It was easy to see coming.
The birth of the internet and the development of social media has gradually revolutionized the music world, and as a result, mainstream record labels and the conventional hip hop industry are struggling to remain relevant.
Particularly in the last five years, the rise of the underground hip hop scene has, to some extent, recaptured the genre from executive boardrooms and advertising agencies, and placed power back in the hands of the creators.
Unsigned, independent artists are no longer at a disadvantage compared to those with label backings – improved connectivity with fans, and the opportunity to create regular, unrestricted content has led to legions of dedicated fans and legitimate revenue streams for up and coming artists.
One of the more prominent figures that’s helped to drive this new scene is tour manager, DJ, producer, and all-round A&R specialist Don Krez.
Over the course of his career, Krez has worked with a countless number of now big-name artists, helping them to expand business opportunities, build their brands, and connect with fans within the United States and around the world. However, his most notable achievements have been with Florida rapper Pouya’s collective Buffet Boys, of which he is a member, as well as the New Orleans super-duo $UICIDEBOY$.
We caught up with Don Krez for an exclusive interview, discussing what it’s been like to be part of the Buffet Boys and $UICIDEBOY$’s rise to fame, his upcoming projects, and the future of the new underground music scene.
The below interview is also available to listen to on the MYSTIC PIMP Youtube channel here.
For people who aren’t familiar with you, you’re involved with a lot of different things. How do you describe who you are and what you do, for those who don’t know?
Let’s just say I put A and B together. I don’t know how to explain it… It’s like DJ Khaled, but for my scene.
It’s getting people involved with things, it’s giving new artists opportunities to expand, putting them on tour. I have my own touring company, so I make sure everybody’s well booked, getting money, getting everything they need, so that they’re able to prosper and do better.
How did you get your start in the music scene? Where did everything begin for you?
When I was a little kid my mom used to always put me on – I’d do commercials, do hip hop classes, do TV shows and stuff. I always kind of knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know whether it would be through being DJ or a singer or a musician, but this just ended up happening.
I opened up a studio, and every artist that came through, I took them the right way, booked them for shows and look where they’re all at right now.
What’s it been like to be a part of the rise of the Buffet Boys (Pouya, Fat Nick, Shakewell, Germ, Mikey The Magician) and $UICIDEBOY$?
It’s been fucking crazy… It’s been like three or four years of non-stop craziness. I can’t say it happened from one day to another, because we worked our asses off to be able to tour and meet all these fans. But at the same time to be a part of Buffet Boys, and G59 and just to see what a blueprint can make happen is a great experience.
I don’t see it, but everybody else sees it. Sometimes we’re all sitting down, figuring out how the hell it happened, but it happened.
Some of the other artists you’re affiliated with, like Denzel Curry, Ski Mask The Slump God, XXXTentacion, Wifisfuneral, they’re all blowing up big right now too. That must be pretty crazy to watch.
Yeah that feels amazing. I don’t know, it just feels right. I mean, they trusted me, and I believed in them and it happened. That’s why I put my heart and my soul in to every artist that I work with. Then they succeed, and I feel like I’ve been doing a good job. There’s more stuff to work on, but seeing all these artists that I work with, and that I’m working on blowing up, I love it.
I’ve been there when there was nothing and I’m gonna still be there regardless. I love that.
Most of the artists I just mentioned are Florida based – what are your thoughts about the Florida scene right now? What’s making it so strong?
Florida is like what Atlanta was two years ago. Atlanta did a lot for this musical generation, and I’m not going to hate on that, I will never hate on anything like that. But actually, Florida doesn’t have as much of a “hype” thing, it’s like a cult following, because they’ve seen us grow.
Miami is such a small city that everybody knows everybody, so it’s like everybody knew who was doing what. It was hard to break in, but we did it. We broke in and Miami is just popping, we have a cult following, we have great music coming out, everybody gets along with each other, and that’s the difference.
There’s not so many people – there’s only like me and maybe two other people that people actually rely on and go to. Everything else gets fucked up within the industry, and all these people that have a lot of money, sure they can do what they want to do but they don’t know what the fuck they’re doing. That’s the difference – we’re independent, we know how to be a business all at once, not have a business control you and all of that. That’s where I come in.
Who do you predict or foresee as the next big star coming out of the underground right now?
I actually just release Don Krez & Friends 2018 Freshmen Of The Year – those artists that are going to have an impact next year: Lil Pump, Smokepurrp, Ski Mask The Slump God, XXXTentacion, Lil Tracy, Wifisfuneral, Ghostemane.
And those are all the people I’m working with right now so I’m just making sure everything goes right. They’re doing good man, and apart from Lil Tracy, everybody else is all from Florida. That’s crazy right? We did it, we made it happen. We were smart with all our moves and we made it happen.
How important have live shows and touring become as a revenue stream for these upcoming artists?
That was like what made the whole industry, the whole music scene, shake up.
Because, we were selling out shows in Club Nokia. They couldn’t figure out what was happening. I was booking out tours and festivals, they couldn’t figure out who was doing that. It helped us out a lot, because it made people question us – who are these guys?
We’re more of like a whole fuck you type thing, like we don’t even worry about it. Of course some people need to get signed, but you know. $UICIDEBOY$, Buffet Boys, we don’t need no backing. We sell out shows, we make money, we’re good.
What do you think it is about underground fans that make them so crazy and loyal, in comparison to more casual mainstream fans?
They’ve been following us since we were beginning. Word of mouth – it’s the way they talk about us. Like you’re a fan of somebody, let’s say you’re a fan of Smokepurrp… The way you talk about Purrp is like a fanatic, that’s a cult following. You follow every step.
Our fans slide to a bunch of shows, it’s just crazy. They understand us. They don’t care what we say in our lyrics, we say whatever we want to say. It’s stuff like that. That’s what a cult following is – they grew up with us and they just love it.
They love what they’re seeing and they’ve been behind us since we were starving, they just understand it. I love our fans.
Can you tell me a bit about the ‘You’re Welcome’ album you’ve got on the way?
The ‘You’re Welcome’ album, I’ve been working on for about four or five years. It took me a pretty long time to get all these rappers that were once beefing together. It’s just been a long time coming, and it’s scheduled to release before the ‘You’re Welcome’ Music Festival May 19th.
I’ve been working with all these artists and it’s like, I don’t know, I executive produced the whole thing and produced a couple songs off it, I let new DJs and producers to come in and get involved with it. Whatever I think, they make it for me, other than that I make myself up some beats, other than that, if I can give an opportunity to a producer that has a hot beat, I’m going to get it, and I’m gonna make sure it’s a hit.
So the album is scheduled to release mid-May, and features $UICIDEBOY$, Pouya, Fat Nick, Smokepurrp, Riff Raff, Rae Sremmurd, Chris Travis, Xavier Wulf, Ski Mask The Slump God, Wifisfuneral, Shakewell, Ramirez, Yung Yogi, Volumes, Ghostemane, Yung Bans, Warhol.ss, Fauni, Pollari, Lil Tracy and the list goes on.
It’s really gonna change the game up a whole way.
What’s happening with the upcoming Don Krez Experience tour?
Oh man, this is crazy, I have 10 cities already. It’s actually the You’re Welcome Festival tour now. So I have Xavier Wulf, Fat Nick, Germ, Lil Pump, Ghostemane, Wifisfuneral, Hood Rich Pablo Juan, Bodega Bamz, idkjeffrey, Lil Tracy and the list goes on again…
It’s an underground festival. Let’s just say it’s an underground EDC that’s going to be hitting every city very soon.
I saw a recent Instagram post saying that you and RONNYJ were looking to start up your own record label?
We’re opening up a record label called LISTEN UP Records, we’re actually partnering up with some big companies and we’re not signing artists for years or anything, but if we believe in you, we’re gonna sign you for an album or two, and put in as much effort and as much money as we can.
Ronny’s got the beats, I’ve got the beats, but also I’ve got the A&R skills too. I’ve got artists under my belt. I’ll make sure whoever we sign a deal with, that we don’t imprison them – if they’re not happy with us they’re allowed to leave, you know? So we just give them the chance to make an album that can possibly make it to #1 or go platinum, you never know.
We just changing the game up, we want to build a new industry, a new record scene, a new music scene, instead of the whole “I’m rich, I’m going to sign you and I’ve done this, this and this for somebody else”, we don’t give a fuck what you’ve done for somebody else, like we done this by ourselves so we’re gonna open it up and we’re gonna make it happen.
And you’ve been working with Ronny since the very beginning pretty much, right?
Oh my god… Me and Ronny used to sleep on the floor and share a cheeseburger a day. That’s crazy… We used to share a cheeseburger a day, sleep on the floor, wake up, we were never down, we just knew exactly what was gonna happen.
Speaking about the underground scene as a whole, where do you see it headed in the next few years? It’s a pretty crazy environment right now.
I feel like it’s not underground anymore, it’s just like another industry. Another industry has been born, and the old industry needs to get with the picture, or they’re just going to be dropped. Because nobody really cares about all these big record labels anymore. We sell out shows ourslef, we book our own tours, we sell our own music, we sell our own merch, and if these labels don’t cough up some bread then nothing’s going to happen with them. We’re not underground, we’re just a new industry.
For yourself, what are some of your goals for the next few years or the near future?
Well after releasing all these albums, I’m thinking of doing big festivals. Make myself a tour, and then basically start signing the right people, be bigger than Jay-Z, be bigger than everyvody – those are my competition – Jay-Z, DJ Khaled, Drake, I’m coming for them.