As consumers, we typically fixate on the celebrities who demand our attention in popular culture. We only have so much attention to exert on things that don’t bring us instant gratification. This often leaves in the background the real behind the scenes moves that make all the magic happen. (Maybe I watched too much VH1 Behind the Music as a child.) What we do know is that within the music industry, a new cadre of young executives is rising—and they’re ready to reshape these major labels from inside the belly of the beast.
Pusharod, a promising A&R of urban music at Interscope Records who just celebrated his 2 year anniversary working there, is one of them. Using his close relationship within the New West movement to finesse a corporate placement inside the home that built Dr. Dre, Snoop, and Eminem, we got a chance to sit and chat with the innovative young businessman about the life of what he calls a “professional homie” always supporting who he grew up with, his concerns with regionalism within hip-hop, and why artists need to feel vulnerable with the people on their team.
Pusharod in his office at Interscope.
SENAY KENFE: So here we are in the Interscope offices with the man of the hour. Mr. Push, how you doing?
PUSHAROD: Oh man, I’m doing good, can’t complain.
Let’s start from the beginning where are you from?
I’m from Los Angeles, California. The East Side.
How did you get into music?
I really got into music just sitting there. I started out as a professional homie.
[Laughs] What is a professional homie for the people who don’t know?
For people who don’t, I have no problem telling you. I would pass out CDs, I would sit through sessions, I would go on tour, go ask this girl if she downloaded your new song—I would do anything for the homies and their music. Like for the first 2 or 3 years, I actually dropped out of school. I was in school to be a firefighter when YG’s music started taking off—
“I think you’re always supposed to speak on where you come from and where you grew.”
So that was the homie you were a professional homie for?
Yeah! And I was just there. And then with Mustard, I was just sitting through all these sessions for 4-5 hours for months straight and then one day I was like, “Yo, what the fuck does this [mixing board] do? Like I see you sitting there tapping buttons real fast but what the fuck does any of this shit do?” And then as a homie they started showing me because you know, I wanted to know, I wanted to care.
I started going to meetings and then I was like, “Okay I fuck with that,” and they started taking me to all the meetings because “he got all the right questions to ask.” You know, for a while, I never really cared about having a bad face or being the asshole on the team because somebody had to do it. The artist wants those questions asked and not every time do they want to ask them… I was there to ask them for them.
Why is it important for you personally to be within the mix shaping the “New West” music?
I mean, the West Coast for a long time had a downfall within the music business for about 10 years. About 6, 7 years ago, me and a few friends of mine changed the sound of what we came to know as “West Coast hip-hop”—you know with the Mustard, YG, and Ty Dolla $ign sound.
And we just trying to elevate that and keep the culture here, what it’s supposed to be, because there’s a lot of people coming up from the West Coast that might try to sound like they from New York or from the South when really it’s about the Coast and our culture here. So just trying to keep it as authentic as possible because these are the streets that I grew up and lived in for 24 years.
I think as we see in other places in America, particularly within the rap scene, there has been a decline and push away from this idea of regionalism… Why do you think that’s so crucial and important still here in LA?
I think you’re always supposed to speak on where you come from and where you grew. Your music is supposed to be an advancement of what you grew up hearing. Like if you’re from here, you grew up listening to Too Short, you grew up listening to E-40, and you grew up listening to B-Brazy. You grew up listening to all these household West Coast names, some of who never even made it to the East Coast. Like I can go places in this country that have no idea of some of our heroes…
Keeping that tied in and letting people know that the West Coast is here and that we’re here with a vengeance—that we’re here to show you guys that as a Coast we can stick together and build an empire together much like it was before.
Do you feel like a lot of people are in possible situations like you? Where whether it’s a childhood friend or people from around the way—but unlike you, they don’t transition properly into a career? Why do you think that is?
I feel like that’s on a person. Like I have my own brand, it’s called Unfit by Push. All my friends get free gear, so everywhere they go they rock my shit like it’s their own brand, you feel me. It starts there, like them telling people to wear my hats, you know. It’s free marketing from having popular friends who want to big you up.
If you have friends on your team and they’re not helping, then I feel like they’re just leeching off your career. I feel like anyone who’s been put in a place where they have their friends surround them you should want to figure out what you want to do. I’ve sold merch on tour, I’ve been the tour manager, I’ve been the water boy and it doesn’t matter because I’ll do everything I can to help the people in my life—
“We’re here to show you guys that as a Coast we can stick together and build an empire together much like it was before.”
You’ve humbled yourself.
I respect the fact that you recognize that besides having a relationship with people, you understand that you have to develop yourself and become your own man—
Exactly, because no matter what in life, if YG gets bigger, if Ty gets bigger, if RJ gets bigger, if Mustard gets bigger, or if I get bigger—anybody around the team gets bigger, we will always focus on where we came from and where we started at, and that was in a room. We all started out recording out of YG’s room. It just all shows the level of elevation if you take it serious, because you know, if you had asked me 5 years ago what I wanted to be, I definitely wouldn’t have said an A&R at Interscope, but I’m here now.
Whats the daily life of a A&R?
Yo, I come into the office everyday. I’m not one of those A&Rs that go to the studio for a couple hours and just drops off beats. Any artist that I have can tell you if we have a 12-hour session, I’m there for 12 hours. I’m in the office or I’m out looking for new artists everyday. I’m online, artists send me their music—I listen to everything even if it’s trash.
Where do you go to look for new music? You don’t have to be specific.
Mainly right now, HotNewHipHop and Soundcloud. Those are my two favorite sites. There’s a million sites to look for new music and you know, honestly people DM me their music everyday and everything that gets DM’ed to me, I listen to.
On your Twitter?
Yeah man, my Twitter my Instagram it’s @Pusharod on all platforms. Even if they email me, I listen if it’s trash and [if] I don’t like it, I’ll tell you that I didn’t. I want to give every artist the opportunity to give them a reply. I know the feeling when you hit somebody and they don’t hit you back. It’s like, “Damn if it’s wack, let me know it’s wack,” and so I keep that in mind.
Do people ever flip out on you?
Oh yeah, all the time. But I just tell them, you know, “It’s nothing personal, it’s business. You asked me for my opinion, I didn’t come at you foul, no hard feelings.” But if it’s good, cool, I’ll fly you out, get you a hotel room, take you out to dinner a couple of times sit you down and chat and see what we can do, see if we can elevate each other. If not, it was a pleasure meeting you.
For some of the readers who probably are not as in tune with the movements of the music industry, tell them what exactly is an A&R?
An A&R is really like an artist relations. Pretty much what you do is you find talent. You’re a talent scout, but you also you work with talent and help artists be the best that they can be because artists hate to be vulnerable. Artists hate to put their feelings out on their sleeves, hate to tell you how they feel. Everybody wants to come to the studio like, “I’m the hardest nigga.” But everybody, I’m not going to let you be the hardest nigga in the studio. I’m going to ask you about your feelings, I’m going to ask you about personal relationships, family issues, and everything. You tell me, I’m going to tell you, “Go rap about it.” That’s what a real A&R does. You feel me?
A real A&R helps put quality music together, who puts the right artists with the right producers. You know, my top 5 is all producers right now. I talk to the best producers everyday, you know Metro Boomin, Southside, Cardo, Mustard, I just talk to them and key into what they’re doing, because they make waves.
It’s important when you see producers making the right waves, that you put the right artists with them because artist’s sounds don’t necessarily change, but producers do… For example, Mustard—he can make the greatest hardest beats for YG or RJ but then you go and see the softest beats he’s made for Ty or the song with Tinashe. He’s great at making crossover hits too—
He’s got one with Rihanna on Anti right?
“Needed Me,” yup, with Rihanna which is her biggest single right now. It’s a great record but you also have to remember that that’s the same guy who produced “I’m 4rm Bompton” [by YG]. You have to be able to put them around other artists because everyday they’re working on something new. Producers grind so hard they’re in the studio working every night making 20-30 beats… You know, when they get the material done, somebody’s gotta ship it out. And I’m going to be that mediator, I’m gonna come get this work from you and I’m going to go put it where it needs to be. And that’s what an A&R supposed to do.
I think that’s interesting that you highlighted the importance of a producer, especially now more than ever. What do you think the role of a producer in terms of music is more emphasized today in rap music than before? Like, they actually have personalities now and are characters, outside of the rappers that they used to be in the background for.
I mean, people don’t realize that’s its always been like that. Like yeah Dre is an artist, but he’s a producer first and foremost. Timbaland is an artist, but he’s a producer. Swizz Beats is an artist, but he’s a producer. So it’s always been big producers who’ve been artists at the same, but you know there have always been producers who just want to hide behind their beats. But now today, it’s more important to know you’re a star in itself. If you believe in yourself, the next person will. And now producers don’t want to be behind the scenes anymore and I don’t blame them.
“I’m not going to let you be the hardest nigga in the studio. I’m going to ask you about your feelings, I’m going to ask you about personal relationships, family issues, and everything. You tell me, I’m going to tell you, ‘Go rap about it.'”
So you mentioned that artists need to feel vulnerable with the people on their team. Why do you feel that artists trust you with that raw emotion?
Because I’m a real person. I’m not going to come and give you a industry answer. If I don’t fuck with a song, I’m not going to say it’s hot. I’ll tell you that shit is trash and let’s get back in there and redo it. I’m a real person the same way I conduct myself in the streets—is the same way that I conduct myself in the music industry, and all you have is your word at the end of the day. Just stand by it and stick to what you believe and artists will respect you.
I feel like that’s the difference between me and a lot of A&Rs. I didn’t go to college to do this. I didn’t learn music, I caught onto music for the love of it and really being around my friends and telling them, “I fuck with this,” “I don’t fuck with that,” and most importantly giving them a reason why I don’t… Just developing that answer of why got me here.
What was the conversation two years ago that led to you getting this office space? If you don’t mind.
Nah, I don’t mind. I have a son, his name is Drew. Just wanting to do better for him. I was touring a lot out on the road with YG in 2013-14 for the whole year. So I wanted to get to a place where I could move around and be home with my son. So Joie [Manda] the guy who hired me, he used to be the head of Def Jam, and me and him had a conversation and it just went from there. Couple meetings later and it just led to me being here. Shoutout to Joie Manda make sure you put that in there. That’s the big homie.
I ask because you referenced not having a degree. Do you feel like [in] the business culture of the music industry, there’s a lot of tension you run into, especially as a young black man with no education?
Oh, of course, there’s always tension when you have people go to school for 5-10 years to do what you do. But it’s the gift that God blessed me with, so I don’t take it as that—I take it as, “Because I don’t have a degree and I am young and black I need to go extra hard to protect my 401K” [laughs].
Get the bonus! Let’s talk about the artists that you personally represent, [like Dreezy].
It’s crazy because how it worked with Dreezy, I had been hired by Interscope for about a week, so that first week was me just moving around trying [learn the ropes] in the office. Joie came to me with a CD and I said, “What’s this?” And he threw me a CD and said, “Listen to it.” So I said, “Aight.” I listened to it. [I said], “It’s cool, what you want me to do with it?” And he was like, “Good, that’s your first artist.” And I was like, “Oh no, this a female!” I didn’t know what to do with a female rapper.
But then when I met her, and then we vibed, and I talked to her, she had a real level head to her and I recognized that she wants to make a real difference with her music. And she can hold her own, she can out-rap a nigga. If I brought a nigga into my office and said, “Freestyle battle him,” she probably gonna win. She has that kind of drive that a lot of female artists don’t normally have. So working on her debut album was a blessing and a great lesson for me. We worked on it for about a year and a half. In the process, we dropped her first EP, it was called From Now On, which was a Metro [Boomin] and Southside collaboration tape with Dreezy… Once we released that on Christmas and came with her first single “Body” in January, you know that went platinum—
Wow, so that’s your first artist with their first record—went platinum?
That’s my first platinum plaque as an A&R, so yes.
“I don’t want music for today—thinking about making timeless music.”
That’s exciting. Actually waiting right now for it to come in the mail.
I see you got some space available in here.
Yeah, but there’s more to come, more to come, man.
How does that feel?
You know, when you have a artist and you try to put everybody on to her early and they’re all like, “Ah, I don’t know, she’s a female, I don’t know if I can do that feature. What she look like?” And then you put out that body of work and people really appreciate it, you know, it’s really no hard feelings. And that’s the title of her debut album, which is No Hard Feelings. It’s a situation where people have to learn to catch on to her moves and where’s she’s going. We’re in the studio now working, so any other female rapper out here, just know, y’all slacking. We not.
Since [we were] talking about live instrumentation, what is the music from before that inspires you or keeps this feeling in mind?
I don’t want music for today—thinking about making timeless music. So with as many musicians as possible, as much live instrumentation as possible just to get that old school feel back to hip-hop. Because I feel that everything got lost in the MacBook—everybody is quick to put some MacBook sounds together, but that’s not what I’m about. I want that real live instrumentation back into the mix.
Terrace [Martin] is like a big brother to me, I met him about 4-5 years ago and him and Larrance [Dopson] from 1500 [Or Nothin’] have just helped guide me through everything… People like that from the past that still want to be involved in today and help us today and ensure we make the music just as good as it was before. You go to their home studio and they have every instrument you can think of and they have jam sessions, you know what I mean? People today don’t have jam sessions. Producers be trying to outproduce each other. You go hang with them and they’re like, “Alright I’m on the guitar,” or “I’m keyboard, you’re on the drums,” “Grab the bass, let’s go,” and they just play.
They play for hours on end. That feel—that’s what I want to help bring back to music today.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity. Photos by Paolo Fortades.