Respect the Hustle: Nigil Mack, Dir. of A&R at Universal Republic
It's more than just music for Nigil Mack. There's a love and desire involved. Currently serving his daily duties as Universal Republic's Director of A&R, Nigil is responsible for acts like Kid Cudi, Pac Div, Jackie Chain, among others. A Baltimore native, he's experienced just about every avenue of the music business. Mack started as an artist at only 14, ran street promotions for several companies (including the legendary Suave House) at 18, dabbled in production, and eventually artist management for his independent label— which led to several of his artists receiving major label deals. He knows a thing or two about hustle and hard work. XXLMag.com caught up with Nigil to discuss his experiences and his take on the state of the music industry. — Ralph Bristout
XXLMag.com: Was it your initial goal to get into the music business or was there like a plan B?
Nigil Mack: Nah, there was really no plan. I started on the artist side. From that, I did like the street promotions stuff, got into production. I mean, the whole thing for me was just be into music. 'Cause I just love music so much.
How did being an A&R come about?
That happened, I would say it was about 6, 7 years ago, I was still in Baltimore and I had an independent label and I was just putting out stuff like in the Baltimore, D.C., VA region and then putting out some things down South. That caught the attention of one of the A&Rs up in Universal then he hit me up and he was like, "You know we have an A&R position, would you want to come interview for it? I was like, "Yeah." So that's how that happened.
You say it so nonchalant. was it all that simple?
[Laughs] I mean, well that's the abridged version. I mean the main thing is I've been a hustler all these years like I was doing artist management. I managed this dude. My first artist was a dude named B. Rich out of Baltimore, had the record "Whoa Now" with the Jeffersons sample in it. We did the deal with Atlantic. Then I was co-managing this other artist from Baltimore that was on Def Jam named Comp. Then I started the label and just did it independent. My background is totally independent, just putting out records independently and grinding.
So that was definitely a great look considering the experience you had to back you up.
Right, 'cause when you're independent it's just you and your peoples. That's why it was refreshing to come to a major system because they have different departments for everything but, when you're independent you got to do every department by yourself. You got to do marketing, you got to do promotion, A&R, you got to do production, you got to do everything. It's like a good crash course in the game that's why it's like the people who are more successful in this game could relate to the independent side sometimes, 'cause they understand the whole structure, 'cause they had no choice but to.
Name a couple artists that influenced and made you want to decide to be in the music biz.
I would say the artist that really influenced me and made me want to get into this game was like... it's so many. I would say like N.W.A, Public Enemy, Biggie, 'Pac, UGK, 8Ball & MJG. The thing that was interesting about Baltimore is that we were all into all the underground and Southern stuff. I've only been in New York for about 7 years, but when I was younger we were always rocking to all the Suave House stuff, all the Rap-A-Lot stuff, plus all the stuff coming around from New York. So, I was influenced by everything pretty much.
How much has the industry changed since you first stepped in?
I would say the dope thing about it is the virals. I feel like if you're a manager on an independent label, and you really got a dope, compelling artist, and a dope plan you could really have a shot. This is the era now of the underdogs. 'Cause it used to be you used to have to know this person, you used to have to have connections. Now if you're really dope, you don't need connections, people are gonna come to you regardless. So, that's what I think has changed, I think it's leveled the playing ground like the underdogs could get in now, you know?
What's the status of "demo tapes"? Are they still strong indicators in terms of signing new talent? Or has YouTube and other social networks replaced it?
It's a combination of both. I'm the type I go through everything. The concept of a demo tape has changed, but it's still there. Perfect example, like people hit me up on Twitter and Facebook all the time and send me links to their stuff. So, you know I listen to it. So, the concept of a demo is still there. It's just changed.
The importance is still there?
Right. If you're an artist, you should definitely be on top of your viral game and hit the A&R's on Twitter or Facebook or on Tumblr. Don't be annoying and crazy, but just hit people up.
That's what I was gonna ask. I could imagine how your inbox gets hit up.
When I was grinding trying to get in, I would just hit people up, but I wouldn't blow 'em up. It's about building a relationship. It's not about hitting a A&R, or artist, or manager up trying to get immediately on, or if it don't work you don't fuck with em. You gotta stick in there.
Your saying, they should keep hitting the A&Rs up until they get a response?
Right. Do it tactfully. Don't be crazy with it and then don't be like, "Damn, that's fucked up. I just hit you up." I get that all the time like "Yo, why you ain't hit me back. I know you just seen this e-mail." Yo, relax.
Does having a high number of views on YouTube, or followers on Twitter, and friends on Facebook play a major role when searching for talent?
I'm not gonna lie. It does, but that's just one factor, though. It still boils down to the music and the artist. That stuff will get you a look, but if you're not really a star or it's official, I can't speak for every A&R, but just speaking for me I'll look but that don't mean I'll do anything. There's certain things that's old school that ain't gonna change, like you still have to be a star and it still has to make sense to do the deal. There's a lot of people with views, a lot of people with big YouTube, Facebook, and Twitter numbers and you can't sign 'em. They kind of suck, so it's about looking under the hood to see if it's real or not.
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