Aristotle Torres is a visionary. “I want to be the best person ever who thought of a creative way to deliver you original content,” he says on a recent Thursday afternoon. As founder and creative director for By Any Means, a full-service marketing firm, the Bronx native spends his days incubating ideas for social promo, music video treatments, marketing campaigns and more for some of the game’s biggest and brightest stars. “Visualized By Aristotle” has been tagged on a number of videos, most recently Nas’ “Bye Baby,” Ludacris’ “Jingalin’” and Fabolous’ “Swag Champ.” “The corporate people come to us ’cause we’re cool and the cool people come to us ’cause we’re corporate,” he explains while mentally preparing for what he says will be a really important meeting that following day.

Since christening the fully integrated marketing and brand-consultation company almost 11 years ago and landing stops at Def Jam and a gig as Sylvia Rhone’s executive assistant along the way, Torres, 29, continues chasing his dreams—while continuing to pay respects to the genre that’s taught him the right tools to the trade. “Jay taught me my morals, Dame taught me how to be a businessman, Russell taught me how to be a visionary,” he says. “I get all that shit from hip-hop.”

With those big names in his thoughts, the St. John’s University grad recently spoke to XXL about his road to glory and the importance of ambition. This is Respect the Hustle…—Ralph Bristout (@RalphieBlackmon)

On His Come-Up and the Birth of By Any Means:


“I’ve been in the business since about 2008. But I’ve had this company, By Any Means, since 2001. We initially started off doing artist development management and doing events at St. John’s University campus. We would do art shows; we were doing the Friday night parties on campus. That’s kinda how we built our name up. I initially started this company with a gentleman by the name of Mike Barber, who won the first season of I Want to Work for Diddy, and another gentleman named Alex Bedford, who I work with today, and my other man PA. It was just us four and we just wanted to cultivate talent—initially, By Any Means was always supposed to be a bridge between classes and cultures. And it is today.

I’m from the Bronx and I was very fortunate to be able to see both sides of the fence. So I understood the corporate world, I understood the big money world, but I also understood the streets. I would go to art shows and I was exposed to all these different cultural experiences and I would go there. When I first would go, I would feel uncomfortable, like I didn’t belong there. ’Cause I would either be the only black kid there, or I would be the only kid with sneakers on—I always felt out of place. Then, I eventually got to a place where I felt comfortable with myself and comfortable with my knowledge and my culture and I wanted to bring my friends with me and give them the exposure to these experiences.

So, that’s where the inception started—being a conduit between these two worlds: my friends who were in the ’hood and trying to make a way out and then my friends at St. John’s who were wealthy. I wanted these kids to meet each other and vibe with each other and understand each other’s worlds, because I was right in the middle. Then it just evolved from that and we got into managing more artists, like J. Cole and a bunch of different people, and it just kinda evolved from that point.”

On Working Three Jobs to Save Up for College:


“I initially wanted to be a sports agent—I wanted to be a lawyer at that time right before college. This is 2003, 2004. I wanted to go to Georgetown; Georgetown was the place that I wanted to go because I was a huge Knicks fanatic and that’s where Patrick Ewing went and that’s where Allen Iverson went. They had a great law program. So, I literally paid for a bus ticket and I went to Washington, D.C. I went to the Georgetown admissions office and I asked them, in my sophomore year of middle school, what I needed to do in order to get into the university and we found out what the monthly tuition was and I just fuckin’ was like, “I gotta just thug it out and fuckin’ work three jobs.”

I’m an orphan, I had Medicaid at the time, so I couldn’t work on the books because I was getting Medicaid every month. So, I was working under the books at three different places; I was at a gym, a pizza spot and a car wash just thuggin’ it out. Grindin’ to pay my tuition. Any little extra money I had, I was coppin’ my little North Faces or my little fuckin’ EMS bookbag—it wasn’t about Bronx fly shit. It was really about paying that tuition and getting my mind right and getting ready for this world of college. Soon later, it just didn’t work out with Georgetown; I couldn’t afford the tuition, it was way too expensive. I had to go to school in state.

And it was crazy, I’m a huge believer in dreams or premonitions and I know it sounds a little spiritual, but I’m a huge believer in that. I think that we have the mind capability to foresee the future or foresee certain circumstances and I literally remember waking up in the middle of the night and having a dream about me going to St. John’s University. I didn’t really know that much about St. John’s University other than Chris Mullen going there and, like, Mark Jackson—I wasn’t familiar with it. So, I woke up in the middle of the night and I had this dream about going to St. John’s and I lived in the dorms so, I took that option very seriously. So I went there and gathered information and applied and I made it in. I played baseball for them for a little while, but then I got injured. And then, it just kinda went from there but I’m very blessed that it led me in the right direction.”

On Working at Def Jam:


“I had a family friend who worked at Def Jam who was in the A&R/admin. department. A&R-ing was my first passion. I just hit her up on a whim; I hit her up three semesters in a row. It was my last semester at St. John’s and I hit her up and I was like, “Yo, this is my last semester, I really need this internship, I’ll fuckin’ kill it, I’ll put my all into it,” and I ended up doing that for two years. I worked for free for two years at Def Jam. That was kinda the first process of it all.

I worked for Leesa Brunson, and if anybody knows Leesa Brunson, she’s very particular about the way things are done in her department. She’s the person who controls the music and the masters—she’s the gatekeeper for the music so her job is very important and the artists value her and her position so it was very difficult and demanded a lot from us. Soon it ended up being just me—the only intern—and her assistant. Then, her assistant was let go due to financial reasons and I just stepped into the role, but as an intern, not getting paid. The baton got passed to me and the transition was so seamless and flawless that the big wigs at Def Jam thought I worked there.

I was doing like almost 50 hours a week for like eight months—all for free. There just was no other option for me. I just knew that I wanted it and I knew it was tangible and I knew it was in front of me and it was like the more experience I gained, the more confidence I had in myself that I could do it. I think that’s also a gift and a curse because I unfortunately believe that the music industry right now has transitioned into “mediocrity is the new excellence”—I’m a huge believer in that. I just saw an open lane. I saw an opportunity for me to shine and be a big fish in a small pond and I grabbed it by the reins and I just ran with it. I knew it was what I wanted to do and I just couldn’t quit.”

On Working with Sylvia Rhone:


“Soon after, I left Def Jam and started temping, because I was literally living off of $5 a week for about a year. It was crazy. I was living in a little room—it was a closet, that’s what it was. It was a fuckin’ closet in Astoria, Queens. I lived off $5—I remember there was a Shish Kebab stand on the corner, and I ate Shish Kebabs every night for dinner, $2.50 each. Then I would just fuckin’ grind and make my little money here and there and that was kinda the process: hustling and doing all types of different things just to make some bread. So, then I started temping and I was temping all around the industry. I did some video promotion, I did some radio, everybody loved me, I was building great relationships, building great rapport. Then, one day I got a call that I’ll never forget. It was a Thursday morning at about 9 a.m. This was in maybe 2008. I got called on a Thursday morning at like 9 a.m. from the temp agency and they’re like, “Yo, Sylvia Rhone’s assistant just left abruptly and she needs somebody today to come in just to answer the phones.”

Answering the phones was my thing [Laughs]. Like, I was known in the industry for knowing how to efficiently answer the phones from working with Leesa Brunson, she was very adamant about that. So, Sylvia was like, “Look—I just need you to come in and answer the phones for today, it’s gonna be a very light work day, don’t be intimidated, I need you to just come in.” So I ran, I got dressed, went into the office, I met her. As I sat by the phone, Doug Morris, who at the time was the chairman of Warner Music Group, called her line. So, I did my, “Good afternoon. Thank you for calling Sylvia Rome’s office, this is Aristotle speaking, how may I help you?” He was like, “Hey, its Doug. I’m looking for Sylvia.” So, I transferred him and thought nothing of it and continued doing what I was doing and at the end of the day, she came out of her office and said, “Mr. Morris was very impressed by the way you answered the phone—he thinks I should hire you.” So, I was like, “Okay, cool!”

So, this was a Thursday. I leave for the day and I get called the next morning and they’re like, “She wants you to come in again,” but she wasn’t in that day—she went to St. Bart’s. So I go in there; I’m there for the day and the dude from Human Resources calls me and he’s like, “Yo—she wants to hire you, [Sylvia] wants to give you an offer.” And that just came abruptly because her other assistant just left her one day. I answered the phone in the right way and that’s really what it was [Laughs]. I did that for a while—I was her executive assistant but I was also her personal A&R, so my job was to filter demos. So, I would go home every night and listen to about 50 demos and then once a week, on Friday, we would allocate an hour where I would have an Excel spreadsheet and I would have the artists, I would rate them, any standout tracks. And we would go through this list every Friday and she would, you know, she would kinda mold me, like, telling me what I needed to listen for. She’d be like, “Ok, well he’s lyrically dope but his cadence isn’t right,” or, “I like the verses but I don’t really like the choruses,” and she was kinda molding me to learn how to scout talent and mold talent.

I did that for her for a while and that was kind of the process. Then, maybe like six, eight months later, it was a very immersive job—I had to immerse my life into hers in order to do it because she’s an executive, she was the chairman of Motown. So, it was going to a lot of events and going out at night and it just didn’t give me enough time to work on BAM (By Any Means), which was always my passion. So I just had to be like, “Yo—I want to focus on BAM,” and we’re still cool to this day. I saw her not too long ago and she was very happy for me, and she was a huge influence on me so I’m appreciative of that opportunity.”

On His Creative Approach to Artists:


"What a lot of people don’t realize is that, this business we’re in, even though it’s entertainment and super informal, at the end of the day you’re still marketing a product. What makes the music industry unique is that a person’s a product. They’re still a product and you’re catering to a specific demographic. A lot of people in this game just cater to the artist and you want to do that too, but more importantly if you do this properly you’ll make the label, management, the product managers lives easier if you can understand who they’re selling the products to. It’s like selling drugs: You got to understand who your market is, who your consumer is. So I’ll go through the catalog of their shit to really understand what their core demographic is. Even somebody like a Nas or a Rick, most things are obvious but, there’s always little accouterments, little details that people overlook because they don’t matter, but those are the things that really stand out to me and allow me to put a really solid plan together so that way when I present it to an artist, it’s a no-brainer. I want to win the game before I even start playing."

On People’s Misconceptions about Video Directing:


“A lot of people don’t think of directing like, “Oh, I’m just gonna shoot a video for Fabolous.” They’re so short-minded that they don’t understand if you can give the artist what he wants, plus what he needs, they’ll come back. One thing about By Any Means that we’ve done and kind of rocked with is when we work with an artist once, they fuck with us the second and third time—they keep coming back. Because we understand their needs but also understand their wants. You got to find a good balance in between. That’s how By Any Means popped off in the beginning and differentiated ourselves from other production companies, because other production companies or marketing companies doing the videos, they’ll shoot your video and then when their done, their job is over. But our unique selling advantage versus our competitors was that one day of shooting with us for music videos, you’re going to get a month’s worth of original content. You’re going to get photos, a trailer, behind-the-scenes, the video. We were really the first company to like really do that in a very concise, creative way. It was a consistent creative direction, and now, it’s become a norm."

On Being Called The Wolf:


"That came from Pulp Fiction, which is like my favorite movie ever. There was character in the movie called Winston Wolfe. He was the Wolf. He was Harvey Keitel. What attracted me to [his character] was, in the movie, Marcellus, who’s the boss of everything—people are afraid of John Travolta’s and Samuel Jackson’s characters, they were the muscle and the city was afraid of them. Who they were afraid of? The boss of it all. The boss of it all goes to The Wolf to solve his problems. So he’s really the boss of everything on the low. That’s always how I saw myself. Even these big rappers that all these people look up to, they come to me for advice on their careers—on how to market, brand and how to present their selves to the public. I’m the Winston Wolfe of the music industry."

On Achieving Success:


“Not to be on no pity party shit, but I’m an orphan. I did have a grandfather who raised me, but I don’t have a mom and a dad, so I don’t have a safety net. Unlike most people, if this doesn’t work for me I can’t go back home and live in my mom’s basement or her attic for a couple of months while I’m stackin’ up my bread. This is it for me, and it’s been like that since I was about 15. I was buying Q-tips and toilet paper and shampoo at 15 and dudes don’t usually know about that shit till they get to college. So, I was dealing with real-life shit early on in my career and in my life, and I think all of that has prepared me for now. Now, whenever something falls to the wayside or something doesn’t work, I can laugh at that—because it can’t be any worse than where I came from.”