Stephen "Spliff" Hacker: Shopping for Beats

Back in the day, the days when

Hip-Hop was raw and untouched, the leading roles were designated to

lyricists and DJs. Producers were part of the supporting cast. But as

time has marched on, lyrics have been replaced by infectious hooks,

outlandish dances and dominating beats; the stars of today's show are

the producers. 

Recognizing this and using his abilities to work his way up the ranks

Stephen "Spliff" Hacker has impressed plenty of Hip-Hop's

best. With a roster of producers and relationships with some of Hip-Hop's

most prominent, his company Spliffington Management is showing up on

some of the most talked about projects this year. 

Age isn't an issue to Spliff, but knowing the right people is a big

thing in the life of any entrepreneur. Here he gives us insight to how

he got to where he is, who has helped him along the way and how one

of his producers tracks is going to stir up a hornets nest with a couple

of A L-ist rappers. How did you get into doing what you do? 

Spliff: I guess it was really a natural progression. You know you get

involved in different things that you are interested in and you start

climbing up the ladder to go further and further. I worked at a couple

of record companies and had a college radio show and I was involved

in the mixtape scene a few years back and things like that. One

thing led to another and here I am, it's original and there are

not many people out there doing what I am doing. You were at Diplomat Records weren't you? 

Spliff: Yeah, I was an assistant A&R for the Diplomats and

if I hadn't worked for them I don't think I would be in the position

that I'm in or doing what I am doing now. I went out on my own initiative

to start working with producers and getting music out to these

artists. I took a liking to playing a role in the creative process

and being in touch with new producers; being able to get them work and

really get their music placed on reputable albums. Being

able to do that put things into perspective and working with a lot of

high profile artists allowed me to expand to new levels. Once

I realized I was able to do that with Cam'ron, Juelz Santana and Jim

Jones, then I realized the world is bigger than just them and there

are a lot of checks out there to get, so why not get them. Do you think with the way the music is today, it's easier

to manage producers over artists? 

Spliff: I think it is all relative. I think right now with the market

the way it is, I think it is really difficult for both. People aren't

buying music the way they used to. So when you try to guage a deal

for an artist to a record company to get them signed or when

you are trying to sell tracks to an artist or an A&R for a producer,

it's just really hard because it is so saturated. Along with

people not buying anything makes it doubly hard. I chose to work

with producers because I don't think they are as emotional as artists.

I mean I just got extremely stressed out with one of them yesterday,

but I don't have to deal with their problems. They deliver the music

on the creative side, give it to me, then I place it in the right hands

and work on the business negotiation side and that is basically

the scope of it. How important has networking been at getting your company

off the ground?

Spliff: I mean it is all networking. Unless someone walks you in or

you are the son of L.A. Reid, you only get to where you are at because

of your hard work and networking. That has everything to do with it

especially as things are so saturated now. It is not even about who

you know, but about how well you know them. With The Diplomats,

if I didn't work for them I doubt I would have been able to get as much

success if I wasn't in their inner-circle. You have to link up with

a certain groups of people and build a relationships with them, as many

as possible, and try to have them in your favor over so they will take

you seriously. But it isn't just about networks when it comes to your

profession, it is also about homework… 

Spliff: 100%, and that is an excellent point as I find myself sometimes

immersed in this Hip-Hop world and I hate it sometimes because often

it is really meaningless. But you have to know what is going on, who

is recording, what labels artists are on, which A&Rs are the right

A&Rs in order not to waste time. You have to be up on things early

to be able to win. Being that you are quite young, was there ever a point

where people didn't take you as seriously because of your age?

Spliff: I have to say yes. Number one, I still look young and get called

on it all the time. Not so much now, but the fact that I stand out a

little bit as well. Hip-Hop is a Black/White industry but primarily

a Black industry and being that I am a bit younger than average and

happen to be Jewish; it is not the typical look for a person who is

trying to get in the deep depths of the business. What attracted you to the roster you are working with

right now? 

Spliff: That's a good question. A couple of the producers I have been

working with since I started doing this and I really believed in their

music early on. I want us all to become succesful together because

we came into this situation together. I think they all complement

each other with different musical styles and can do different things

whether it be original tracks with a lot of instrumentation or sample

tracks which are a bit more street oritented. But again, I think they

all compliment each other and they all add great elements to the

team. I always try to align myself with people at the head

of their class and even though they might not be a Timbaland yet

or have an image to where people know what they look like, the

music is really what speaks. Do you think producers need to be marketed? 

Spliff: Yes they do, as record sales continue to fall; labels

are looking for anything to grasp hold of to sell their artists. You

never used to see an advertisement in a magazine for an album

where saying, produced by and names of five or six different

producers, and now you see that all the time. The labels are using

the big name producers as credibility to boost the quality of the artist's

project so that the consumer should be interested. Timbaland is a brand,

Kanye West is a brand, Alchemist is a brand. So the labels are trying

to press an image upon you that in addition to the artist being so hot,

these producers track record should make it even hotter, so you should

be buying their album. You didn't have to do that before but now

you are adding all these other pieces to the puzzle to try and win over

the consumer. I am not saying it is a good thing or a bad thing; it

is just a sign of the times. Producers are bigger than ever now,

they never used to be this big. In the '80s, the pioneering era of rap,

you didn't even hear about producers. They stayed behind the scenes

and artists were the ones that were raking in all the money and the

fame. Producers are a commodity. You are heavily involved in branding your producers then? 

Spliff: I try as best as I can. It is important. I always try and big

them up in meetings and talk about them, but if you don't see somebody

face-to-face or have a personal connection with them, it is difficult.

I try to take the necessary steps as it is all relative to who

you deal with in these situations. Some people understand

it and others you have to try and make it work for them some other

way. Sometimes when I play music from the producers, I might not

say who the producer is because these A&Rs look at me and trust

me enough to bring them hot music. So it's not very

important to them, the name of the producer or the image of the producer,

they just want the hits. It doesn't matter if it is produced by Streetrunner

or by Freebass for some of these people. But many others are all

about what an album looks like on paper like a stat sheet with the highest

scoring players getting the most playing time, but personally I think

an album has to be about creating the best music possible. They

won't always tell you that but you know when you walk out of

a meeting, your CD could very well be

in the trash because you are not established. There are a lot of things

involved and a lot of factors that go into being successful as a producer.

It is not just about the music. One of your producers has produced this Lil' Wayne diss

track aimed at 50 I believe? 

Spliff: Yeah it is the first single off The Carter III and it

is an incredible record, produced by Streetrunner from Miami who has

a bunch of tracks on The Carter III

in addition to that record. Wayne is not directly saying

50 Cent's name in it but when people hear it they can make their

own judgment and such. It is called "Gossip" and should be

out in the next couple of weeks. It is crazy. What other work have your producers got on right now? 

Spliff: We are working with a new R&B artist by the name of Razah

who got signed to Island/Def Jam who is incredible. He was signed

to Virgin previously. He should be coming out around October

I think and his album is called A Breath of Fresh Air. Juelz

Santana, we have been in the studio with him a lot and I have been pushing

tracks on him hard, he is a workaholic who keeps getting better and

better. His album, if it doesn't come out this year, will be dropping

top of 2008. We have been working with him and Lil' Wayne a lot. We

have a record on LL Cool J's next album which is a single. I just gave

some stuff to Rick Ross and we have a record on Petey Pablo's album.

I am also working closely with Alchemist We are wrapping up the album

now, which is about 90% done. We have a studio session today with Nina

Sky to do some stuff for the record. His album is incredible and I will

be receiving A&R credit for that. He [Alchemist] is inspiring to

me. I looked up to him before I got involved in the business side of

things in the music industry. Just being with him on a regular basis

and seeing him work and how serious he takes it all motivates me; he

is well aware of what I do with my producers and works to further

my cause as well. It is a blessing as he continues to work

with some of the best in the business. That helped me out a lot being

around him. Is it important to have someone to look up to?

Spliff: It actually makes me work harder because you see someone

like that and it drives you. He has the ability to open doors

for Spliffington Management which gives me another edge. He is a

legend and you can't not respect him. Originally I had actually done

an article on him for Ozone years back and were in touch

off an on. I was pressing him for beats for when Cam'ron was

working on his last album. He started giving me stuff hesitantly and

I would give them to Cam. One of the tracks that he gave me ended up

being "Wet Wipes," which was a single on Cam's last album.

Once Al saw that I was able to get that into Cam's hands, things

started coming together. It was a natural progression; you see a

lot of similarities in people and what they can do and you just start

gravitating towards them. What's your future? 

Spliff: We just want to keep expanding and work with bigger artists;

you know have the walls filled with platinum plaques.