Does Hip-Hop have
a Donald Trump? Before just the dollars and worth, Trump is renowned for his
resilience after loss. To go from something to nothing and back up, that’s
Perhaps the most
deserving Hip-Hop comparison lies in Lance “Un” Rivera.
Un was responsible
for a hearty size of Biggie’s success by way of Junior M.A.F.I.A. and
Lil’ Kim. Shortly after Biggie’s murder, Un discovered two of today’s
best: Cam’ron and Charli Baltimore.
Both began under
Un’s tight supervision, to notable praises. But maybe there’s a
reason they aren’t still beside their mentor? In a haze of bad business
on the part of Epic Records, and the publicized tussle with Jay-Z, Un and his
label vanished without a trace.
Five years later,
where better for Un to resurface than the top. After you laugh your jeans off
seeing “The Cookout”, stay for the credits. Rivera directed and
had a large hand in the creation of this memorable film.
On the eve of the
opening, AllHipHop.com caught up with Lance to extract some business ideas,
some reflections, and some gossip on what you thought you knew. Oh boy.
You doing big things with The Cookout. Where’s your head at right now?
Un: Right now,
I feel blessed because this is my first film. I definitely always wanted to
do films and go to Hollywood and be able to make great films for the people
I represent – which is the urban, Hip-Hop community. I feel like for my
first project, we pulled it off ten fold. The movie is gonna be a movie for
everybody. The people who represents us are gonna be able to say, “This
is a classic. This is a movie that you have to have in the future or you won’t
be able to entertain people.” Like a Friday or a Barbershop.
Two greats. Besides Cube and Pooh, most Hip-Hoppers turned directors stay straight-to-video,
how hard was it to get taken seriously by Hollywood?
Un: Overall, it
was a concentrated effort by myself, Shakim, and Queen Latifah. We developed
the movie. I had to convince them that I wanted to do it [then] the studios
that I was qualified to do it.
Friday is a movie that brought Whites to the theater, people of all ages to
the theater. It plays on USA Network. Will The Cookout have that mass appeal?
Un: Yes. It definitely
has the ability to crossover in a mainstream kinda way because it’s pure
to us. We only love what is ours. What our definition of the sneaker, the basketball
player. We see everything our way. Then the crossover audience sees it from
the original, plus us loving it, so they pay attention to it because it’s,
“super-cool,” and then they put they spin on it. I made sure that
cinematically; it felt like one of their films. When it was time to put people
like Farrah Fawcett in it, and Tim Meadows and Danny Glover, that they would
understand their perspective of those talents and our perspective of those talents.
It was a balance. It’s just an awesome film, from eight to eighty.
Was the process enjoyable or stressful, consider what you had at stake?
Un: No, it was
enjoyable all the way. This was something I always did. I directed all them
old Biggie videos, “Players Anthem,” “Get Money,” Lil’
Kim’s “Crush on You,” “Ladies Night,” all of Cam’ron’s
videos. That’s something that I have a passion for. I was in the music
business because Big and my family wanted [it]. It wasn’t a passion of
mine. The creativity was the passion. It’s to be able to come up with
a mainstream song that can go past a certain number of spins on the radio. I
understood that philosophy of being an A&R. The movie business, this is
an amazing feat; I shot a 125 page script in eighteen days. I shot a two hour
and forty-five minute film. You could’ve shot three films out of that.
It only shows that I have a gift of it.
Prior to videos, did you have any training?
Un: Nope. Puff
was my mentor at it. He had first gave me my opportunity ‘cause I co-directed,
“Juicy.” I asked him questions. It just started becoming easy to
Let’s go back to the music era of Un. Because it’s going on five
years, remind people in your own words.
Un: Un is a guy
who was part of a plan that was hatched between myself and the Notorious Big.
We became partners in a company called Undeas. Big was behind the music. I was
behind the business. When Big passed away, the spotlight was on me, “Was
it Biggie, was it Un, the person who could create something from nothing and
make money off it?” So I created this other company called Untertainment
through Sony. I signed Cam’ron and Charli Baltimore. As new artists, everybody
in the world knew who Cam’ron was, who Charli was. I solidified who I
was in the business. Cam went on to sell Gold. It was the first time Epic had
ever sound-scanned the first week on a Rap act.
So what happened?
Un: The funny thing
about this conversation is this. The first week of Cam’s album, [Epic]
fired everybody [in the department]. We totally sold those records on our own.
Untertainment! Through Sony cuttin’ the check and allowing us to get what
we need to get to, the status there was. It became a numbers situation. [Epic]
had to decide what they wanted to be [as far as a genre]. They chose the Pop
and R&B route. They didn’t really understand Hip-Hop. It didn’t
make sense to keep us around. They [offered me jobs] in business [and] music.
What I did was just backed up out of the music [industry]. Y’all take
Cam’ron, y’all take these artists and leave me to recoup the future.
I’m just gonna chill. The music never was my passion. Me, Shakim, and
Latifah have a studio out in Jersey. I had some artists that I was working on.
So you’re still doing music?
Un: I have my eye
on some stuff. I understand that Hip-Hop has to grow. In order for it to grow,
we have to let the younger generation in the business. I respect everybody doin’
they thing. You don’t wanna hate. But, make room for these youngsters!
You’re pushing thirty-five, you made a lot of money doin’ it.
I gotta say though – Latifah’s somebody who is lucky. You’re
saying make room for new blood. I’m saying, it’s criminal that Melle
Mel isn’t covered for life.
Un: Right. This
is what I’m sayin’! It’s only because Melle Mel isn’t
out there trying to find the next sixteen-year-old Jay-Z and going inside the
building and saying, “This kid’s signed to my label, give us a check!”
He’s taking it on the Rap perspective. Make Jay-Z the chairman of Sony!
Now Jay-Z has the power to sign two-hundred brand new Jay-Z’s.
I’m not trying to advocate as much as learn… but I think Hip-Hop’s
oversaturated. Artists can’t get room on shelves for sophomore albums
anymore. You want two hundred new-jacks?
Un: No. It’s
all trickery. If you look and see, the majority of [today ’s] records are
all independent. They have nothing to do with the major system. They have something
to do with distribution. That’s where the money is. Tell me Def Jam’s
roster right now and what’s dropping? You only seein’ Luda and Jay!
They not puttin’ out no records. Independents? Yeah, it’s saturated.
What was the element in the chemistry in you and Big?
Un: It was Laurel
and Hardy, even though we were the same size. Because we were the same size,
we could buy the same clothes and we have the same style. It was almost like
a twin brother scenario. “Un, Christmas is here. I’mma need about
sixty thousand.” “Big, I can’t get you sixty thou by tomorrow.”
“Un, it’s Christmas here.” “Meet me at 9:30 in the morning.”
That’s what! One thing he never wanted me to do is manage him. “Un,
I already dug my hole with Puff. Make me and you what Puff got.” That
was his answer. But he said, “Make sure that I’m getting the right
things, from the sidelines.” I was his advisor.
I had recently heard you regarding the Jay-Z incident as a “publicity
stunt.” Is that true?
Un: I don’t
say, “publicity stunt.” Because whatever happened, happened. But
whatever happened, was business. You know what I’m sayin’? Even
in Hip-Hop, you need hype to sell records. Back then, I was known for the hype.
Business people got alone and figured out how to sell The Hard Knock Life 2
album. (long pause).
Within the Jay-Z talk, I’m curious to see what your reaction is to Cam’s
Un: I think that
Cam is a talented individual. 90% of what Cam’ron is doing is marketing
and promoting himself. He got that from me. If he drives a pink Land Rover,
it’s ‘cause of that. Musically and business-wise, Cam’ron
knows that he needs a mainstream record in order to go platinum. He did that
with, “Oh Boy” and “Hey Ma.” But Cam’ron’s
attitude is that because he’s so grounded in what he believes is right
versus Un’s way of thinking, he still makes records that even mean nothing
to the 100,000 kids on the street corner. He understands. This whole Jim Jones
element of it, and the Dip Set, if you remember, we started all that when Cam
was with me. It was a project that we was working on for the future. It was
a project originally started by Digga who was signed to my production company.
Would Cam’s success have been any different had Untertainment stayed around?
Un: Of course!
You know why. Let’s take this movie. When it was conceived, I started
just building it. Let’s not do a soundtrack; let’s do an Ultimate
Cookout. We’re gonna license all the hottest songs ever to be played at
cookouts past and present. Jazz versions, R&B versions, Hip-Hop versions.
We can market this with BBQ sauce and potato chips, and have it on the shelves
next to the ice. It’ll become like the Now CD’s. There’ll
be one released every year and we don’t have to spend any money marketing
it. It’ll make money for years to come. Do you know that nobody understood
what I said to you just now?
You’re paying legends too. You’re not just putting out here-and-gone
Un: Exactly! And
that’s why I say that Untertainment would’ve been a better company.
Because I understand how it has to grow. You can blast this out. The next wave
of Hip-Hop has to be live instruments. We have to take it to the stage. It’s
about entertainment. There wasn’t no record sales when Berry Gordy started.
You gotta take it out and do it. Prince made eight or nine dollars off of every
album sold. Do your research.
What are your expectations for this the film?
Un: I gotta believe
that if we accomplished the job that I think we did with the urban community,
this movie can open to number one. That’s because they didn’t push
it to the mainstream as far as marketing. One of the biggest questions that
I said to them was, “What happens when the demographics you [disregard]
comes to this movie with their [teens] watching BET? What happens when they
go to the theater and it’s not there? Do they have to trek to the urban
community?” This is my conversation with Hollywood.
Collateral shows everywhere. So should The Cookout.
Un: So should The
Cookout. If that happens, we open to forty million. I’d say twenty million
[now], but we have to get all of the Black people and some of the White people
into those “Black” theaters. This can answer the big question.