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Loud Records, the hip-hop label that launched Wu-Tang Clan, Mobb Deep and Big Pun, is about to make noise again, as founder Steve Rifkind revives the brand to launch a nimble indie. The new venture kicks off today — Monday, Sept. 28.
Unlike the original Loud, which launched in 1991 through BMG Distribution in the era when there were six major record companies, the new incarnation is setting up shop as a pure independent, with no formal ties to any major labels. The company celebrated its 25th anniversary in January with a concert at New York’s Radio City Music Hall featuring Wu-Tang Clan, Fat Joe and others.
In line with some of the precepts recently touted by Rifkind’s longtime friend Kanye West, artists will own their own masters. Label services will provided on an a la carte basis.
“We’re distributing ourselves, building our own platform,” says Rifkind (pictured above). “What we do is a distribution deal, which could be 90/10, 85/15, 80/20, and then whatever services artists need, we add on.”
Rifkind’s partners in the new venture are hip-hop scout Stanley “Citi” Atwater, who recently linked Mak Sauce with Def Jam, and Dana Biondi, best known for managing New Orleans rap duo $uicideboy$. Rifkind is chairman and will manage Loud’s relationships with digital service providers. Atwater is CEO and Biondi is COO. “I’m going to let these guys be the light, and I’m going to quarterback the whole thing,” Rifkind says.
The company is in the process of recruiting an urban radio promotion team but is already set up for digital marketing and publicity. Head of the four-person digital marketing team is Karla Ortiz, who was previously VP of marketing at global content distributor Vydia and head of digital marketing and strategy for Universal Music’s Verve Music Group. She also runs digital marketing consultancy Monark Entertainment, with David Foster and Nigerian producer/artist KDDO among her clients.
Overseeing public relations is Juliana Plotkin, who was previously VP of Publicity for Capitol Records and a publicist for PR/branding shop 42 West. She launched her own publicity business, JPLA, in 2017.
First artists are a pair of Atlanta rappers who have each cultivated followings on YouTube: Loui and Baby Fendi. Loui has amassed more than 30 million streams to date, with far more traction on YouTube than on audio streaming services. His biggest track to date has been “Shake Dat.” Fendi has attracted 229,000 YouTube subscribers and 15 million views, with a song called “Pop My Sh–” accounting for more than half of those plays.
Loui’s first Loud single, “Don’t Matter,” featuring Capitol’s Toosii, arrives Oct. 2, with Fendi’s first Loud track arriving later that month. Another artist is close to the founder’s heart, as Ryrif is Rifkind’s younger son. His first single, “Run It Up,” goes out in November.
Rifkind says Loud will be self-sufficient except for cases when a track gets enough traction to knock on Top 40 radio’s door. “Radio is expensive,” he says. “What we might do is, if one record is really starting to go, I can make a deal with any of the majors and say, ‘Hey, I’ll give you XYZ amount of money or I’ll give you XYZ amount of points.’ I’m only going to need radio at the Top 40 level. I’m not going to need it at the urban and crossover level; we’ll be able to do that ourselves.
“It’s really about the artist today on how much they really want to work,” Rifkind continues. “Radio’s just the icing on the cake. If you get on this playlist and then it’s on YouTube and still use the old-fashioned street-team model where it’s still about word of mouth, it can be done independently and just use the record companies as a bank.”
Says Biondi. “We are excited to find and develop talent who understand our new model. All of our efforts will go into helping artists and guiding them to become the world’s next superstars.” Adds Atwater, “As one of the few African-American CEOs in the music industry, I’ll be empowering the best African-American and minority executive talent in entertainment to help build this historic relaunch.”
The original Loud was distributed through RCA, then shifted to Sony Music’s Columbia in 1999. In 2000, Rifkind launched SRC Records through Universal’s Republic label in the U.S. with international distribution through Virgin EMI. Rifkind left Universal in 2012 when the major started to onboard EMI’s recorded music assets.
“Throughout my whole career, I’ve always fought to do right by the artists,” says Rifkind. “I’ve continually advocated for change and now is the absolute right time to see that come to fruition. The Loud Music Group is meant to be that vehicle. I, along with my partners, intend to empower talent as well as young executives, as we advance into a new era of doing business. We want to lead by example.”
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