Mike Ross (Delicious Vinyl) Interview
Author: Adam Bernard
It's pretty safe to say that if you've been a Hip-Hop head for any significant amount of time you have at least one Delicious Vinyl release in your collection. Since it's inception in 1987 the label has been synonymous with dope Hip-Hop as they've put out some truly classic albums from artists such as The Pharcyde, Young MC and Tone-Loc. This week RapReviews caught up with Delicious Vinyl co-founder Mike Ross to find out more about his 20+ year journey in the music industry and what he feels the new relationship between labels and artists has to be in order for that industry to survive.
Adam Bernard: Delicious Vinyl has been around for over two decades. How have you seen it grow and change over those years?
Mike Ross: I think Delicious Vinyl has always been a boutique label in the sense that it started with me and my partner Matt (Dike) and there were never aspirations for it to become a label that put out a ton of music. We just wanted to make records that we thought were cool and spread that. So I sign things that I find interesting, or that I like and I want to develop, and get them out there and just try and develop things that I think are relevant. Towards the late 90's there just wasn't as much Hip-Hop that I was inspired by and it didn't really warrant me spending a lot of time putting out a lot of records, so to really answer your question it's more about just continuing to try to do things that I find creative and interesting and trying to turn people on to cool music. That's always been what Delicious Vinyl has been about for me, to do things that aren't necessarily what's going on, but just try and have some kind of quality control about what comes out. There have been big gaps and there have been a lot of ups and downs along the way, but we continue to just try and push a cool vibe out there and try and figure out a way to stay in business doing it.
AB: I notice now you have this new emphasis on dance and the B-more sound. When did this come about? Why this new emphasis?
MR: That's more of my brother, who never really was on the creative side as far as signing music to the label, that's always been myself, and me and my partner at the beginning, but he was starting to travel a lot and was meeting different people and he hooked up with Aaron LaCrate and they wanted to start putting out some cool dance music that was coming out of different regions and Aaron, who I met, who I thought was really cool, was throwing a lot of parties and putting out some cool music in Baltimore. The two of em kinda hooked up and I kinda gave em some freedom to start this offshoot called Delicious Gutter where they could start putting out different cool dance music from different regions. We did this "Know How Theme" with him. He had this beat, "Samir's Theme," which he had as an instrumental and was starting to burn up the clubs in Baltimore. It was a really cool dance beat and at the same time we were looking to put out a remix record on the catalogue. Not really have it be remixed by Hip-Hop producers, because that felt played out, but kind of use other producers in France, or headbangers.
AB: And that's how Rmxxology was born.
MR: Exactly. Rick became friends with Aaron and Aaron started bringing some different ideas to the table musically. I started giving him some a capellas and I gave him that "Know How" a capella. When he gave me that beat I thought the "Know How" a capella would sound really dope over it, and it did. That started a relationship and Rick and Aaron started going in different directions, putting out some 12 inches and expanding on this club culture that's going on right now.
AB: Do you think this is something your old school fan base will appreciate, or is this something you're doing to generate a new group of Delicious Vinyl fans?
MR: Originally the idea was that it was a cool way to reintroduce some of the old school artists to the newer kids, which I thought actually made a good marriage. There were some really cool remixes that were done. This guy Mr. Flash did a really dope remix of Masta Ace's "Sitting on Chrome." This kid Breakbot that my brother found did this really dope remix of "What's Up Fatlip" and Aaron did the "Know How Theme." It just started to dawn on me that a lot of these kids don't know a lot about Hip-Hop history. They can appreciate it if you reintroduce it to them with music they're listening to, though, and drop in some lyrics and some interesting points of view that a lot of classic emcees had. So I was using it more as a bridge. We have all the classic stuff and it's there to be heard, so I think if you're into music you're gonna go back and do your history and when you do you'll stumble on Loc-ed After Dark, or Heavy Rhyme Experience, or Bizarre Ride II the Pharcyde, Slaughterhouse by Masta Ace.
AB: I have to say, the "Bust A Move" remix on Rmxxology is really dope.
MR: The Don Rimini one? It's dope, right? Obviously I'm kind of coming more from the classic angle so the last thing I want to do is put a stake between the beat heads and the people that are expecting a certain type of music from Delicious because when I'm putting gout music I'm gonna put out shit that's appealing to them, I hope. I wouldn't let stuff come out that I didn't think did those a capellas justice. Some of these EPs, like Don Rimini's, that they're putting out, I'm giving them a little A&R license on that because I don't really look at that as Delicious Vinyl, per se, it's kind of an offshoot label, so heads that are into that kind of thing will find something there, but I'm pretty tight fisted as far as keeping control over the Delicious Vinyl brand and our musical output. I've always been that way. The catalogue pretty much speaks for itself and even the new music, I don't put out as many records now, but the Fatlip record, a lot of people didn't hear that record, but I thought it was a very relevant record as far as a solo record by Fatlip, which was an ordeal to make. It's a very personal and autobiographical record. And The Brand New Heavies, I put them back together a couple years ago and I made a new record with them, Get Used To It.
AB: So are you working with mostly old school artists?
MR: Sometimes. I obviously start relationships with some of the artists that I still think are relevant. The Heavies had kinda split up and N'Dea, the main singer, went off to do a solo project and the guys realigned with another singer and it didn't really work out, so I felt at a certain point it was time to put them back together just because they're such a great live band and they have all these fans that would love to come see them do shows. I was able to get them all in a room together again and we all kinda made up and said let's do what we do best, let's make another record. Now they're touring again and that record kind of started them back towards being able to be out there and do shows and now they're gonna make another record.
AB: What projects are you working on now?
MR: We're about to wrap up this 20 year retrospective. I'm putting out our first 100 12 inches on DVD and as many videos that we have to go with it, so you're gonna be able to buy, on DVD, so for Serato, or you can put em on your computer, you'll be able to buy each 12 inch, each original 12 inch with A side and B side, like a hundred 12 inches that we put out from '87 on. It's pretty cool going through all that. We're just getting all that out with liner notes right now. It's probably the definitive end to this 20 year thing so we can keep moving, but it's kind of cool going back through some of that stuff.
AB: Do have a story of a big artist that got away?
MR: In the early days I kind of missed on Digital Underground. I didn't really feel I missed on it because at the time I got a 12 inch of Digital Underground on a white label and it had this song on it called "Underwater Rhymes," which was something off their first album. I'm not even sure if it was an actual release that they put out. I thought it was cool at the time, but for some reason it didn't catch me enough to pursue it further, but then not that much later I heard "Dowhatchalike" and saw the video and I just lost my mind. I was like "who are these guys!?!?" I remember my friend Orlando, who works with me, saying "remember, I played you that 12 inch from them called ‘Underwater Rhymes?'" I go "yeah, I kinda remember that, but it wasn't THIS!" And working with Mellow Man Ace, his brother is Sen Dog and his dancer was B-Real, so I was tight with those guys when we were making Mellow Man Ace's record and Muggs was his DJ at the time and they became, obviously...
AB: A little group called Cypress Hill.
MR: Yeah. But they were already doing their own thing and Mellow was doing something separate, so it wasn't like I really had a chance to get them. I was happy for them. Other than that, nothing really that I can think off. Usually when I wanted something I got it. It's not like I ever got into bidding wars, that was never my thing. Most of the groups I signed, people didn't really know who they were at the time.
AB: There are a lot of young CEOs and wanna-be CEOs out there in Hip-Hop today. What are some of the major missteps you see them making... or do you not want to tell them?
MR: I think if you really have a passion for music right now is a great time to get into it. It's like all the riff raff's been cleared out. If you're really in it to win it in the record business now, and you really love music, and you think that you can make records, or find talent, and you want to put your heart and soul behind it, I would say go for it. Just make sure you partner up with your artists. The business model's changed a little bit. The record labels being one thing and the artists being another isn't quite the same as it used to be. You really have to be partners on all levels now if you're gonna be a label. So my advice would be make sure that you become partners with whoever the artist is that you believe in so you guys are in it together because you can't really make it just putting out records right now because there aren't enough people buying records. You have to manage the act and be involved in all parts of their career. If you're gonna build them as a brand and you guys are gonna collaborate together then you guys need to be partners together. So that would be my suggestion, but I would say by all means, the music business needs innovators right now, it needs people that are willing to really be in it for the right reasons. I feel like the quality of music is diminishing, it has been diminishing for a long time, but maybe now that the business side of the business is getting so blown up the creative sparks and the people that are really in it for the music will come back and lead the way going forward.
AB: Finally, you have an iconic logo. Why haven't you merchandised the hell out of it?
MR: That's a good question. We actually do. Not as much in the past because it's been more about making records, but we've always sold shirts, we've always had the shirts front and center, but as we speak right now we are selling the merchandise, the brand, a little bit more. We're gonna do some shoes. We've always done hats and stuff, but we're working on building more of a classic, lifestyle, sportswear line right now.
For more about Delicious Vinyl please visit DeliciousVinyl.com.
Originally posted: April 21, 2009