(AllHipHop Features) There are very few Hip Hop-centered management companies that can match the star power of The Blueprint Group’s clientele. BPG represents Billboard chart regulars Lil Wayne, Nicki Minaj, and G-Eazy, legacy acts The Roots and Jill Scott, and award-nominated songwriters CyHi the Prynce, Belly, and August Alsina. The culture’s future is also squarely in the syndicate’s hands since Rich The Kid, Jay Critch, and Tone Stith are under Blueprint’s business guidance.
The forces behind The Blueprint Group are just as accomplished in their fields as the musicians on the roster. Industry powerhouses Gee Roberson, Cortez “Tez” Bryant, Shawn Gee, Al Branch, Bryan Calhoun, and Jean Nelson make up the executive team. With constant back-to-back wins, the squad’s championship run is reaching New England Patriots level of success.
Over the last twelve months, Blueprint scored platinum plaques for Rich The Kid’s “Plug Walk” and “New Freezer” featuring Kendrick Lamar, Lil Wayne’s Tha Carter V, and Nicki Minaj’s Queen. 2017 was also a victorious year. Cyhi picked up praise from rap purists for his debut studio LP No Dope on Sundays.
Plus, The Beautiful & Damned by BGP Records signee G-Eazy - released in partnership with The Revels Group - peaked in the Top 3 on the Billboard 200 album chart and crossed the RIAA-certified one million units mark. The Blueprint Group/BPG Records President Jean Nelson is just continuing the prosperous plays he previously called while working as an A&R for Lil Kim, T.I., Plies, and others.
I spoke to Nelson by phone for the Conversations series. The former Hip Hop Since 1978 insider broke down The Blueprint Group and its clients’ 2018 projects. He also discussed the difficulties of partnering Hip Hop artists with corporate brands.
AllHipHop: Can you explain the difference between Blueprint Music Group and BPG Records?
Jean Nelson: They’re the same thing. Blueprint is a label that’s distributed through Sony/RCA. I am the president of the label. The company consists of my partners Gee Roberson, Cortez Bryant, Al Branch, and Shawn Gee. The management part of the label is called Maverick.
AllHipHop: Which artists are signed under the label?
JN: We have G-Eazy and Tone Stith. We have a new upcoming rapper from Brooklyn named Lola Brooke. She’s going to be the next big female rapper. You know I know the female rap thing.
AllHipHop: 2018 was a big year for Blueprint and Maverick. It was announced that Rich The Kid was signed to BPG. How involved was Blueprint in the creation and rollout of his album?
JN: He was definitely under our tutelage. We just built his career which he did a great job on the grassroots. That’s one of the reasons we signed him. From there, we took him to the next level, meaning endorsements, putting out a great body of work, his record with Kendrick Lamar, then right into “Plug Walk” and putting him on tours.
AllHipHop: Rich and Kendrick’s song was one of my favorites from last year.
JN: Thank you. He came in with that song, sat with us, and just played us the record “New Freezer.” We were like, ‘This is incredible.” He was like, “I need Kendrick on this.” With our relationship with TDE, who are great allies and friends of ours, the calls were made and we got it done. Kendrick told him he would do it, and he was a man of his word. We did the record and the video. It was heaven after that.
AllHipHop: I’m sure the #NewFreezerChallenge helped spread the song.
JN: Yeah, that’s like a new form of marketing, but your song has to be good.
AllHipHop: Yeah, you see people online try to start their own challenges. It has to start with the music.
JN: That sh*t don’t work. It starts with the music.
AllHipHop: You mentioned endorsements. There were reports that Rich signed with Adidas.
JN: One of our guys, Matt Ferrrigno, who’s the head of all branding and endorsements in our company, is the one that got him the Adidas deal.
AllHipHop: Rich has been around for a while, but on a mainstream level he’s still kind of new. What is it like trying to pitch artists that are still up-and-coming to these corporations?
JN: Sometimes it’s difficult because a lot of brands don’t understand our culture unless it’s something full-blown after the fact. We pride ourselves in going in early. I think our experience helps us walking in the door. It’s not an easy sell, but we teach these companies about the future. Getting on something and being cool about it does not happen after the fact. Being ahead of it and having it first is what makes the company cool. It’s more organic. It makes these kids realize, “You know what? I’ve been on this before you became this big huge name.” That’s the key to it.
AllHipHop: Over the last few years there’s been a lot of brands and companies that have embraced Hip Hop artists as ambassadors or celebrity endorsers. You said sometimes these brands don’t really understand our culture. Have you seen a shift in that over the last few years? Do they have a better understanding of Hip Hop and its value?
JN: Just a little bit. Not really. I still see a lot of big brands that don’t really, really use the culture the way it's supposed to be used. I’m not going to lie to you. A lot of these huge brands such as Apple or Louis Vuitton... I could keep going, they still don’t really use us.
AllHipHop: Where is the line with these companies between collaboration and exploitation? You’ll see commercials with Hip Hop songs and it comes off so inauthentic. It seems like they still haven’t quite captured an understanding of what Hip Hop truly is.
JN: They haven’t. Most brands come to things when it’s super on fire, when it’s undeniable. Sometimes some of these brands are so cocky they still don’t. You got to be smart and use them just for the look, but the contract you got was a piece of sh*t. You’re going for the look. Perception is reality. I get that part of it also. It’s different for each artist and for each reason why. Even though you see the influence of rap and it controls everything in culture now, there are still things where I feel it’s underused or not used fairly. That’s the name of the game. What we do over here at BPG is outsmart the system. That’s how you get it.
AllHipHop: You mentioned before about working with female rappers. Nicki is signed with you guys. Jumping off what we were just talking about as far as the shifts in the culture on the corporate end, what are your thoughts about her complaints about Billboard and the way that they changed their method for counting album sales for their charts?
JN: I just want the platforms - Billboard and everybody - to just play it fair. There can’t be one rule for one person and the rule not work for another person. That’s all.
AllHipHop: You guys have Wayne as well. He had a huge year in 2018. He finally got to release Tha Carter V after he parted ways with Cash Money. What is the status of Young Money now?
JN: Young Money is still there. Everything’s all love right now. Legally, I can’t go in that deep.
AllHipHop: What was Blueprint’s plan when rolling out Tha Carter V?
JN: It was just getting the music out. After all the legal bullsh*t was over, we just knew what Wayne stands for - he’s a legend. It wasn’t, “This is the single.” Nah, it was just a body of work that the world was waiting for. You see the results. Everybody was waiting for Wayne, and we let the greatness out. We let the world decide, and it was a super success as we knew. We’re a team - Mack Maine, Tez, Ryan Ramsey, Matt Ferrrigno , Bryan Calhoun who does our digital. We really are a full-fledged label and management company. A lot of people don’t understand that.
AllHipHop: I respect that Wayne has had those same people around him for so long like Tez and Mack Maine.
JN: Yeah, they’ve been there forever.
AllHipHop: G-Eazy's on the label. 2017 going into 2018 was big for him as well with his album The Beautiful & Damned. What was your approach to marketing him?
JN: G-Eazy was a huge success for us since we started. The problem is there was a part where hardcore, urban culture didn’t know who he was. They respect him but they didn’t know him. We didn’t sit there and take a rapper and force it, like make him do this type of Trap record. We really grew his brand and his music. That’s the help also of our partners Jamil Davis and Matt Bauerschmidt. Putting him out, taking him to the next level, then getting in the studio and Boi-1da played that “No Limit” beat - we just felt it right away. Then to put an up-and-coming rapper like Cardi B [on the song] - this is before the huge success. A lot of people think that record was put out after. That sh*t helped both of them so much. It was the perfect marriage. And people don’t realize “No Limit” changed the tempo. After that, you hear records have that New Orleans bounce. G-Eazy is like an unsung hero for putting that tempo out.
AllHipHop: Speaking of “No Limit,” can you clear up the confusion about Nicki originally being on the track?
JN: That never happened. I never played the record for Nicki or asked her to be on the record. That was fake news that people put out there. That record was done and it was solely sent to Cardi.
AllHipHop: I wanted to ask about another artist signed to Blueprint. That’s August Alsina. We haven’t had an album from him in a few years. Can we expect anything from him this year as far as a project?
JN: Yeah. I’m sure you can expect there’s some stuff from him. Our other guy on the team, J Erving, is the person that takes lead on that.
AllHipHop: You’ve worked with a lot of artists as an A&R. What does that role involve in the modern era of the music industry?
JN: I think there’s a glitch right now in the music game. Everybody feels like they’re an A&R. These artists think they don’t need A&Rs. Half of these acts really do. In this new world we’re in, which I have nothing against it, you cut your own record and put it out on TuneCore or SoundCloud by yourself. Everybody has this stigma that an A&R is just this executive person that doesn’t do anything. That’s like the coach and you listen. If you look at the history of music, all the great A&Rs - from Puff Daddy to Irv Gotti to Hip Hop to Gee Roberson to Jean Nelson - that’s needed. Anybody can catch a record, it’s what you do after. If you work hard enough, God’s going to give you 15 minutes. How do you turn that 15 minutes into an hour? That’s the key. That’s come from having a great A&R structure. Trust me, they are a lot of good young ones. But at most of these companies, the guys work scared for the job or the guys take the job just for the title, just to say, “I’m an A&R that works at a label.” If you do that, you’re not going to get to that next level. That’s the disconnect. There’s a lot of great A&Rs out there like Brooklyn Johnny, Dallas Martin, and Dash [Sherrod] at Interscope. I’m one of the few elder executives that courts these guys. All these guys are guys that I helped put in the position. Labels are like a basketball team. It’s a mixture of old players and new players. No young basketball team wins a championship and no old team wins. It’s a mixture of having youth and youthful age - I don’t call it old age.
AllHipHop: After all these big moves over the last few years, what can we expect from Blueprint in 2019?
JN: In 2019, we got Jay Critch, we have a Casanova album, and one of the greatest rappers/producers/songwriters Billy. It’s only going to be bigger. That’s all I can say. There’s some stuff we’re working on - from music to film to TV to tech. That’s why we call ourselves The Blueprint because what everybody’s doing now - and all respect to them - that’s what me and my partners been doing since our Kanye days. Now everybody’s catching up. That’s why we call ourselves The Blueprint because we really are.
Follow Jean Nelson on Instagram @Zoochimpn.
Follow Blueprint Music Group on Instagram @blueprintgroup.