Q&A with a Hip-Hop Genie - Dwane "Koko" Williams, Nex Level Entertainment

In today’s fast moving world so many artists are looking for ways to set themselves apart from the rest and get discovered. We go to open mics, put on shows, and try to get noticed on social media. The goal, of course, is to get discovered by an A&R rep for a record label or some rich old man who really believes in your talent and wants to change your life. It’s an admirable goal, but those things don’t really happen so much these days. However, you could meet a Hip Hop Genie to grant your wishes! Dwane “Koko” Williams is an executive producer and manager at Nex Level Entertainment. Maybe he’s not an actual genie, but he can do some pretty magical stuff with your music.  

I recently sat down with Mr. Williams to discuss how an executive producer works and the doors that could open for an artist. Nex Level Entertainment is a music publishing company whose job it is to connect the right artist to the right opportunity. Although the publishing company would own the rights to the music, the artist would still be getting paid handsomely though royalties each time it’s played. The bigger the venue/opportunity for the song to be played, the more money the artist will rake in. 

DopeCauseWeSaid (DCWS): So Mr. Williams, what made you want to start such a company?
DW:  I’ve been surrounded by music my whole life; my dad was a musician who could play many instruments. He had great success and a record label so it’s in my blood. A lot of my friends are artists as well so I combined my entrepreneurial spirit with their need to be heard.

DCWS: What kind of experience do you need to run a company like this? DW: You definitely need an ear for good, marketable music and the ability to see the bigger picture. The biggest thing is knowledge of the music business, PR skills and of course connections in the industry. I also have a partner who I run the company with.

DCWS: Awesome, who’s your partner? DW: My partner is a producer. His name is Villo Beats; I mentioned that a lot of my friends are artists. I met most of them at my neighbourhood community center where there’s a music program, we eventually got to talking and had the same ideas so we decided to start a company. Villo attends the Harris Institute, which is one of Canada’s premier music schools, I definitely trust his opinion. 

DCWS: So what is each of your roles within the company? DW: We both work as talent scouts primarily. We see a raw talent and try to take them to the next level. I might see someone at an open mic, Villo might see someone at a talent show, the artist would come to me to discuss contracts and management. The artist would then go to Villo to record a few songs. Once we’re both satisfied with the songs we send them out to different outlets that need music and hopefully we have a winner. From there we discuss details and negotiate the best deal for everyone.

DCWS: What kind of places could play my music? DW: Anywhere we see an opportunity; that could be a shopping mall, sports arena, movies, commercials, fashion shows, anywhere you could imagine that needs good music for the background.

DCWS: Good stuff, there’s so much opportunity! As an artist what would your services cost me? DW: Right now we’re working on packages for artist development, but if we stumble upon a super talented individual then Villo Beats and I would definitely cover some of the costs.

DCWS: That’s great to hear since there are so many “opportunities” for artists to break through but end up costing the artist a fortune. What’s next for Nex Level Entertainment? DW: Right now we’re just doing the finishing touches on our website for the upcoming launch later this month. We usually work on referrals and scouting, but we want to expand, we’re actually looking to go international and get some talent from the states.

DCWS: Tell me more about the website. DW: The website will be a hub for talented artists to be showcased. Users will have the ability to contact us for representation and find out what events we’re putting on that they can come out to. There'll be a regularly updated music blog and we’ll also be featuring artists so there’ll be lots of opportunities to put yourself out there.

DCWS: That’s exciting! I wish you all the best. We’ll definitely keep up with you as your company grows. Thanks for chatting with us.

So there you have it ladies and gentlemen, if you want to achieve success, sometimes you have to think outside the box. Keep going to your open mics, keep putting on shows and keep trying. There could be a music producer in your town just like Mr. Williams who can help you take your career to the next level, or should I say “Nex Level”?! - Asha Mullings


BLOG: Can She Really Make It On Her Own?

As everyone knows, the entertainment business is a strange place. Often times artists say that they have to “sell their soul” to get anywhere. Of course anyone with a brain knows they aren’t actually writing a contract with evil spirits, rather they’re stepping outside of themselves to do things they normally would never do to get closer to the top. Anyone who’s made that remark seems to have made commercial success in the industry, but how far should one actually go? Would you go as far as let’s say, marriage? Well these ladies did (some of them got really close to it) and it got them where they wanted to be, which begs the question -- can women in the music and entertainment industry really make it on their own without a dirty deal? The following female celebrities have had amazing careers, but it looks like they all got their starts by shacking up. Let’s start from way back in the Motown days with Diana Ross. 

Diana Ross is best known for being the front woman of the 1960’s girl group The Supremes who had many number one hits and paved the way for the Pop and RnB artists we know today. They are considered to be the most successful girl group ever. The Supremes were initially called the Primettes and had small successes on their own, but it wasn’t until Berry Gordy, CEO of Motown Records signed them in 1961 under the condition that they change their name to ‘The Supremes’ that they really started to take off. Under his guidance they were able to create their first hit “When the Lovelight Starts Shining Through His Eyes”. Berry had decided that Diana would now be the lead singer. The group continued to gain success and just 4 years later in 1965 Diana Ross and Berry Gordy started dating. Well that’s only what the internet says; I can imagine that they were involved long before. Diana and Berry’s romance lasted a while, all the way into 1971 and they got pregnant, strangely though only two months into the pregnancy, Diana married music executive Robert Ellis Silberstein. Are we seeing a pattern here? Diana had two more children for Robert before their divorce in 1977. Diana then moved on to Gene Simmons for a couple of years… Are we seeing the pattern now? As everyone knows, Ms. Ross has continued to have a very successful and multifaceted career, ask your parents and they’ll tell you she’s a legend.

Next on our list is everyone’s favourite diva, Mariah Carey! We all know how big a star she is and have heard of her demanding diva ways, but how did it all happen? She met the right man of course. Mariah knew she wanted to be a singer at a very young age. Through high school she met a writing partner and together she compiled a four song demo tape. Once graduated, Mariah moved to Manhattan and shared a one bedroom apartment with four other girls. She worked hard as a waitress but would always get fired after two weeks on the job. She kept on trying to get her demo through to the record labels, but they just weren’t having it. Mariah somehow met pop singer Brenda K. Starr who took her to a music executive’s gala. Brenda gave Mariah’s demo tape to Tommy Mottola who was the head of Columbia records. The story goes that Tommy was so impressed with her voice that he came back to the party looking for her, but she was nowhere to be found. He searched for her for two weeks, found her and immediately signed her. Her two studio albums won her two Grammys and had her all over the billboard charts in the span of less than two years. And then of course in 1993 she and Tommy Mottola got married… Interesting, I suppose he just fell in love with her voice. But like any stepping stone, Tommy served his purpose and Mariah moved on. 

Some of these ladies figured their situation out and got the most of it while they could; however this next one is still trying to get things set up. Remember Nick Cannon’s leading lady in ‘Love Don’t Cost a Thing?’ It was Christina Milian! Before Nick Cannon shacked up with Mariah he was romantically involved with his then co-star Christina. Christina Milian has always hopped between acting and recording music with generally positive results in both, but nothing major has occurred in both arts. Supposedly her lackluster success is due to music labels not allowing her to make the music she really wants to. Perhaps in an effort to get more control over her music Christina tried to pull moves like the ladies who came before her: She dated Andre Lyon from producer Group Cool & Dre who she was working with on a new album. In 2009 she started dating producer and artist, The Dream while they were working on some songs. The two ended up marrying and having a child. The relationship didn’t work out so Christina decided to claw her way back to stardom with that reality show of hers. In 2012 Christina joined Young Money and… Yes, she also started dating Lil Wayne. The two put out a song together called “Start a Fire” last year and then the flame of their romance ran out. Ay Caramba! Who will Christina saddle up to next?

Before I wrap this up I just wanted to give a shout out to the OG of marrying her way up -- Anna Nicole Smith! Anna was a simple girl from a small town who is most known for her career as a model, discovered by Hugh Heffner. Anna married an 89 year old billionaire at the age of 26 and was living that high life. Unfortunately when her husband died the next year, she got none of his money!

I’m still not sure if a woman can just make it on her own in entertainment anymore, but when I see stars like Adele and Nicki Minaj, I like to think that it’s still possible. I’d say the moral of the story here is to at least have some talent if you’re gonna go the bride route, if not get everything in writing! - Asha Mullings