphis. I met James Prince through 7 Aurelius. James had Rap-a-Lot, which was this incredible independent label in Houston—Geto Boys, Scarface, Pimp C and Bun B….

This was the beginning of what people today look at as research. I just started looking around and seeing, “Huh, this is working in this city. These artists are selling tickets here. This artist has a record playing only on the station down there, but it’s also selling in the stores down there…” Somewhere along the way, I thought, I should start a company that caters to entrepreneurs building great brands who need resources or help in other areas to grow and the artists who are big in their city but haven’t necessarily gotten the attention they should on a national or international level.

I built an infrastructure with a fluid system in terms of the deals, because when you’re dealing with entrepreneurs, you must be flexible; you have to work around them, as opposed to asking them to work around you. We had marketing, promotion and international. At the time we said, “Independent but not underground.” The point was that it was the best of both worlds—it gave people the flexibility of remaining independent and retaining creative control but also the muscle of a major.

I realized we could actually compete with the majors with a small, super-focused staff that specialized in doing this. Because it was a startup, there wasn’t a lot of pressure on us; nobody had any expectation that we would be successful or do much of anything at all. The lack of pressure gave us the freedom to experiment and gave me, personally, room to see if I could make a business of it. No one was saying, “Here are the numbers you have to deliver.” The bar was very low. But 12 months later, we’d put out something like 10 albums, and five of them had entered in the Top 10. We were a tiny company with low overhead, a low-risk operation—and we figured it out; we built a business that catered to entrepreneurs and artists who were being ignored by the industry.

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