Interviewed by Big Momma “Miz”
In this interview, Big Momma “Miz” talks with Lion about the birth of True School Entertainment, its pioneer affiliates and the influence hip-hop has had on him since a youngster. He also touches on the subject of conspiracies within conscious hip-hop and the transformation of rap/hip-hop throughout the generations.
Picks up the call, Peace!
HHF: Mr. Lion, what’s good with you?
Lion: Another day in paradise, trying to live that dream.
HHF: I hear you, so tell me a little bit about True School Entertainment, it’s a firm right?
Lion: True School Entertainment formed in 1998 when I was still in the army. At that time I had become friends with Bowlegged Lou from Full Force, who introduced me to Kangol Kid from UTFO. Kangol and I became very good friends fast. Within my last few months in the army he asked “what’s your plan when you get out?” I didn’t know. He said “You’re a dynamic speaker, very charismatic, and people like you. You come to work for me as my publicist, I will teach you everything you need to know about this business, in exchange, I’m not gonna pay you money, I’m gonna pay you with a career and with a rolodex. The more time you’re doing this, the more connections you’re gonna make and can start branching out on your own”.
I also got to work with Force MD’s, but for a very short time. As I grew I started reaching out to people on my own like; Sir Mix-A-Lot, Professor Griff, Chuck D. I started building my reputation in the industry. I moved quickly from publicity into the bodyguard arena, mostly because of my background. I’ve been a martial artist since the age of 8, started full-contact fighting at the age of 13, spent 12 years in the army and received very specialized training, and I’m a hyper-aware person, and of course being 6’2” and 238lbs doesn’t hurt.
HHF: Ha! Not at all.
Lion: So that’s how True School Entertainment moved from publicity into close-protection. I’ll tell you the birth of the name True School Entertainment really quickly; I’ve been a fan of Full Force since 1984, I’m a vocalist and have been singing in bands for years. I do mostly hard rock now, but my roots are in R&B, soul and funk. Full Force’s music taught me everything I know about vocalizing. There is a song on the Sugar on Top album, the song is a medley of Isley Brothers and others, and is called “The True School Medley”. I liked that name because I thought “True School” represented better than “old school”, hence the name True School Entertainment.
HHF: You said you started reaching out to other artists while you were dealing with Kangol, what made you want to connect? Was it the work you were doing with Kangol?
Lion: Believe it or not, in ’83 I was a break-dancer, I grew up on hip hop in its infancy. I got to watch the birth of Public Enemy, I remember when Sir Mix-A-Lot had Buttermilk Biscuits and Square Dance Rap. I grew up surrounding myself with hip-hop, I was that white dude that was into rap. The door had been opened for me to be able to reach out to my heroes, then I learned how to turn the knob and open the door on my own. So my purpose in reaching out to people was to introduce myself and make the connection. I’m very big into networking. I believe it is in every way profitable to invest in people, whether it’s financially or just being a part of their lives.
HHF: Why do you say that? Tell me how it has proven itself.
Lion: I make a far better friend than I make an enemy. I find it that when I invest in people, then when the time comes that I need something, that investment, generally speaking, gets paid back. I’ve been fortunate to go from having people’s posters on my wall as a kid, to representing or working with them in one way or another.
HHF: Are you working with any artists now, what are you up to?
Lion: I started managing Daddy-O from Stetsasonic about a year and a half ago, at that time he wasn’t interested in doing hip-hop as much. He’d taken on the persona of Professor Daddy-O, teaching modern technology in hip-hop doing lecture circuits around colleges. About 2 months into working together, he sent me some tracks to he had been working on. When I asked him “Why are we sitting on these?”, he said “I’M not sitting on ANYTHING! I’ll make the colors you make the numbers”, and since management was new to me at that time, I reached out to one of my mentors; Chuck D and his advice was to become your own label and put the music out, you can’t go wrong especially with the veterans I have in my corner (himself, Kangol, Daddy-0 etc..) So together, Daddy-O and I started our new label, with Chuck handling our digital distribution through SpitDigital/RCS Music. Chuck came up with the name Odad Truth, and created a logo. So that’s the birth of Odad Truth Records.
HHF: Great story!, I’m kind of surprised that Daddy-O isn’t embraced more by the hip-hop generation after him, since ‘Top Billing’ was the most sampled track in hip hop.
Lion: These kids don’t give a shit about their history, or investing in learning where the samples they use came from.
HHF: I have to ask, since you are on the other side of the fence, what’s happening with most of the older artists, is it personal or bad business dealings that didn’t keep the longevity? It seems to be the case with hip hop artists, I see rock/roll and R&B artists and they are still rolling in their 50’s & 60’s and not considered the old cats, so what’s up with our hip hop people?
Lion: A few things, when hip hop came around, there was a lack of education. We had artists who were 18 & 19 year old kids, sometime younger. When we see that first check for $25,000 – $100,000 advance that’s exciting, we take that money tour the world, mess with groupies and they aren’t realizing they are just loaning you that money. A lot of labels took advantage of that naivety so like in Good Fellas; “fuck you pay me”. Then there is a combination of sharks being sharks and naïve cats being naïve. Also, you have to either adapt, migrate or die. Many of them didn’t, and so their career died along with them. Take Iron Maiden for instance, these guys in their 60’s put up more energy on accident than young kids put out on purpose.
HHF: So do you believe it to be a cultural thing, honestly?
Lion: No, I think it’s this, not just music it’s life. My generation said we didn’t want our kids to have to go through what we went through. We wanted them to have what we didn’t. So, we handed them all these things that we had to work for. But we didn’t realize, we robbed them of a work ethic and they now think the world owes them a living. Now apply it to music. Older artists busted their asses on stage, and put in the work, then handed it all to the younger ones. So I don’t think it’s a cultural thing, more like a generational thing. There’s this inherent laziness that has come into what we now call hip-hop. Now the internet is around and you can now buy pro-tools for couple hundred dollars, and beats on Soundcloud.
HHF: Let’s talk about the whole switchover, I’m what I like to call “to-the-left” thinker. At one point the “gatekeepers” caught on to some of the messages that were in our music, such as Chuck D for instance, and they saw that knowledge that was spreading throughout our culture and to white people too that didn’t know certain parts of our history, and a lot of that came out in the music. I always thought as it being a team of them that saw this and planned for the future’s road to go into another direction, so the messages that we get today is a bunch of nothing, no real words sometimes. I can’t pinpoint where it changed for us.
Lion: There is a conspiracy that comes with that, lets address conscious rap and what it was at one time. Sadly it was very short lived. Hip Hop was fun party music that we could enjoy, then Public Enemy comes in with the education in their music and it started getting into the white neighborhoods, I listened to Minister Farrakhan and studied Malcolm X because of them, and right behind them were X-Clan. Soon the “powers that be” saw it was getting out of hand, people were starting to think. All of a sudden, in comes the N.W.A. gangsta era, etc. Eventually it all led into where we are now. Mindless music, with one trick ponies like Drake; listen to five songs he sounds the same. I respect the success, but it’s based on nonsense. The conscious voice gets drowned out by bullshit.
HHF: Is there not a lane or an avenue that they can be in to be heard?
Lion: How sad that we have to stay in a lane, there is a movement that’s coming. Especially with all the brutality that happening in our community, which by the way has always been that way, but so many people have camera phones now, and it’s being exposed. I’m one of the key planners of www.hiphop4justice.com movement, which is a coalition of artists from Chuck D, Mellow Man Ace, members of the Lynch Mob and so many more, that are taking a stance against police brutality.
HHF: Who are the liaisons between the listeners and the messengers; the DJ’s, the gatekeepers, the elite who’s doing all this blockage?
Lion: The corporations. They have taken this thing that was so street and had a voice and put it into something that was never meant to be. They come up with a formula that works for them, resulting in all this cookie-cutter music.
HHF: What do you think the game is missing?
Lion: The desire to have a flare. It’s like if you make us have to think, nah not interested. We have to stop playing checkers and get some chess players involved in hip-hop. Start thinking down the road, and not just what’s in front of you.
HHF: Is there anything you would go back and tell a young Lion that would prepare a better Lion today?
Lion: I would tell young Lion to continue reading album credits like you do. Names like Bill Adler (journalist and critic who specializes in hip-hop), Questar Welch and Steve Salem are going to be important for you to know in the later years.
This interview was done by Big Momma “Miz” a North Philly native, out of Harrisburg Pa., She is now the C.O.O for an indie label ILL CRE (Illustrious Creations of Entertainment) where she is also signed as an artist under the moniker “Penelope”. The Hip Hop culture is embedded in her style & personality, you’ll hear it in her rhymes and read it in her writings.
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