“Streets Disciple: Steve Rifkind”

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Behind the Machine

The Source magazine recently had the opportunity to talk with music industry veteran and CEO of SRC Steve Rifkind.  We discussed the success that his brands Loud records and SRC have experienced to shape where he’s at today as a battle tested and iconic mogul still winning.  As one of the best executives that ever did it behind the desk and on the streets and continues to do so, Steve Rifkind dropped some major jewels that only the could bring to you…Behind the machine.
When you started Loud records, did you know or realize how important and landmark this label would be in the industry?
Uh no.  I mean when I woke up every morning, all I could focus on was how am I going to feed my family?  How am I going to feed the people that work with me?  And go on from there.  You’re in it, so you’re not looking at what’s being built.  The first Wu-Tang Clan album did one million.  The next album I wanted to do 4 million.  All I ever tried to do with each project is do better.  I never said this was going to be the biggest & best label.  I never focused on that.  I only focused on doing right by my artists.

To this day when you hear “Proteck ya neck”, “Shook Ones” or “Make Room”, do you still get that rush and sense of pride you had when the records dropped in the early 90’s?

I probably get a bigger rush now.  You know as a matter of fact my oldest son’s a basketball player.  We had a car ride to a tournament in Orlando, Florida.  I played him pretty much my entire catalog.  He’s 16 years old you know, so he didn’t really appreciate who Wu-tang was or who Mobb Deep and Big Pun was.  He understood 3-6 Mafia’s impact a little.  As a matter of fact, French Montana was in the van with us driving down because he had a show in Orlando later that night.  After that was when my son and I were in the car and said “I didn’t know you had all those records”.  He goes “These records are incredible”.  I got more of a rush from that, than I’ve ever gotten a rush in my whole life.
You’ve had great success stories with artists from various different regions like David Banner & Melanie Fiona.  How were you able to tap into those great talents before other labels were able to snatch them up?
My street team.  I’d rather have something with a word of mouth so strong than anything else.  That’s how we found Wu-tang Clan.  It’s also how we found David Banner and Akon.  We found them all through the streets.  It was never a lawyer or a manager calling me.  The second Dante Ross (former music exec) said “Hey you guys ever heard about David Banner?” I was like “Yeah, somebody mentioned about him to me the other day”.  He was like here’s the record…it’s incredible.  The first thing I did was call my President (SRC) Gabby Acevedo and said what’s going on with the David Banner record?  Two hours later, Banner was on a flight to meet us in LA.  That’s how fast we move.  I don’t believe in research, I believe in word of mouth.  You can buy research!

Does the current landscape of the music industry frustrate you as an exec or must everyone just adapt?
I hate the music industry right this second.

What initially made you want to pursue and release R&B material?

When I went over to Universal records, first…SRC stands for (Street records corporation).  With Loud, we never developed any radio records.  It was always about taking the records to the streets.  We had a hot track record.  We never really had a “radio record”, maybe one or two.  It was “C.R.E.A.M”, “Still not a player” and “Sypin’ on syrup”.  Those were really our radio records.  So when I went over to Universal and we came with all these street artists, I realize I’m talking Chinese and they’re not even talking English.  It was more like Chinese and Spanish.  It was two of the furthest things from the world.  I realized no matter how much I talked, they’re not going to understand what the fuck I’m saying.  So when the Banner record “Like a Pimp” came, they did a fairly decent job at radio with that record.  As that was developing, I found Akon.  I looked at Akon with the records he had and they reminded me visually, not verbally of Dead Prez.  I saw Akon and thought he would be the biggest Pop artist in the world.  With Melanie Fiona, her voice is like an angel so you couldn’t say no to that.  But I realized I had to convert to that, because they (Universal) were never going to convert to me.  I didn’t say I’m going to do R&B and Pop, it happened organically.  I understand that’s what Universal is great at doing.  I still pick what we do at the street level and then I hand off the record and let them do what they do best.

When you see artist/CEO’s like Wayne, Rick Ross, Jay-Z and marketing/promotions vets like Rob Stone take something independent as you did with Loud and SRC to make the brands huge, does it remind you of how you started out?

First of all with Rob Stone, I started Cornerstone with Rob.  You know we were his first partners.  I’m so proud of him with what he’s doing with Cornerstone Agency and FADER.  I’m ecstatic for him.  With Jay, Wayne and Ross, it’s just great for the business.  You know Jay is brilliant.  He’s into all these things with his knowledge on what to do with a brand.  Jay manages Melanie Fiona.  We spoke and he reminded me of myself.  We were on the same page.  Jay said “let her be her”.  We don’t need to make her anything else but her and he nailed it.

The greatest and worst thing about this business?

When you still hear a great voice and somebody that can still give me goose bumps when I hear them.  The worst thing is corporate.  They’re killing the business.

What does the Source magazine legacy and current brand mean to Steve Rifkind?

The Source magazine is still the Bible of Hip-Hop.  The founders are very close friends of mine.  I tell Dave I still support the magazine.  It is what it is.  Loud records and the Source magazine…that’s Hip-Hop right there!  Being so close to the Source and seeing what the new regime has done, I’m happy that it kept its integrity!

Derryck “Nes” Johsnon.