TDE’s Punch On Next Moves, Signing SZA And The Ruff Ryders From XXL’s Oct/Nov Cover Story
Ed. Note: The following interview with Terrence "Punch" Henderson is pulled from the outtakes from XXL‘s TDE cover story in our upcoming Oct/Nov issue.
While Anthony "Top Dawg" Tiffith is the namesake and visionary behind the growing Top Dawg Ent. empire, it's TDE Co-President Terrence "Punch" Henderson who oversees the company's day-to-day operations. As Top Dawg's cousin and a former (and sometimes still) rapper, Henderson serves the role of an underboss, a big brother and artist liaison. He also has a wicked ear for music—earlier this year, he A&R'd and executive produced Terrace Martin's heady and jazzy 3chordfold. Henderson's largely responsible for the discovery of TDE in-house producer, Sounwave and bringing Ali, the label's engineer into the fold. Likewise, he's the reasons TDE has its first non-rap act in SZA, a Maplewood, NJ native whose stylings have been self-referred to as "glitter trap"—a mix of old and new waves, electro and R&B. His hands-on approach often begins as conversations, which sometimes turn into verses. Like that one time he spoke to Kendrick about hip-hop being overly-friendly. —kris ex
XXL: What’s your day-to-day like now?
Punch: My day-to-day consists of a lot of e-mails. E-mails and meetings. Business is crazy right now. Before I had all the time in the world to just be in the studio, giving advice and arranging songs or whatever it is. But now it's just mainly just e-mails and trying to get in the studio as much as possible. My role is to really fill the gaps. I recognize everybody’s strong points so I let them do them and I try to come in and fill in whatever is missing at the time.
So who's next? Or what’s next. I know [ScHoolboy] Q is next. He's officially on the Interscope schedule and everything, right?
The way it's broken down, Kendrick is Aftermath/Interscope/TDE, Q is Interscope/TDE. Everybody else is strictly TDE for right now. We’re talking to labels about doing a full label situation. We're not budging, so the terms gotta mach. The way we see it, [we can] roll everything out how it's been rolling out. Section.80 sold 100,000 copies. That’s all us, just on iTunes—no physical copies. We done met with everybody, though. Everybody's trying to do it.
Is that like the Ruff Ryders did that model, where you've come out and you have your marquee artist but he's already at this spot [Interscope] and people want to get in on the business but they can't get in on the Kendrick business because it's locked, so they try to get in on the TDE business?
Would that be something you guys are willing to do, where you’re working with different labels and learning different systems?
There’s different ways to do it—Wu-Tang split everybody up. They had guys here, there, all over the place. Basically, if one guy is here, everybody’s here, really—'cause everybody’s going to be on the project, so everything is intertwined. Or you can go the route where you just put everybody in one thing [and] concentrate all the forces there. There’s more than one way to skin a cat. With us, it has to match what we're asking for. We're not gassed, but we're not budging. We don’t need to budge, really, at this point. Kendrick been touring three years straight and he just dropped his album last year. So that’s before [the] label, before radio—we’re already reaching these people, and now our platform is bigger. We still have Black Hippy as a group—all four of the guys; that’s an artist in itself. It's different ways to do it. I don’t want to go too specific on the terms of what we're asking for, but we’re not going to move off of what we asking for.
Without being specific, what are the main things that you feel are important that you guys maintain in terms of the identity of the company, the solvency—I guess the fidelity of your brand?
The main thing to us is to have creative control, first. Like, after all the money or whatever is agreed to, we have to have control of what we’re doing, to put it out the way we want to put it out, because it's been successful so far on the level we’ve been on. Even with Kendrick, everybody didn’t believe in his first project. The projections were 70,000 the first week—that's what they were telling us he was going to sell and he came out and surpassed that. We already knew 'cause we were at all the shows. We seen him selling out venues from coast to coast and that’s based on our formula, so we have to stick to how we do things, our mode of operation.
What do you think is the hardest thing in terms of selling records or connecting with a fan base and getting the major systems to understand there is a fan base? Right now there are a lot of people who have these "invisible" fan bases. There are people that are invisible but only live on the Internet, but some dudes are invisible to the Internet, but you get out there, you go to their shows, they're packing houses.
Right. Where you can really see it at is when the artists move outside of their region. If you sell out shows everywhere—small towns to the big cities—then you see that your music is moving around. That’s mainly from the Internet, from my experience, because everybody’s getting everything at the same time—as opposed to it starting in your city and bubbling out, spreading like that. That’s been our experience. I’m not sure how anybody else is actually doing it. But our thing was, we got accurate numbers. If you look at Kendrick’s Twitter followers when we dropped the album, he had 600,000 Twitter followers and the album sold 242 [thousand copies in the first week]. If you look at somebody like Nicki Minaj, I think she had like 12 million followers and she sold about the same amount. So it shows that people that were following Kendrick were actually interested in his music. The ratio is crazy.
What is that formula for explaining to the people you’re trying to get money from, but also explaining to yourself so when you're printing up jerseys or sweatshirts you know how many to bring? You don’t wanna leave money on the table.
That's real talk. With us, it really starts with the actual music. It starts there. We make music that people can actually relate to and they tell us when we see them, when we go into their city. Once it starts there, they feel that they know you and grow with you as friends and family. That's one of our things: we always say we don’t have fans, we have family. You see them growing, you see them saying how a song touched them and changed their life. It's not just something you can dance to and then it's gone another month when another hot song [comes out]. It's something that’s lasting and really has an affect on people’s lives. When you factor that in, it just spans out on them buying your records to them coming to the show to them coming to the meet-and-greet after the show—but it all starts with the quality of the music.
Where do you see yourself taking that TDE brand in terms of these new acts that you have? Is the plan to start them off small and go through the same process or you just trying to get people to hand them over to labels and let the labels take care of it?
No, not at all. We still gotta be completely hands-on. But every artist that we pick up is going to be a different artist. Like, the first four guys we had, none of them are the same. They're completely different people who have completely different styles, so they attract a different type of person—along with the people that just like TDE as a brand. With SZA, for example, she’s very distinctive in how she actually sounds and then her lyrics are not like sappy love songs or the same ol' thing that you’re used to hearing form a singer. So it's lyrical and that’s what attracted it to me. So we would follow the same thing: start with the quality of music and put it out. It's going to be easier for the newer artists because our platform is bigger than when we started with the first four guys. If Kendrick say something like, "Yo, check out my labelmate SZA" and all his fans, just on the strength of him, are gonna check her out. That's why they're gonna go, but once they hear it, that’s what's going to keep them there. The train just continues.
What are your plans with her?
It's so different with her because she don’t have an actual genre. You can’t really call it R&B and you can’t really call it alternative. It's hard to actually say, so we're just going to put it out and let the people flock to it. It's just real music that you can’t box in, so different people are gonna be attracted to it for different reasons. A lot of the music is in her own head so she’s giving thoughts that somebody might be thinking but might not be saying. I see a lot of people hitting her up like, "Yo, this is exactly how I was feeling. It's crazy—you’re saying what I’m thinking." So you could tell the connection is actually starting.
How did you find her?
What's crazy is I met her exactly one year before good kidd, m.A.A.d city came out. We had a show in New York at the Gramercy [Theatre], October 22, 2011 and she was there. She was working with a clothing line and they were bringing us some merch or whatever, so we ended up having a conversation about that. Her friend had some earphones in and she was listening to something. I asked her what she was listening to and she was like, "Yeah, my friend just recorded this song." I was like, "Yeah? You sing?" She goes, "I'm just starting out." I said, "Let me hear it," and I listened and it was crazy. That was like two years ago. She's been sending me music constantly, as she records it and puts it out and I've seen her developing as an artist, so it just made perfect sense—especially with her lyrical content.
So you don’t have anywhere in mind [that you want to place her]? In terms of keeping her under the Interscope umbrella or pushing her independently?
It really all depends. We’re not in a rush to do anything—let's hurry up and get her on a label. But if the right situation presents itself, cool. If not, we're confident in what we're doing.
How many demo tapes or whatever you guys get these days?
Aw, man. It's crazy. We get a lot, a lot, a lot of demos. Tons of demos.
Where do they come in?
They send them to the office or whatever but it's crazy with the social networking. I might put a personal picture of my son on Instagram and I get 50 people, Yo, listen to my song. Here go a link, here go this, here go that...
How do you feel about that? Sometimes I see that and in a sense I respect your grind but it's like you gotta like...
Show a little couth.
I understand it completely. We was in that position. But we looked at it like, Okay, nobody’s really gonna get heard like this, anyway, if 50 people are trying to get this one person's attention. I understand it. Hey, you gotta take your opportunity where you see it. [Laughs]
What was your story before you got into TDE?
I was actually trying to start my own label with a friend of mine I went to high school with. It was three of us and I found out quick that you need a few dollars to actually pursue it. We had bought studio equipment, we had artists and whatever. Top Dawg, who is my blood relative, had started trying to move around the music business a bit, too. He had a few connections, so I’d always go and talk to him about what I was doing. Everyday or every other day, I’m at his house picking his brain 'cause he was starting to move around with certain people in the business. After a while he said, "Why don’t you just come over here and help me run the company? You got a good business mind. Let’s just do it." So, I made that transition. We built everything to where it is now since about '04.
So you never had any formal education in terms of business?
Not a formal education but I really studied the music business, tough. Just on my own—constantly listening to interviews or reading magazines and watching documentaries on this stuff. But, nah—no formal education. Just real observant, picking up things, picking up how to move and how not to move based on people’s experiences.
What’s in the immediate future for you guys? The next 6 months or so?
You’re definitely gonna see ScHoolboy [Q]’s album. That’s coming soon. We're probably about 90% done with it.
That’s not coming this year, though.
Possibly. It’s a few sample issues and technical stuff that we gotta get the kinks out of. You might see something from Ab-Soul this year. We might drop a project on him. Jay Rock is still cooking. SZA, she might have a project this year, too. That’s about it until the end of the year.
You guys have this "King of New York" blah, blah, blah. I’m not trying to get caught up in that, but as someone who’s read the interviews and studied the game from studying other people you have to know a moment like that comes once in a lifetime.
You have to capitalize on it...
See that’s the thing: You have to capitalize and do stuff on it but at the same time you ride the line of being corny.
Well, it's how you capitalize on it. You don’t necessarily make responses for everybody but while you have all of these people's attention—like Kendrick getting pulled over by TMZ—now that you know shit like that is happening, you might want SZA there.
We definitely aware of that type of thing. I don’t remember a verse getting that much attention. It’s hard to think of somebody who did a verse and garnered all of that. Phil Jackson responded. That’s crazy. We touched people we ain't never touched before as far as media-wise—ESPN, the sports shows, talk shows; it was crazy to me. You just gotta bask in the moment and try not to make it look too corny. Everybody’s responded and doing their whole thing. You don’t want to feed into it too much. Even the way it happened, how it came out: me and Kendrick had a conversation. I was just talking about how everything is so friendly right now; everybody’s hugging and friends and on each other’s records. Like, where is the competition? I told him, Watch: the first dude to do something to change it, that’s going to shift the game back because everything is one way.
Like, when 'Pac and B.I.G. died everything was soft; the majority of music was softer at that time. Then you had DMX come. From DMX, Jay [Z] had a harder album at the time. [Sings a bit of "Do It Again (Put Ya Hands Up)"] That whole thing was hard. Then you had the LOX, then everything got hardcore and that’s when Ja [Rule] came doing the records he was doing, songs about the chicks, then Jay Z doing "Excuse Me Miss" and Snoop Dogg doing "Beautiful"—everything was like that for a second. Then 50 Cent come and he takes it back to the street, but clubs at the same time—his biggest song was "In da Club." To me, that’s how a lot of people in the South, Atlanta mostly, really flourish because they do club music; that's their thing, that's their culture—and 50's record was "In da Club," 12 million records sold. That's kinda how I see it. It's usually a person who comes and changes the game and switches it for a while. That was the conversation with me and Kendrick—and then he comes out with that verse.
Was [the conversation] before he made the verse or before it was released?
This was before he actually made the verse. He was overseas when we were having that conversation. We were on the same wavelength. He was like, "Yeah I’ve been thinking about the same thing." But I didn’t know he was really gonna go that far with it.
So he recorded it overseas?
He came back. He had like two days off and he flew back and he recorded it then and he took back off.
And it came out when you were overseas.
That must’ve been surreal to look at Twitter [and see what was happening]. It was probably like 6 in the morning or something like that [over there].
What's crazy, the way it went, we didn’t know that it was coming out; we didn’t know he was gonna release it. We had just sent the verse and Big Sean called Kendrick and said "you’re crazy." I think Kendrick even asked him: Are you sure you don’t want me to put another verse? He was like, "No, no. I'ma keep it and just put it out." One day, he just dropped it out of nowhere. We didn't have no warning and then just to see how crazy it went. I ain’t sleep for like two days, I think. I'm watching everybody respond, seeing what everybody was saying. It's funny. Even the New York line, that was so misinterpreted. [Laughs]
That just goes to show how stupid people are.
That was a moment, though. That was a little moment.