I’ll admit it. Coming into writing, interviews were one of the things I was most excited about. Talking to artists? Asking them any question I want? Sign me up! That was my energy until I began doing them. Not that I don’t enjoy talking to artists, but I’ve admittedly gotten a lot more out of conversations with producers, managers or those “in the know.” No conversation I’ve had thus far has had the impact of my recent talk with New Jersey’s multi-faceted Yan Snead.
We laughed, we emotionally reminisced on fallen legend Nipsey Hussle, we talked TDE v. Dreamville, and Yan kept it real about quite a lot happening in the industry. Often times it’s hard to get people to open up, but rarely do I get the candor that the executive producer-strategist provided. I wanted to talk to the former editor-in-chief at Dinnerland Network simply because of how she moves on Twitter within the music sphere, but I got so much more than 280-characters could ever provide.
I pondered leaking the audio like a Playboi Carti snippet. Tears nearly streamed down my face when I thought I lost the audio file. Obviously, it was recovered and thank God for it. Ultimately I decided the best thing to do was edit and bold the several gems Yan dropped in typical Armon fashion.
Yan: I’m actually mad nervous right now.
Armon: That’s funny because you really don’t come off as a nervous person.
Yeah, that’s why I don’t do panels honestly. Every panel I’ve done I’ve been a nervous wreck. So now it’s like “you wanna do a panel?” No, I don’t.
I wouldn’t have expected that. You’re clearly very knowledgeable, you have a strong network, but also you’re just so unbothered in the way that you communicate your opinions and the way you deal with trolls. So I just wanna know how you manage to stay that way when there’s so much BS going on in music and on Twitter? Because often my head wants to explode.
I guess the short answer, which I definitely wouldn’t have been able to say last year, is just cultivating a sense of discipline, to be honest. I say that to say that there’s a lot of things you can focus your energy towards. There’s a lot of shit that can really fuck your energy up if you give it attention or allow it to bother you. I know you know I work with Chase N. Cashe – and I hate name dropping by the way. I’m saying him because he is one of my dearest friends outside of anything we do together work-related. There have been times where he would literally send me my tweet and check the shit out of me. So it’s like damn, maybe I shouldn’t be Tweeting about this or worried about it, to be honest.
For example, the singer Ciara had posted – I think it was her or Russell – they posted a video on his birthday saying how much she loved him. It was like a five minute video. I had posted a Tweet about it like “why are we seeing this on the timeline? Go tell it to your nigga, why am I seeing this shit?” So he screenshotted, sent it to me, and asked why I posted it. He said I could be right as hell but it don’t fucking matter if you look like a hater. Right or wrong. “Why are you concerned about whether she’s posting a video about her man?”
That one comment put so much into perspective for me. Because it’s like how many other Tweets or things have I said to people that were really baseless, didn’t need to be said and came across as hating? Whether I was right or not. Essentially, to the outside eye you look like a hater which is another thing I keep in the back of my mind. It keeps me grounded in the things I do and say.
I’ve been through so much shit that a lot doesn’t really phase me. A lot of times when you see people trolling, on one end their responses are usually Google’d. You can’t even let that shit bother you because they’re getting their answers from Google.com. If they don’t google it, then they just don’t know what the fuck they’re talking about. People don’t come to Twitter to understand you. They come to hear themselves talk and tell you that you’re wrong about something. With that understanding of other people, you have to disregard a lot of shit whether in person or online.
I think that’s something that a lot of people need to hear. You definitely don’t want to look like a hater, that’s a big takeaway from that. There’s a lot of takeaways but that’s a big one. This is a really good transition. There was a conversation on Twitter related to the role of A&Rs.
There were people on one side, there were people on another side but we don’t have to get into that. What I’m interested in is your view on the role of an A&R. Essentially what that looks like in 2019 with the way music has changed. The way music comes out has changed. A lot of things are just different. How would you model the ideal A&R in this era of music?
So I can honestly say that that Tweet and that entire debate spurs from my understanding of what A&R is from studying music coming up and studying my peers that hold that position. Not so much 2019’s definition of A&R, but from having these same debates with people that are A&R’s or talking to people that executive produce projects.
An A&R is more so the person who is the plug, in layman’s terms. The A&R, from what I’ve observed, is the person who connects the artist to everything they need to ensure their music is properly released and is in alignment with the label’s expectations for the artist, which is not wrong.
I understand essentially all those things are needed for the success of an artist. I just think an A&R goes beyond setting that up. So I say that to say my definition of an A&R is artist development. That is what to me is the basis of A&R. Everything else is secondary. Me connecting you with an artist to do a feature is secondary, me helping you get a sample cleared is secondary. Obviously, these are things necessary for the success of an artist but they’re secondary to me. If you’re not developing an artist’s branding and sound, what are you even doing?
That’s all my tweet was. It’s funny because the Tweet was a joke, the whole thing was a joke. It was very true but I wasn’t intentionally trying to piss anybody off.
Of course, but thats how Twitter goes.
Yeah, and you can’t really internalize that shit because people don’t wanna understand nothing. I still to this day will say that all my points were valid. How are you in any industry-lets step aside from music-how are you in any industry and not have a basic understanding of the industry? A basic requirement is music theory and music history. You don’t have to be a genius or a whiz in this shit but you should have a general understanding of what a chord is, going back to that tweet. It’s really not that hard, look that shit up on Google.
A lot of people don’t really know who I am outside of social media or from other people so they don’t take the time to get to know me. So they wouldn’t know my background in music. To me, artist development is just that– development. It’s not being the yes men in the studio, saying everything is fire. Rather, it’s about truly understanding music and how to take an artist from mediocre, to amateur, to great. Building superstars. I feel in 2019 that’s what we’re not seeing too much of. People are looking for numbers. I see it. I’ve seen multiple people on my side of the fence, sitting online looking for people doing numbers. I disagree with it.
Granted that’s how the label makes money, but for me, music is deeper than money. That’s why I’m not sitting at a label, to be honest. Music is life to me, so when I hear something that sounds bad or wrong, I think about the A&R a bit, and how easily that thing could be corrected with a great A&R at the session. It’s up to them, but in 2019 it isn’t happening. Not say to there is not A&Rs doing this because there’s a handful of exceptional ones such as my guy Baby Shad, among others. There’s just not enough.
I got a chance to check out a little bit of your artist Joe College’s music. I saw he was a New Jersey rapper which touched my heart of course. But I listened and he’s hard. Nice flow, dope beat selection. With your background in music, in managing Joe how do you balance putting in your knowledge and expertise while also letting him grow within his abilities, be himself and express himself?
To be completely honest, I just picked him up a month ago so I couldn’t really answer that just yet. I will say since I have connected with him-we’ve been friends for a minute-the key to a successful artist-manager relationship is communication and understanding.
I realize a lot of people aren’t manageable because they think they know everything. A lot of artists I’ve come across, not even in a manager sense, but because I’ve worked in music. I’ve seen how they operate, email me, Tweet about shit. It’s like they have this air about them that they know what they’re doing and they just want you to get them on. That is not the role of the manager.
Obviously you want them to get you from Point A to Point B, but their job essentially is far more than getting you on. Having a manager doesn’t guarantee that either. So you can’t say someone is a bad manager because they didn’t make someone famous. That’s another thing. I think a misconception is the manager is supposed to make you a star. That would be nice, but the manager is supposed to make you a more efficient artist. They make your day-to-day easier so that you can focus on rapping or singing. Period.
Everything as far as development, the A&R comes in. The manager makes their job easier too. I can make sure you have a website, posts on Instagram go up and do well, make sure your Twitter feed is active. There’s a lot of different roles in one, but when you have an artist that doesn’t allow you to play those roles, their failures fall on them. It’s on the artist to make your experience managing them easier, so you, in turn, can make their life easier.
When I say communication, it’s literally just honest, straightforward conversations. The first time we linked after he asked me to be his manager-we were friends already but hadn’t had a serious conversation-so I went out to Asbury Park, we got pasta on the boardwalk, and talked for hours. About who we are, what we expect from each other, what our insecurities are, just personal shit. You have to have a personal relationship with your artist because you have to have an understanding of who they are to effectively manage them or develop them.
It’s interesting that you said you two have known each other and been friends forever but the manager-artist relationship just came together. Was there a time where he asked you previously and you felt you weren’t ready?
Yup, that was actually part of the conversation. The middle of May he posted on Instagram that he was looking for a manager, and I said he should hit up Hovain. He said, “Nah, I should just hit you up.” I was like “Uh, we can have this conversation another day.” Shoutout to Hovain by the way.
So it evolved into an accountability conversation because he’d asked me this before, two years ago when I was working with this other artist Will North out of South Jersey. That didn’t work out when he decided he doesn’t wanna rap anymore. So following that situation Joe asked me to be his manager and I was like “Eh, I don’t know.” Because with Will I wasn’t really a manager, so even at that point I didn’t think I was ready. I had the wrong perception that managers are super plugged up and can get you into any door at any label. That’s not it. I didn’t realize it until I sat and really had a conversation with this nigga.
That wasn’t his expectation either. That’s another part of a successful artist-manager relationship is having clear goals that are spoken and set. I think a lot of people have these expectations in the back of the mind that they’re not telling you they have, so when y’all don’t work out it’s because you didn’t fulfill the expectations that they never told you they expected of you.
It happens! In the back of somebody’s mind, they think I’m about to make them famous. I don’t make them famous, so now I’m a bad manager. But you never said that. So yeah, he asked me before and I said “I’m not ready. I don’t know much and I don’t think I can take you to the next level. I’ll only be able to carry out the basics.”
So we left it alone, then a year later in 2018 he brought it up again. It was the same answer for me. I did say I wanna work with you more closely so we should get in the studio together and make music. He said he’d call me weekly but didn’t so I was just like “Alright, you folded.” Now 2019 comes around and I’m like “Well, when I asked you to call me every week you didn’t do that. So it’s like how serious are you gonna be?” It turned into a conversation about accountability.
I told him that and he said “You was talking scared money. You was talking scared business and it didn’t seem like you were all in or confident in your ability to manage me. So I didn’t take it seriously, I didn’t call you.” From there it was like I’m serious now, what’s up? So we linked and I manage him now.
2018 was a very aggressive year in terms of releases. I think it was the peak of the clout movement. Some people would call it a plague. 2019 has seemed a bit more relaxed to an extent in terms of releases. I’ve had conversations with people and they feel like lyricism is becoming “cool again.” It’s becoming cool again to say things as opposed to mumbling over trap beats. They name people like JID, Westside Gunn, Conway, or Boogie in these conversations. Is the notion that lyricism is cool again something you would agree with?
Um, so I hate when people say things like that are shifting toward being cool again because lyricism never went out of style. It was never not cool. It just wasn’t mainstream – well it was never mainstream but especially recently. I honestly think the only reason people are framing it as becoming cool again is Nipsey dying. That’s honestly the only thing I can attribute it to. When he died, I did see a shift in the way people are approaching their music. They realize how important it is to leave a legacy because of him. It’s like if you aren’t saying anything then what the fuck are you doing? So I guess in that sense you could say it’s becoming cool again but I will always disagree with that statement solely because of the fact it never went out of style.
Obviously, Nipsey dying was a very tough time for all of us whether you’re in the industry or not but I’ve enjoyed how committed you’ve been to remembering him and holding up his legacy, whether it’s quotes or changing your profile picture. You’ve kind of continued the conversation where a lot of people will kind of just move one after a week or two. What was that experience like for you when it happened?
You know, you’re actually about to make me cry. It’s cool. Raw conversation. I don’t know if you follow me on Instagram but Nipsey is someone I’ve always looked up to for inspiration for years. It wasn’t even so much the music even if his music is so good. It was his interviews. One of the biggest things for me is understanding the world around me and understanding myself. His interviews were always free game. Endless game. Shit that people just weren’t talking about ever. To hear it from someone who looks like me and sounds like me is different.
Dr. Dre was the focus of an HBO documentary that came out a while ago, The Defiant Ones. Prior to that documentary, I’d never really seen him talk outside of hearing his music, so watching his documentary hit me like “Oh, this nigga is hood as shit. This nigga is wealthy as fuck and mad hood. He’s himself, not code-switching, he don’t give a fuck!” That is so inspiring to me, as Nipsey was and is.
For my entire life I’ve always been too ghetto, too hood. I didn’t talk proper enough or I didn’t code switch when I was supposed to. That’s not me, I’m never gonna feel comfortable enough to fake something. So watching his interviews, it’s like he’s real as fuck and really doing his thing. I saw myself in him and that’s why it hurt so bad when he died. To this day I can’t think about why talking about him or thinking about him hurts so bad, because I never met this nigga. It’s weird a little bit, but he was just a hero to me. So that shit just sucked.
It shifted everything for me. When he died it just made me realize how much shit that I focus on is not important at all. That ties into how I carry myself and handle people. Part of that comes from him. He’d say all the time “you gotta let goofies be goofies.” I learned that you really do because they’re always gonna be fucking goofies. So I had a rough time as you can see haha.
I appreciate you being so vulnerable and transparent. This is the most emotional response I’ve ever got. It’s what I want. With some people it’s pulling teeth. So, what’s been one of your favorite projects to come out this year?
I’m gonna go off what I listened to the most. That’s Ari Lennox’s Shea Butter Baby. I pretty much memorized that album by now. That album is fucking fire. I haven’t seen her live yet but I want to! I’ve seen videos. I like that she sounds exactly like her record. I think that’s one of the things people don’t appreciate enough. As opposed to the rap game where niggas are ass live because they have no training or vocal technique. Breathing technique all out the fucking window. So yeah, she’s dope.
So she’s the sole woman right now in Dreamville and they’re bringing the energy this year. I don’t know how familiar you are with basketball but there was a point in time where people were calling TDE the Golden State Warriors.
Well, I agree with that, I been saying that shit forever. I said on Twitter multiple times TDE is the best label. I’m not going to change my mind on that.
Perfectly fine, I agreed too…in the past. Now, Dreamville is doing their thing lately. There’s EARTHGANG’s project to come, Lute’s got something, J. Cole’s been teasing a few tapes, and Bas is also teasing. And then, of course, the compilation. I think that if they have a really, really good 2019 and follow up with a good 2020 there could be an argument to be made that Dreamville might be knocking them out of the top. TDE’s been pretty quiet lately. And I think Dreamville had a better 2018.
That doesn’t mean anything! Look at their roster, that to me is enough. Like Dreamville has Ari Lennox but TDE has SZA, Isaiah Rashad, and SiR. SiR hasn’t even really made a splash yet, people don’t know it. That nigga is their best-kept secret. You’re saying next year, nah, Dreamville is a contender now. I’m not going to act like they’re not. My preference is gonna lean towards TDE regardless.
Now as a fellow creative, we both are aware that the industry isn’t lucrative at first. It takes some time to get to the bag that you want. Me personally, I’m a proud new valet parker to make money to support myself while I move further in journalism and all the other things I want to do. For you, was there that part-time hustle for you that was just to make the bag and pay the bills? If so, what was that?
At first, I worked at Benihana, then Buffalo Wild Wings once I graduated college. After a bad situation at BWW I started working at Red Lobster. From there, I was like “this shit is a fucking dub.” It was immediate, not a thought about it. I got the idea and I quit. I started teaching for two years and I honestly hated that too. Love kids, hated the job. You have to get money. I hate to put it that simply but a lot of people think you can do nothing then magically get a bag.
You need money to make money. So if you’re going through life in the beginning stages of whatever career you’re pursuing without money, without a foundation or a family that’s rich you’re going to fall flat on you’re fucking ass. That’s just the way it is. Granted you hear about people’s success stories where they really made it from nothing but what are the odds of that? Being realistic, the odds of you starting from zero and continuing to stay at zero before miraculously becoming this rich person are slim to none. People are so prideful that they don’t want to get a fucking job. If you work at Burger King, who gives a fuck? You’re getting a check. There’s people that aren’t.
For me, every day to keep myself positive, just present and stay sane I tell myself one day I’m going to be at these awards show or this event. Just a long-term goal to keep in mind to keep me going. For you, did you have something specific you thought of when you were serving the drinks or handing out the amazing cheddar biscuits at Red Lobster?
To be completely honest, at that point in my life I didn’t know what the end goal was. I just wanted to be an executive in music. So for me, what kept me going was knowing I had money in my pocket to do other shit. Being from Trenton, the music scene that I wanted to be a part of was New York. As you may or may not know, a train ticket to NY is $40. How imma make it back and forth between NY and NJ without a job? So I had to work, I didn’t want to stay there.
I had a fire ass team that I don’t work with as closely now, but back then I was working very heavily with Dinner Land. It’s a creative agency that does a lot of production work, whether music, content, video, audio. That’s my family to this day. They’re in Long Island. So to get to Long Island and be in that creative space, you can imagine that’s bread. They were it for me, my motivation. Being around hyper-creative, hyper-productive people. I hated being home in Trenton, and that’s no shade to Trenton. It’s just not for me. The environment doesn’t inspire me, and generally, the people don’t really inspire me either.
When I met Dinner Land, something clicked inside for me. And I knew I found something I would be doing for life. When God puts certain people in your life, they’re a reflection of you. Abhishek “Shake” Amiruddin is the founder and he hates keeping jobs. His paycheck comes from consistently doing all that production work. So if he’s not doing that, he’s not eating. So for him to be constantly doing shit creatively, seemingly always good and taken care of. It’s just like “Yo, he’s doing this shit so eventually, I can too.” And that was enough motivation for me.
What are your goals moving forward? Literally, what’s the very next thing you want to do or accomplish?
I want to move to LA. I want to devote more of my time to the Can’t Buy Respect agency. Developing that brand with Chase N. Cashe. That’s just as much my baby as it is his, so every win for that brand is just like “yes!” It sucks he’s on the west coast now because initially, he was on the east coast. That’s how we met. I tweeted him asking for an exclusive record that I wanted to put on a mixtape and he agreed to it. Everything was gravy from there.
Look at Twitter.
Yeah! Then he moved. I can’t afford to go to LA every other week. So on top of me wanting to be there for that brand, I don’t feel inspired being in New York anymore. It’s crazy because there was a time when my only dream in terms of career was being in New York. I’m here now and it’s like eh. I’m big on being inspired by people around you and the environment. It doesn’t inspire me and I don’t see beauty. It’s just buildings and trash. Then you go to the subway and there are mad rats. I don’t wanna see that shit.
I also feel like there’s not a lot of black money here. So one thing I’ve come to grips with is that in NY everyone is in competition with each other, and not healthy competition. It’s like, hater competition and a lot of people don’t genuinely fuck with each other. Negative competition.
I feel like it’s like that here because everybody is competing for this small seat at this imaginary table because there’s no black money here. That’s what it boils down to. Outside of there not being black money here, there’s not a lot of black seats. If there are few black seats, everyone is competing for the same one. I don’t like that energy. I hate that people look at each other like there’s this underlying negativity even when they outwardly support you. They move as though they see you as a threat, but treat you like they’re better than you. Why can’t we just create together? Or just be cool with each other and support each other’s work?
You know what someone does is dope, that’s why you’re threatened. I don’t get that energy from anyone on the west coast so that’s what I need to be on. I feel like once I get there it’s gonna activate a totally different side of me that I haven’t even met yet.
How do you balance being yourself and then also maintaining a brand so that your core following sticks and more people tag along to check out the things you do, whether a playlist on Audiomack or a post elsewhere?
My answer is very simple. I don’t really maintain anything. Being completely honest, I just understand strategy. I know what I shouldn’t post and not for the sake of appealing to people but just because I don’t want to be known for certain things. That goes back to the hating thing. I’m not gonna Tweet some hating shit because I’m not a hater and I don’t want that to be associated with who I am or my online persona. You’re asking me how I maintain my brand but I completely reject that concept. I can literally Tweet about whatever and somebody is going to connect with it, because it’s just me being me. Whereas someone else may feel like their Twitter has to look and sound a certain way to be on brand.
It’s as simple as being yourself but for some people, that’s kind of hard. It’s really interesting actually.
To piggyback off of that, it’s understandably hard because we live in a digital age. Everything has to look and feel a certain way to get numbers off of it. If a certain thing is working for you, your brand is going to be that. It’s like as soon as you post something that doesn’t get 1000 likes or retweets you assume people aren’t connecting with it, but that shit doesn’t matter. If I post something that gets two likes who gives a fuck? That’s what I posted and how I felt.
That’s why I hope Instagram takes away likes. That shit shouldn’t matter, and I promise you once they do that people’s accounts are gonna switch up because you can’t see their likes anymore. You’re going to see different sides of people because that shit doesn’t matter. To go back to Twitter, the reason people think there has to be a set brand is that you can see numbers on Twitter. Their brand is numbers.
I always like to ask people this. Yan Blaze. What’s the inspiration behind the name? When did you get it?
Yan Blaze is another simple answer and it’s funny because no one ever gets it. It makes me feel old. Have you ever heard the phrase John Blaze? John Blaze is a phrase within the Hip Hop black community to say something is wavy. Yan rhymes with John so I just put Yan. People call me Blaze now and I wasn’t even trying to make that my name. My name is Yan Snead. It was a joke that stuck. Rather, a play on words but it is what it is. Blaze is fire and I guess I’m fire so we’re going to run with it!