Highlighting Key People in Hip-Hop
When you’re introduced to Amir Abbassy’s company, Blame The Label, you might get the wrong impression. This Richmond, Virginia native is all for label support but he also believes an artist can reach the same success independently. Since his entry into the industry in the early 2000s, the impact of major labels has lessened. As the manager of Philadelphia’s own Freeway, Abbassy witnessed the shift firsthand. With a dedicated team, social networks and clout, the former Roc-A-Fella artist has maintained a buzz, despite the absence of major label backing. Abbassy’s expertise in management stems from years of experience in several fields. He began his journey in the industry with a position in marketing and promotion for radio. Over the years, he’s worked with a number of indie and major labels and now, he’s currently the Director of Marketing & Promotions at BlastMusic – formerly known as SMC Records. We got a chance to pick Abbassy’s brain about everything from his experience in the industry to his role as a manager. And if you follow his twitter account, @BlameTheLabel, you know to take notes.
How do you feel about the progress you’ve made since you’ve been in the industry?
Well, first off, I’m blessed! As you know, the music industry has a high turnover rate so it’s good to still be around. Honestly though I still feel like I’m just getting started. So, no matter how far I might think I’ve progressed, I’ve still got a long way to go. I always want to use all of my experiences and the knowledge I’ve learned thus far and continue to challenge myself, and the industry. Free and I always say every week is rookie season and that keeps us from ever being complacent.
What was the industry’s climate like when you first came along compared to how it is now?
When I was coming up, it felt like there were no alternatives to getting visibility as an artist except being signed. You get noticed, you rap for someone who is in the industry, you get signed, and then you drop a project. A lot of artists back then didn’t have access to the resources we have now. Now an artist and his team can put out an album on iTunes, shoot videos, work with a publicist, and generate a buzz without any label. I’m not mad at the new climate at all.
What inspired you to pursue a career as a manager?
As a kid my parents used to tell me I was the “Voice of Reason” so I’ve always felt like one of my skill sets was to be able to see the big picture and give constructive criticism that’s of value. Additionally, I knew early on that this was something I wanted to do. I always say a good manager in my opinion is like a good point guard who understands the skill sets of each player and how they can contribute to a cohesive and effective team. I like running the point.
For an artist like Freeway who’s religion plays a key factor in his life, was there ever a point where you second-guessed the impact he would have on his fans and hip-hop as a whole?
I’ve never doubted Free’s impact for one second. You could always hear the pain and struggle in Free’s voice. He doesn’t just speak for himself; he’s the voice for the voiceless. You can listen to his first album Philadelphia Freeway today, which just recently celebrated its 10th anniversary, and go to Philly tomorrow and see those bars playing out in real life.
That goes into one of the jewels you dropped on Twitter: “Artists don’t be so quick to change your narrative. You’ll lose the core fans that helped you get to where you are now.” A lot of artists might feel that they have to sway towards the sound that’s dominating the radio or sound like the artists that recently blew up to get people to pay attention. If they’re new with a small fan base and their narrative isn’t working, then what?
My advice is to stay authentic and tell the story you want told and I guarantee folks will gravitate towards it. This won’t happen overnight but when it does your story will spread faster than the other narrative that wasn’t completely you. The music should always match and complement the artist.
For managers on the come-up, what tips can you give to them?
I won’t give away too much; they’ll have to pay a consulting fee for that. But I would urge managers to find new opportunities for their artists every day. Don’t ever wait for things to fall in your lap, go out there, venture and work with brands outside of music. There is sponsorship money out there to be made and the more you cross-promote with those lifestyle brands, the more awareness you’re going to bring back to the artist. Lastly, don’t tell the artist what they want to hear tell them what they need to hear.
What can we look forward to from you this year?
I’m focused on branding Blame The Label, working with more clients in and out of music and continuing to build my relationships within the industry. Plus, the bearded wonder Freeway and I will probably be working with each other until our wheels fall off. That’s my brother for life. I’m also working with a real talented artist, The Narcicyst who’s based out of Montreal. Keep him on your radar, we are about to rollout a very fresh campaign with him + Ray Ban beginning in the month of May. I also manage Amaar, an artist out of the Bay who I call the “placement king.” He’s still getting checks from music we got placed in Scary Movie 3, ER, and CSI Miami, just to name a few.