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Name: Adam Bernard
Home: Fairfield, Connecticut, United States
About Me: Entertainment journalist with 15+ years of experience. Supporter of indie music. Lover of day baseball, fringe movies, & chicken shawarma. Part time ninja. Nerdy, but awesome.
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Happ G – Going Indie 101
Wednesday, February 28, 2007

A lot of people like to say they’ve started their own label, but most of those folks are just fooling themselves. Starting and managing a record label is a 24 hour a day, seven day a week, job and the vast majority of those so-called label owners aren’t putting that kind of time in. Then there’s Justin "Happ G" Gilmore, a man who is putting that kind of time in and has been for more than half a decade with his label, Karma Response Unit Records. A native of Philadelphia, Happ G spent four years at NYU, graduating in 2000, the same year he started KRU Records. The label’s artist roster includes Jake Lefco, 40th Dimension and Snuff and the name came to him during a time when he felt he needed a “Karma Response Unit” to come to his rescue. He says “the second it came out of my mouth I knew I was gonna run with it forever.” Seven years and a number of projects later Happ G’s karma has been nothing but great. Today I’m sitting down with him to talk about his day to day life as a label owner, where he sees independent labels fitting in in today’s marketplace and the kind of qualities he feels can make an artist a superstar.

Adam Bernard: First off, why did you decide to start a label? What made you want to dive in to the world of independent label ownership?
Happ G: I started the label simply as a vehicle to release my old group’s (40th Dimension) material but over the years it has evolved to the point where it’s really taken on a life of its own. I think I always knew deep down that I wanted to be involved in music in some way. When I was younger I was really into acting and playing the piano. I was also a magician, so I've always been putting routines and presentations together. Living in New York had a huge impact on me. It was from '96-2000 so it was a time when the independent Hip-Hop scene was really gaining momentum. That definitely influenced and inspired me. While in NYC I saw many amazing and legendary shows like The Cold Crush Brothers birthday party at The Wetlands, and also THE dopest Hip-Hop event I've ever been to, the Big L tribute show at Tramps. Those two shows were basically like Hip-Hop all star games. Mad inspiring! I think seeing things like that made me want to give back to Hip-Hop almost as a way to thank it for providing me with such amazing moments and memories.

Adam Bernard: Business-wise, what are the three biggest things people need to know when it comes to starting up a label?
Happ G: One, make your own mistakes and don't repeat the same mistakes over and over. If you're jumping in the game piggybacking on someone else's reputation then they're going to make mistakes on your behalf and you won't be able to really learn from them. I'm stubborn enough that business-wise I've been doing everything myself for all these years. Yes, that's made it a long uphill battle, but now I understand many different angles of the game, mostly because I've made my own mistakes and have had to live with them and learn from them. Second, watch who you keep around you. There are a ton of shady people in the music world! At all levels heads are gonna try to get over on you. You gotta make sure that the people in your circle are cats that you can really ride with. The quicker you can recognize that a snake is a snake, the more energy you can put towards positive and productive things. And finally, set ambitious but realistic goals. A lot of cats don't have tangible goals, which is the equivalent of floating around at sea hoping you'll end up somewhere good. You gotta aim for a specific spot and row your ass off! On the flipside, a lot of cats set ridiculously unrealistic goals, then they freak out and quit when they don't pan out.

Adam Bernard: One of the first goals any label has is to get noticed. What have been some of the ways you've attempted to get your name out there and compete with other labels?
Happ G: Sticking with it for seven years has helped get us some attention mostly because so many labels are quickly in and out. Just being persistent and consistent will eventually get you noticed. I've also tried to stand out by doing unique and different promo items for my artists and releases. Like for Jake Lefco's Missing Trooth album, coming out this Spring, we pressed up promotional dental floss. I've also searched out other avenues and outlets for our music. We've contributed music to six different MTV shows, including my man Snuff's "Countdown” instrumental which was used as the theme music to Video Honeys and Video Honeys: In Action. You've gotta think outside the box as a label these days.

Adam Bernard: With major label album sales declining, something that was illustrated by the now infamous week from earlier this year when Billboard's number one album sold under 70,000 copies, what do you feel the role of independent labels is in 2007?
Happ G: I think that independent labels can really become a driving force towards refocusing the music industry back onto the music. Right now the industry is so caught up in sales and what's hot for the moment. I made a decision to sell Jake Lefco's And You Are? album for just $5.99, to compensate for the poor album sales across the board these days. That's really helped encourage people to give our music a try. I think that indie labels can really remind people that it's ultimately supposed to be about the music. I mean don't get me wrong, I'd like to become extremely wealthy but I'm not going to compromise my artistic vision in order to make a quick buck.

Adam Bernard: Seeing that the current cycle of popular music stars seem to be fading out, what qualities do you feel the next musical superstar will have?
Happ G: I'd like to see the next superstar have some honesty and truth and actually present themselves as a human being. Everybody laughs, cries, gets angry, takes shits, eats, showers and puts their pants on one leg at a time. That range of human emotion and existence needs to be conveyed to the world through musical artists instead of everyone just being a rock hard soldier. That's one of the things that initially made me wanna work with my man Jake Lefco. He presented himself as a real person and didn't feel the need to play into any established stereotypes. I'd also like to see charisma come back as a quality that people look for in their musical superstars. A lot of these so-called superstars today are just boring in my book! If you ask me, the next true musical superstar is gonna be my man Reef the Lost Cauze. I've never encountered someone, on any level, that is at once so ridiculously talented and charismatic but also humble, hardworking, and professional. Usually that level of talent comes with a major ego and lots of self destructive tendencies. Mark my word on that one.

For more on Happ G and Karma Response Unit Records check out krurecords.com, myspace.com/KarmaResponse, myspace.com/HappGeez and myspace.com/JakeLefco.


posted by Adam Bernard @ 8:07 AM  
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