Jon Shapiro: Reel to Deal

    Two of the most impressionable young faces in rap this year are Sean Kingston and Hot Dollar. As Hip-Hop stars appear to be at a changing-of-the-guard, making way for the next would-be T.I. or 50, perhaps both regional rappers are in the hat. The man who helped them get a bid is Jon Shapiro, founder and president of Cinematic Music Group.        As an artist manager-turned-label head, Jon brought years of experience acquired quickly to his post. In the years before Sean Kingston’s deal with Beluga Heights/Epic Records, Jon’s management helped Foxy Brown, Hi-Tek, DJ Big Mike and the Nappy Roots. As 2007 brings out arguably his two greatest successes to date, Shapiro tells AllHipHop.com what it really takes to bring out talent properly, his next artists in the wing, and why Cinematic will hopefully live up to its name. In a culture that’s getting younger by the decade, it’s important to learn from those capable of taking teenagers with talent, and getting them to the rat race that is commercial rap music.AllHipHop.com: What was your first industry job, and how have you evolved?Jon Shapiro: I started out working for Puff [Diddy] and Jamel Spencer, who was running Puffy’s marketing company. I was like a party promoter, and I helped them with a bunch of parties in The Hamptons and stuff, and Jamel just like the way that I worked, so he asked me to come over and work with him at Bad Boy. I just never really liked to have a boss – not on some cocky s**t, but I just feel like I’m a leader myself. Taking orders from other is hard if you’re not into that. So after a little bit, I just left. I was in the studios at Bad Boy, late night, on some intern s**t – watching and absorbing. So I left and started Cinematic. As far as evolving in the industry it was a lot of paying dues and just learning from your mistakes. I was very fortunate to have been taken under the wing by a lot of industry people at an early age, and I learned the proper ways to conduct business. I credit most of it to my mentor Zach Katz. He really helped me get to where I’m at today.AllHipHop.com: How long ago was that?Jon Shapiro: I’m 27 now, and I say I’ve been in the industry since I was 19. It was a minute ago. Cinematic didn’t officially start until [2005]. After I left Bad Boy, I started this management company with this lady, who just wasn’t on the same page as me. In the beginning, I had this other company – managing producers and stuff like that. I just left and started Cinematic, and went gung-ho with it.AllHipHop.com: You’ve had a significant roster since 2005. At times, you’ve had artists in transition as well as fledging talent. Who are some of the people you’ve worked with at different points?Jon Shapiro: Nappy Roots, Foxy Brown, Hi-Tek, Felli Fel, [DJ] Big Mike…AllHipHop.com: How is it different to manage DJs like Big Mike or Felli Fel as opposed to an artist like Foxy Brown or the Nappy Roots?Jon Shapiro:  Having DJ relationships outside of a label is key. Felli Fel has one of the best ears in the industry, as a DJ or as an A&R guy. I bring records to him, he brings records to me, and he’ll be like, “This right here is a hit.” He brought me Hot Dollar – the artist I signed to my company, and Jermaine Dupri’s first artist signed at Island. Felli brought him to me. Also, with Sean Kingston, I’ll bounce records and ideas off of Felli. He broke “Beautiful Girls,” he broke “Me Love” too. With me, it’s not even about making money with a DJ; me and Felli have such a strong relationship that I’m trying to make him a brand and take it to another level. Like [DJ] Khaled, who’s my man, he’s taken himself and made a brand out of himself. It’s a money-making situation. Same thing with DJ Envy; he is killing it right now creating a brand for himself. To me, Felli was untapped, ‘cause he’s the biggest DJ on the West Coast, he produces and is focused. Right now we’ve got his single “Get Buck” with Akon, Ludacris, Lil’ Jon and [Diddy]. I’m gonna close Felli’s deal very shortly.With Nappy Roots, it was more about molding their sound and coming up with a concept for their album – making sure they did the right shows. It’s not all about money when you do a show. For instance Sean just turned down a $20,000 show to do a $7,500 show because sometimes a look is worth more than just money. If you plan Sean’s career properly, he’s gonna be around for a very long time. That $12,000 you just missed out on will turn to $120,000 down the road. AllHipHop.com: In your position, what kind of expectations do you face from artists? Whether it’s a hot new artist like Sean, or somebody on the fringes like Nappy Roots…Jon Shapiro: On the management side, right now I literally only represent Sean Kingston, as far as artists go. I don’t plan on taking on anything else anytime soon. I’ve learned that you can build empire around one great artist. Look at Puffy with Biggie, or Damon [Dash] with Jay-Z. I was with Sean from day one – before the record deal, before the money. This is very, very personal to me, whereas with Nappy Roots, I came in after they had already blown up. AllHipHop.com: With Sean, I’ve heard enough to know that the guy can rap. It’s a tough question, but what’s being serviced to radio, which must be making money, doesn’t show this. How hard is it for your side to remind the streets or the critics that Sean has ability?Jon Shapiro: As far as musically, that was really Sean and J.R. [Rotem]. They worked really hard to take Sean from a rapper in Miami to a singer and a Reggae chanter. They molded him into what he is now and they did a great job with it in my opinion. I see what you’re saying, and I get it, as far a record that means nothing. The reason that I named my company Cinematic is the most powerful music, whether it’s Bob Marley, Elvis Presley or Outkast, it’s literally something you could close your eyes to and get a picture from it. With Sean, I genuinely believe – and I think the album will prove it – that he’s not just a one-hit wonder who does meaningless music. He has records about his mother being in jail, youth marches, f**kin’ with his girl’s sister, all that stuff. He’s an artist that’s gonna be here for a minute.AllHipHop.com: It’s like having two star rookies in Sean Kingston and Hot Dollar. How do you divide your time and energy? Can you use energy from Sean’s position at Epic to help an artist like Dollar at Island?Jon Shapiro: Along with [these guys], I have a whole staff. I’m not some f**kin’ genius dude that’s just sitting here; everybody that’s at the company is incredible. They do such good jobs. If you build an empire, which I do plan on building, there were always a lot of good role-players along with somebody like myself. AllHipHop.com: Tell us about that team…Jon Shapiro: I have Jen McDaniels, who was at EMI doing marketing for 10 years and then moved to Virgin with JD, and was VP of urban marketing for three years; she runs the entire company with me. I have Ev Boogie, who has been with me since day one, he is basically my guy I throw all ideas off of. Fat Matt who manages Big Mike, and is also part of the Empire mixtapes, and does all the mixtape stuff; we’re the leader of getting our artists broken because of the relationships that Matt brings to the table. We have J Grand, who’s the best radio promoter in the country; he’s over at Asylum, but he does all of our radio stuff. We just hired J.J. as label manager, he comes to the table with years of experience, and we also have Jay Rockland who handles all the deal points and finances and advises me on all things going on at the company and what makes sense and what doesn’t. As far as my day goes, I’m more on the creative side, as the visionary. I make the career decisions, and I have the whole staff execute them. I genuinely can say I wouldn’t be where I’m at without the people around me. I’m not very successful yet, but I’m on the verge of being very successful. AllHipHop.com: Looking at Sean, how important was it from your perspective that he had somebody like J.R. Rotem to properly bring him out, musically? Jon Shapiro: J.R. produced Sean’s whole album; the only other producer on it is Felli Fel. The album came out incredible, because of the chemistry they had. I can’t even take credit for the sound of Sean’s album that was Sean’s vision with J.R. I think both Beluga [Heights] and Cinematic are going to bring back good music. I get it that the music industry is a business that makes money, and I will sign certain acts that may not be long-term acts, with ringtone singles or whatever. I know the model, I know what works. But the core company as of right now, the artists that I’m rolling out with – Sean, Question, Nipsey Hussle, Smoke & Numbers, these, to me, are real artists – that will turn in albums that people will f**k with. That’s why you love Biggie and Nas – it was cinematic. AllHipHop.com: How important are your DJ relationships to overall success?Jon Shapiro: I think that’s why artists are taking a liking to me on the business side. We understand that you can’t burn bridges in this industry. It’s too small. The way we broke Sean was because of the relationships we had with Khaled, Envy, Felli Fel, Clue, Big Mike, DJ L…. it’s great! All the hard work is about to pay off. All of the grinding…all of the free things I’ve done for some of these key relationships are really starting to pay off. I think we have an advantage because our company can do a lot of stuff that these majors can’t.AllHipHop.com: Sean’s coming out with Epic. Epic was defunct in the urban market for years. Dollar was the first artist at the JD era at Island. With new artists, how much trust do you have to exercise or finger-crossing do you have to do?Jon Shapiro: Every artist that I bring to a company, the label needs to give me $100,000 outside of the budget for me to work an artist and get them to a point where the label’s excited. The buzz has to be there. I don’t care if it’s JD, Puff, whoever…they have so much going on that they’re not paying attention to your artist unless you make them pay attention to your artist. We got Sean’s record up to 2,000 spins before the label even kicked in. Literally, they will vouch for on that. At Epic, they get it. They gave us the money and trusted us. They are by far the best label I have worked with in my career. You get a few hundred spins [and] you get a label excited. You sit there and wait for a label to work for you, and you will be dropped before you know it.AllHipHop.com: Without letting the secret to your sauce out, what do you do with that $100,000?Jon Shapiro: Hip-Hop started in the streets; it’s all about grassroots promotions. I won’t say exactly what we do, but there’s a lot of other people that helped me with this. That’s the kind of money we figure it’ll take an artist to get hot in their region. With Sean, we attacked Miami. With Hot Dollar, we attack L.A. With Question, we’re attacking Texas right now – and it works.

Related Stories