Owen Husney was Prince’s first manager. He set up a deal between Prince and Warner that allowed for the unprecedented and now almost non-existent creative control that allowed Prince to be Prince. In 2010, speaking about the music industry, Husney said, “It’s endemically the problem with record labels today, that they do not spend the time to develop artists… The record labels today want it delivered on a silver platter. I could never have signed Prince today.”
Things have changed.
These days, we’re used to seeing artists go viral with one hit single and then sign big deals with major labels. We’re used to seeing artists spend years releasing and promoting music before stumbling on something that makes an impact. But as Justin Charity points out in a recent Complex article, there’s suspicion of artists who come out of nowhere, fully armed with music videos, brands, and marketing strategies. “Any musician with a hazy or straight-up fabricated origin story is to be regarded with such suspicion,” Charity says, bringing up artists like Raury and Post Malone. Appearing on the scene without a documented, public grind takes a little bit of the romanticism out of an artist’s success. It’s different than the rags-to-riches story about finally attaining a goal after putting in years of well-documented independent hustle. When you find out that a brand new artist already has label ties, a budget, or a professional team around them, you start to imagine the artist in a conference room full of music industry executives, trying on different hats while the bigwigs watch over with a critical eye.
Enter the term “industry plant.” It’s a phrase that music forums and blogs throw around frequently, and it almost always has a negative connotation. When Raury first emerged with the “God’s Whisper” video, Billboard coverage, and a clearly defined aesthetic, the term came up often. Earlier this year, Raury appeared on XXL’s Freshmen Class cover wearing a shirt that read “industry plant.”
While the idea of an industry plant can be a turn-off, think about what it really means. It means that instead of trying to immediately throw an artist into the world, a label or team is willing to help this artist, to invest in them, to build a support system around them, and to give them time to develop. In the past decade, this has been a rare thing. It has seemed like the money goes to the money-makers, and unproven artists are expected to sign and immediately start replicating their hit. It rarely works, and in some cases it has turned into a public mess between artists and labels, resulting in a huge letdown for fans who got their hopes up.
I see this whole “industry plant” thing as a good sign that things in the music industry are changing again. Success stories show that investing in an artist early and giving them time to focus on being a full-time professional musician before throwing them into the spotlight is a good strategy. Some may call Post Malone and Raury “industry plants,” but their early achievements show that their plans worked. It shows that having a team of supporters, including industry insiders, journalists, and creatives can create an environment that fosters artistic growth and fan engagement. It shows that forming a strategy before going public is a smart move, not a sign of inauthenticity.
But maybe I’m part of the problem. Charity also points out that Awful Records rapper “Father’s fanbase appears to be the 300 people who write about music for the Internet.” As Editor-in-Chief of Pigeons & Planes, I consider myself to be friends with some of the artists I cover on P&P. Joe Price (another P&P writer) and I discovered an artist named Appleby around the same time. He had emailed us both with some music, and we both liked his sound and responded. We covered Appleby’s first songs on Pigeons & Planes, had a writer interview him in Chicago, and continued to talk to him. When he mentioned coming to NYC to check out a P&P No Ceilings show, I told him he could crash on my couch. We’re friends now. Appleby isn’t well known yet—in fact he hasn’t even shown his face to the world—but after seeing the early Pigeons & Planes posts, Amir Abbassy from All Def Digital reached out to Appleby and started working with him. He even brought him in to meet (and sing for) Russell Simmons.
From the outside, it probably looks like Appleby is an industry plant, rubbing shoulders with insiders and buddying up with journalists. But there isn’t some ugly, hidden master plan going on here, just a bunch of people connecting and supporting an artist they believe in. In my opinion, this is a really important step of an artist’s career, and in the age of viral hits and overnight stars, it’s been almost completely abandoned.
So what’s the real deal with Raury and that “industry plant” shirt? Who is LoveRenaissance? How did Raury get signed to Columbia? What is the pre-Indigo Child story? We talked to LoveRenaissance co-founders and Raury’s co-managers Sean Famoso and Justice Baiden to tell the story.
A little over a week ago, after Raury appeared on the XXL Freshman cover wearing a shirt that read “Industry Plant.” Complex published an article titled, “What is an Industry Plant?” I wanted to figure out where you guys stand on this whole industry plant thing, and to find out more about LoveRenaissance, what your roles are, and what you’ve done to help Raury develop.
Sean Famoso: Yeah, we definitely read the article as well. We respect it, obviously. It’s a reaction to Raury wearing the shirt, given his brand. That’s just us making light of the fact that the standards that hip-hop puts on what’s real and what’s not real are just incredibly stupid.
Justice Baiden: Yeah, I obviously think everything is by design. I don’t think anything is accidental. The reaction to the T-shirt Raury had on—I knew it was gonna happen. And I knew even if Complex didn’t write about it, somebody else was going to write about it. For me, it’s just interesting to see how easily riled up people get about shit that isn’t even true. It was an interesting read.
What I took away from it was, even if this is happening, even if artists are being quietly developed behind the scenes, it’s not a negative thing. It’s artist development, which hasn’t been happening for the past decade. And it’s cool that people are actually willing to work with these new artists, invest in them, build them until they’re ready to present their music to the world. To me that’s way better than signing an artist off a viral video and expecting them to recreate that hit single right away.
Sean: And you know what’s funny about it? I reread the article and something stuck out to me the second time. What they dictated as a real artist, or a real hip-hop artist, is a documented history, in the sense that we can find your old YouTube videos, and we can listen to your first three shitty mixtapes, until you started to get good. And I think that’s the reason why this “industry plant” idea was kind of thrown onto us.
We’ve been developing Raury since he was 15. Justice met Raury when he was 15 years old, when he was trying to be the guitarist in another artist’s band. We purposefully didn’t fuck with him publicly. I could send you a million shitty Raury songs from when he was 15 years old. We didn’t put anything out until everything was incredibly ready, until the website looked a certain way and Raury knew what he wanted to do and he developed himself, until the photos were perfect. We had to create the environment for the music to live in. That’s exactly why when we dropped “God’s Whisper,” and then the video, it was like, “Alright, what’s really going on here?”
I remember when we paid Andrew Donoho, who helped direct the “God’s Whisper” video, with crumpled-up dollar bills. The first video cost like $5,000. And everybody, the whole team, was scraping their money together. Justice was inches away from selling his car just to make sure we could pay for our PR for one more month or so we could put the next video out. All of those stories go untold. It was for a reason. You see so many artists throwing shit against the wall for so long until something finally catches. I think, by design, if anybody was the labelm it was us. Without even noticing it. We just know the work that goes into developing something and making something as perfect as possible. And only some people can appreciate that. Other people kind of deem it as it being label-driven.
Justice: I think the whole idea of waiting to put anything out from Raury until it was perfect was, in part, us just being perfectionists, but also naturally just loving music and hating how diluted music is—not to downplay anybody else’s music. But just the idea of the quality, of how far we could push it.
That’s why Raury doesn’t put out that much music. He’s only put out one mixtape. We just really, really believe in taking our time, and it’s working, and people take notice. If there’s anything I want to leave people with, it’s using Raury’s story as inspiration, rather than putting a negative connotation to it, because that kid, for him to be so patient at 15 years old with me? He wanted to release music everyday. Even right now, he still wants to release muse but he’s so patient because he understands he’s getting better, he’s always getting better. Obviously, you know, we could be artists forever and never release anything, but I think we all know when the time is right. And the timing just felt so perfect when we first released “God’s Whisper.”
Sean: It was always a part of his strategy to not release a bunch of music, just because we never wanted to be subject to the beast. The more we can make people value the little bit of music Raury does put out, the better. Even when we put out Indigo Child, we knew he wasn’t at a point to sell 100,000 EPs or 100,000 mixtapes or whatever. Our version of people valuing the music is when we did the game [on Raury’s website]. You have to beat the game in order to get this music. We don’t necessarily think you may pay $10 for it, but I want you to spend time. Your time is going to be the currency for this exchange and I think people actually respected that. Some people hated it because they didn’t really care for Raury. Some people loved it because they still got Indigo Child for free and they got to play this cool game. But I think everybody, at the end of the day, respected the fact that we weren’t trying to flood the market with a bunch of songs just to see which one that we could take to radio.
Could you guys talk a little bit about LoveRenaissance? What exactly is it, how did everybody get involved? Did you guys all know each other before or was it just seeking out people with certain skills?
Justice: In a nutshell, LoveRenaissance is a creative collective. But, in all awesome groups or all awesome collections of people, everybody wears different hats. We’re all under 24. We all share the same ethos and the same vision. The whole idea of the collective was just to unite a bunch of weird kids together. A bunch of weird-thinking, envelope-pushing kids who don’t have the resources, but do have the ideas. That’s what it’s about.
For example, Sean and myself wear the management hats, but Carlon [Ramong] does the creative direction and scripts the videos. He does all of Raury’s artwork. We have a guy named Gotti, and he does all the street promo. We have Jimmy [Nguyen] and he does all of the photography. It’s all of these creatives that are great at whatever they do and we all come together for the bigger purpose, which is the message. We all understand there’s a message and there’s a goal. That’s not important. What’s important is the message, what’s important is the music, what’s important is what he’s trying to say.
We’re not ones for the fashion show. We’re not ones for 100 chains, 100 Porsches—we really bet on ourselves. That’s the motto and that’s what I want to leave people with: betting on yourself and believing in what you have to do. Before we shot “God’s Whisper,” we shot three or four Raury videos that probably cost $200-$300 a piece. They were all terrible. We looked at the art objectively and we were like, “Yo, this is just not good. This is not cutting it.” We all push each other. It’s a group of ten people. If we’re all in a room and one person says this shit’s not good, then it’s just not good.
What is LoveRenaissance’s connection with Columbia? When did Columbia enter the picture?
Sean: It was right after we put out the project. It was funny because when we decided to do the partnership with Columbia, we took meetings with every label under the sun. I feel like every artist has a different path. And with other clients we’ve worked with, or that I’ve worked with, the main question to ask them is, “What do you want to be?” And based off of the answer, we find the steps needed. Raury wants to be the biggest thing in the world. And when I look at my bank account and Justice looks at his, and the rest of the team looks at theirs, it’s like, “Fuck.”
You can either hinder somebody’s growth by being stubborn or just not necessarily knowing you don’t necessarily have all the resources to get them to where they need to be, or you can kind of structure something that can make everybody happy. And that’s why we ended up doing the partnership with Columbia. Even when we did, there were all types of deals and offers on the table, but even with the way we set up our deal, we sent it to our favorite label. Then we said, “If you guys can accept all these terms, then we’re down and let’s partner up. But if you can’t, then we’re off to the races and we’ll figure it out.” It wasn’t even a fashion show; you have certain artists where they do a deal and the number that they signed for is plastered everywhere and it becomes this big hoopla. We didn’t even want that. We just wanted to escalate Raury to the next level. So we have a joint venture with Columbia and they distribute all of Raury’s music.
They’re good at what they do and we’re good at what we do. Because there’s that mutual respect, or because of our creative minds and their muscle, once it becomes time for us to really hit a button it’ll kind of magnify what we already know how to do. And there are certain things we don’t know how to do. We naturally don’t know about radio. I feel like it’s never good to be the smartest guy in the room. When you can surround yourself with people smarter than you in different areas, that’s when you can really shine. And Columbia always felt like the best place for an artist like Raury, in the sense that they have a way of taking culturally cool shit and making it huge. They have the MGMTs of the world, Pharrell, Daft Punk, Adele—all of these things that kind of live in the lane that Raury could one day be.
So Columbia came on after “God’s Whisper” and after Indigo Child?
Sean: Yeah, yeah.
Some people seem to think Columbia was involved before all that and keeping it a secret.
Sean: Nah, and the thing is, once again we chose to not make a fashion show out of an announcement. I think that shit’s like back in the mid-90s when you do your deal, then you go ahead and throw on your…
Justice: Your Def Jam jacket?
Sean: Yeahh. It’s not that type of game anymore.
Justice: The key word of the day, Jacob, is “fluff.” I hate fluff. Fluff is so stupid. People take all of these things that are so unimportant and try to make the situation bigger. But like, nah. It’s not about how many millions you signed the deal for, it’s not about none of that. Once we get past all the fluff, we get to, like, “Yo, what is this guy really talking about?” Like, “What is he actually giving to the world?” And like Sean said, we just chose to eliminate all of that other stuff. Even announcing a deal to the magnitude some of these other artists announce, that’s a whole bunch of pressure at that single moment. It’s backwards, bro. It’s backwards. It’s not about the music anymore. It’s sad, it’s really sad.
It reminds me of Bobby Shmurda, when he was dancing on the table at the Epic Records office.
Justice: Oh my god [Laughs]. Yeah, bro.
Sean: Even the term “industry plant”—Justice lives deep in the darkest basement of the internet so he knows about it. But this was such a new term to me. I never really gave a fuck. In fact, to me, sometimes the term “industry plant” almost feels like a compliment in a sense. Obviously you hate to feel like people are not honoring the amount of work and the years you put into a project, but at the same time it’s almost like, “Things are too perfect. This can’t be real.” It’s just an underhanded compliment in a weird sense.
Let’s go back to the origin of Raury. How did you discover him, who discovered him, and how did that happen?
Justice: It’s just one of those weird moments. I was 18 at the time and my dream—I always looked up to Russell Simmons and Puffy—was to be in music. For some reason, there’s really no blueprint on how to get into music. But one thing I did know is that I’m not the biggest fan of working for people. I like working with people, but not working for people. I like to think I have great taste in music, great taste in art. I was working with another artist at the time, she was a singer. Things were going okay.
She was a local artist who was buzzing out here, and we got a gig to do a Howard University show. They have their homecoming every year, and it was like giving a new act a slot or whatever. So we needed a band to play, backing her. We found a band because my roommate at the time, Kipper Hilson, went to Tucker High School, and he was like, “Yo there this local band. They’re good, they’re dope, check ‘em out.”
So I went to see the band. Raury played the guitar in the band. Raury walked up to me, like, “Yooo.” Granted, Sean and myself are doing our thing around the city so people just know we’re young guys who have our head in the right place. So Raury comes up to me like, “Yo, I rap.” I’m like, “Yeah, c’mon dude. I rap. Everybody raps. What does that mean?” And he’s like, “Nah, but I really rap.” And I was like, “Alright, cool. Let me hear something.”
And he goes into these full-on bars of death, sounding like Twista, going so fast. But what impressed me wasn’t really the raps. What impressed me wasn’t really the flow. None of that. But it was just that, at 15 years old, what he was saying resonated with me. I remember a lot of it. Specifically one line, he said, “You go to school, graduate, have a kid and die / The shit they selling you don’t even get you high.” And I was just like, “Yo, damn, at 15?”
Naturally I gave him my number, but at 15 years old I know me giving him my number he’s gonna naturally weed himself out. No 15-year-old is ever consistent. But I gave him my number and he called me every single day. Every single day like, “Yo, I wanna get in the studio. I wanna get in the studio.” We just got in the studio and we’ve been developing since. For him, and for me, my job was just to make this happen for him and put together the most amazing team that I love so much to help support his dreams, and our dreams.
It took time. It took very long time… three years. I dropped out of school. But for me it’s always been for a greater purpose. I remember when I was in college, everyday I’d wake up and I’d be like, “Yo, I have a greater purpose.” And me finding the greater purpose in my teammates, and them finding the greater purpose in what we’re doing, it made this whole thing so beautiful. That’s why the reason why the name “LoveRenaissance” works so well, because this whole thing was built off love. And that’s our motto. It takes a village. It really takes a village to build this shit, and that’s what we’re doing. We want to usher in a new generation of like-minded thinkers that are young but actually thinking. I really want people to think.
Sean: And just to top off what Justice said, a big part of it us being from Atlanta. We’re in a city that has so much life. It has something for everybody. And I think part of the reason for our success thus far, whatever level that is, is the fact that we’ve had a chance to kind of showcase what not everybody gets to see in Atlanta. There’s this huge underswell of kids who listen to every type of music, that appreciate art, that don’t only go to the clubs. And we’ve had the chance to kind of build a playground for them.
You know, Justice, myself, and the rest of the team, we’ve gotten to travel the world over the past couple of years. We’ve seen shit Atlanta doesn’t get to see so we get to bring back home so many different memories we have and get to kind of incorporate it in what we do. And once again, Atlanta hasn’t had something like that in years. It’s just a building process, and it’s going well so far.
Justice: Yo, also, can I say one more thing?
Justice: Granted, I obviously have interests here, but Raury is just a great kid. And for him to be so disciplined, it just boggles my mind. We started this thing last year called Raurfest. He just had this idea like, “Yo, I want to do a festival in Atlanta in the inner city for all the weird kids like me, and even all the weird kids who aren’t like me, and the clubgoers. I just want something that’s curated and connecting the dots. I feel like my job in music, what I’m here to do, is to connect the dots and make people understand we aren’t so different. We all have similar experiences and interests, we just don’t know.” That’s what he’s trying to do. And he was like, “Yo, I’m willing to put in my own money, I’m willing to reinvest in myself.” I love that about him. He’s always done that. He’s never spending his money on the dumb shit. He takes money and puts it into everything he believes in.
Sean: He still lives at home with his mom.
Justice: He still lives at home with his mom! And he doesn’t need to! Granted, like all the other artists who get this term “industry plant” thrown on them… I don’t really care. It’s about the music. I just want people to understand—because you know where that term came from? It just came from angry mixtape rappers who aren’t getting any acknowledgment. It’s not really like that. Everybody’s situation is different. We purposefully put together an amazing team. And it took time. It was about getting people that really believe in what we have going on, people to champion. And you guys at Pigeons have been fucking awesome. Erika [Ramirez] at Billboard has been fucking awesome. [Jon] Tanners has been fucking awesome. Lauren [Nostro] has been fucking awesome. And that’s the thing for us: we connect with certain people and we just want to build with them. All the other shit that is fluff. We just really want to build with people that build with us.