Press Lives Matter: Kolby TurnHer of TheBlackTongue/Alamo Records
Written by Greg Harris
In this section of Press Lives Matter, we stay around the area of the maestros who play behind the scenes of the music industry. In our past interviews, we highlighted the likes of Quinelle Holder, who’s the team captain of Medium PR and we also shined the spotlight on Pigeons and Planes own Eric Isom. As we connect with some of the individuals who are mainly the glue between the labels and the artists, we find another individual who’s disrupting the industry in his own fashion.
Kolby TurnHer is nothing short of a vet when you look at his resume that entails playing a vital role in the rising years of the Spaceghostpurpp, ASAP Mob, Speak!, and Asaad. Coming up in a family that has musical roots, it seemed like his future was destined to have some rhythmic influence in professional life. As he manifested his destiny in his earlier years with having an excellent ear to the streets and blogging about what he heard, TurnHer crafted “TheBlackTongue”, which is a platform that has a focus on music + fashion. With this moniker, Turnher has caught himself being one of the most pivotal for NYC’s brewing music culture that involves a lot of movers and shakers who are looking to make a big splash on the scene with different creative schemes and knowing how to market the next prominent artist.
We recently had a chance to speak to him about his start in the industry, being an A&R for the budding label, Alamo Records, what are some tips he would give up and coming artists, and more.
How’s Your Modern Life?
My modern life is different lol, I can't define it with any word other than different. It's wild, crazy, heartbreaking, inspirational, motivational and depressing all in one.
What are three things you have to do when you first wake up?
First thing I do is check my phone, drink some water, maybe take a shot of apple cider vinegar and of course hit that bathroom for that morning piss
How was your upbringing when you were coming up?
My upbringing was unique and really shaped my trajectory as well as my perspective. I saw a lot at a young age, so I know exactly who/what i wanted to be by the age of like 10, 11. Everything i'm doing now I knew I wanted to do at a very early age. I was raised around music, fashion and education however the adults that were all responsible for me as a child were all young themselves so I spent a lot of time outside and witnessing these people grow as I'm growing. Again, molding my perspective on life as a whole.
Living in a different age with different artists, who were some pivotal artists you grew up listening to?
Maaaan Kris Kross was the first thing that sparked my brain as far as even thinking doing music or entertainment was possible. I was a baby seeing that shit and wanting to be on tv like them. They really had all the kids at that time ready to be stars lol I still love Kris Kross til this day. Other than them there's Dipset, Wu-Tang, Death Row, Bad Boy, Rocafella, Guns N' Roses, Prince, Michael Jackson, Buju Banton, Marilyn Manson, Korn, Eminem, Pharrell, Kanye, Pantera, Type O Negative, Suga Free, Pimp C, Bone Thugs N Harmony and Parliament Funkadelic. These artists really taught me all i needed to know about music, aesthetic and some more shit. Pretty much they're all responsible for changing my life and opening my eyes to something else, something new that I'd carry with me.
"The position of the A&R is extremely vital because we're the ones that really understand the artists more than anyone else, we little dangle in the middle between the streets, the industry and the internet. We're really outside. When you look at Puff, he was really outside fighting with and for his artists. So was Yams, so was Dame Dash, so was Irv Gotti."
Alongside these artists you were listening, you came up in an era where you saw many creative individuals such as Irv Gotti, Diddy, Dame Dash, played pivotal roles behind the scenes. Who were some guys that help broaden your perspective on the business of the industry?
Definitely Pharrell, Kanye, Timbaland, and Devante Swing from a creative direction standpoint. As well as Cam'ron and of course those classic a&r's/executives like Gotti, Diddy and Dash but it wasn't until I seen Yams come from the same place I came from and do something with Rocky and the Mob for me to say "Okay maybe there's room for other young niggas to come in and change shit up" this was like 2011, 2012. That's when I really took my role as a creative mastermind behind certain artists seriously. Before that, I was just going to the studio with my homies and helping out for fun, I didn't think there was anything special about what I was doing.
Before you grew into playing the role of an A&R, how did you dive head first into the music industry?
Man!! I lowkey feel like I was supposed to be involved in the music industry in some capacity. When I was a kid my dad was an aspiring rapper and he always taught me certain things. He taught me how to rap, count bars, how to identify different producers and dj's, told me to pay attention to all the rap magazines and music publications in general. By the time I was like 10, 11 years old all my friends came to me for the new music and the next rapper that was about to pop. I used to make mixtapes in middle school and let my friends hold them so they can hear all the new shit I would find on the internet or off the mixtapes. I was working at a local barbershop in Albany, NY and I would spend all my bread on t-shirts, mixtapes and dvd's. After doing that then I started putting more focus towards fashion but I still was hoarding a bunch of knowledge and music. Then I started blogging on myspace around 2006 or 2007. Blogging about music and fashion pretty much turned me into a lowkey talent scout and A&R. By the time we started theblacktongue in 2011 people were asking my partner Toast and I for all sorts of creative direction, management, executive production and/or A&R help, I never wanted to call it any of those things because I felt like I was reaching. I just officially started being comfortable with wearing those roles and titles last year.
What are the origins of Black Tongue and how do you think this platform help your flourish in other ventures?
theblacktongue is our nucleus over here. it's our fashion house that we (Toast and I) launched in 2011, it originally was an art initiative Toast started but when I got on board in 2011 we made it a full fashion house. Everything I have now and everything I'm doing now is because of theblacktongue and our umbrella agency the 64th floor. It's bigger than just clothing, it's really a lifestyle, that's why the artists you see me work with all carry a certain sauce about them that rings back to something that is very theblacktongue/64th floor-ish. It started based off of our original dealing with Spaceghostpurrp and Raider Klan, then Speaks!, then A$AP and Asaad. We always kept our ear to the streets, eyes on the internet and fucked with the next wave of artists before they even broke. So now it's like people trust when theblacktongue, the 64th floor, Turnher or Sandtoast puts their stamp on something that it's something they might want to see about and pay attention to. Our cosign is definitely holding a lot of weight nowadays and we're proud of that because we worked hard for that. Now that we see what our influence does it's time to take it to another level.
What are some vital tips of yours when it comes to dealing with the new ways of marketing, strategizing, and releasing music?
Honestly, one of the biggest tips I give artists, especially the ones that are still developing I would say DO NOT DROP ANY MIXTAPES. I know people especially older people love bodies of work when it comes to an artist but unless you're an artist that gets over 20K listens per song, nobody is really checking for a whole project from you. You gotta pay attention to supply and demand. I tell artists nowadays that the game is more about singles and visuals. So yeah I'd say 1) focus more on singles and visuals 2) fill a void 3) be yourself 4) build a solid team around you 5) pay attention to the market and 6) make sure your presentation is sick, dope photos, dope artwork and good imagery, because even if you don't make the greatest music, even if you look cool you'll be able to snag a check lol.
Working in an age where artists aren’t getting developed like they used to be in the past decade, what are some challenges you face when trying to mold artists you work with that have the ability of molding their image themselves?
To be honest, I don't have that much of a hard time in this department. Usually the artist I work with trust me with their image. I feel like if i'm not great at anything else I'm great at molding an artists image better than even they can. The hardest part may be getting cool, close enough with that artist for them to fully trust me but once I've built that bond with them it's pretty much a wrap and unlimited trust.
In today’s time, how do you feel like the position of the A&R is so vital to the success of an artist, especially during a time where streaming is supreme and the measure of making an impactful single/album is only a social media moment away?
The position of the A&R is extremely vital because we're the ones that really understand the artists more than anyone else, we little dangle in the middle between the streets, the industry and the internet. We're really outside. When you look at Puff, he was really outside fighting with and for his artists. So was Yams, so was Dame Dash, so was Irv Gotti. So with that said I'd say that if the A&R assigned to an artist or project doesn't have a clear vision or an accordance with that artist then more than likely the connection with the rest of the people will be weak. Nowadays the A&R isn't just the guy helping with beats, production and connecting the dots, the A&R is also usually helping with the image, branding, and overall creative direction. How vital is it? Extremely vital. That's why I tell all these other A&Rs or kids who use the term loosely to really be outside and really get in tune if that's what they want to call themselves. I feel like we're about to witness another era like the 90s were we had prominent executive producer/A&R figures like Dame, Irv, Diddy, Jermaine Dupri, Suge, and others..we're on our way to seeing another movement like that for sure.
In the process of working with artists, you’ve established a footing at Alamo Records. How does it feel to work with a collective of young creatives but also receive advice from vets in the game in the same office?
It's honestly crazy as fuck. You would think that I'm in a position where I'm being held back or ridiculed for my crazy ideas and ways of thinking but it's more empowering than it is anything else. Obviously it's the industry so things are never easy but I'm going to keep it a whole rack, what we're building over here at Alamo is really some futuristic, progressive shit. It's unlike any other label i've studied or even worked with previously. A lot of other places are copying us already and we haven't even fully went crazy yet, we're not even half way there. So while it feels good and it's an empowerment type of environment we're also hella anxious because shit is moving so fast and there's so much we want to do, let's just say none of us are really sleeping and we have our hands everywhere, there's not much getting past us right now.
What are some plans for you for the rest of the year?
We're going to drop another theblacktongue collection, maybe 2 more. We're planning on releasing a lot more music from Lil' Baby Suplex and Boy. Sandtoast has a lot of dope art shit up his sleeve, we're also going to start doing a lot more fun and interactive shit with theblacktongue, the 64th floor and TURNHER.XXX. Get ready for a lot of parties, shows, exclusive records, playlists and mixtapes. We're creating a whole cult/religion based off music, fashion, lifestyle and overall fly shit.
How do you want to redefine the position of being an A&R?
I want kids to know they can be the rockstar they want to be without having to be the actual artist. That was my plan the whole time. To be effective, influential and successful all off of my talent, smarts and know-how. I hate actually rapping but I know my strong points and where i'm most helpful. However i'm still a star in my own right. I want kids to tackle whatever role they take on in life with the attitude of "I'm going to do this in the most swagged out way possible" whether they want to be the artist, the A&R or the dentist.
How do you want to help you revolutionize music?
I want to break barriers period. Not just in music but in life period. I feel like the creatives have and always will be the most important to the overall progression of society because we are the reporters of what's going on but we're also the voice of the voiceless. We express the things the common people want to say but either can't or don't know how to formulate the statement. I want to break those barriers by making things that don't normally go together, go together. That's the reason why everything we do, no matter how dark and metal or punk-ish it may look/feel there's always an underlying hip-hop/street correlation to it. Or vice versa. I want to really bring the hood and the suburbs together via the music, the fashion and just the overall ideologies we carry. Especially when you look at the origins of punk and metal and compare it to hip-hop. These are all subcultures birthed from the same things; anger, depression, oppression, rebellion, poverty and social injustice.
At the end of the day, how do you want to be remembered?
As that guy who not only fucked up the culture and the industry but injected it with a new/different energy. I want to be remembered as an innovator, a creative genius who destroyed and rebuilt whatever he wanted and brought something that was needed to the table, and of course...filled a void that was sorely needed/missed. The Marilyn Manson of A&R's if you will? Does that sound too corny? lol