Wednesday, May 20, 2009
"Puff, I Got One Too!!!"
LEVERAGE. Defined as positional advantage. It means having an advantage over others, particularly when negotiating a deal. Leverage is key. If you ever find yourself having the upper hand in a deal, never ever give up your positional advantage.
Summer of 1996. I was representing Chico Debarge as he was recording his album "Long Time No See". Album was fires. Chico was nutso. Not in a good way either. But this post ain't about Chico. One day, while having Chico sign some papers in a midtown recording studio, I met a young songwriter who was working on some songs for Chico. For the purposes of protecting the innocent, let's call the dude Jake Nimbles. Jake had an attorney, but he sat in as I talked shop with Chico. As I was leaving the studio, Jake asked me for my card.
The next day or so, I get a call from Jake. Says since he already has an attorney, he wanted me to manage him. I told him I don't do talent management on account of how that's the worst job to have in the music industry. It's only worth it if you KNOW your talent will yield money for your efforts, and sooner rather than later. He was persistent though, told me to hear him, hear his music out first before I made a decision. I set up a meeting, just to be courteous to dude. So Jake shows up and starts playing me his music. HOLY MOLEY, Jake's shit is beyond ridiculous, beyond bonkers too. Song after song, I'm hearing hit after hit, and not on that crappy The Dream level ish that's currently effing up the radio, I'm talking Prince, I'm talking Stevie Wonder. Jake Nimble is an effin musical genius!!!!
So I'm reconsidering his offer and we shake hands. I tell him to give me 3 months to rock with him with me as his manager, let me land a lucrative publishing deal for his services as a songwriter. Incidentally, right after I met with Jake, my office gets a call from Diddy's Bad Boy office. My office had that reputation of housing very talented producers and songwiters and the call was about Puff needing a songwriter for this current project he was working on. I call Jake and tell him about the call and his voice over the phone goes all quivery, shaky, like dude is about to cry. Let me tell you more about Jake.
Jake was about 21, 22 years old. His story is the same tragic story you hear about in the news when it comes to stories about the Black family. His mom died from the needle when he was just a kid, pops nowhere to be seen. Already having a kid at an early age, Jake hustled drugs to feed his family and keep a roof over their heads. Having been busted and convicted as a felon, Jake did some time behind bars and was recently released. On top of all that, Jake was incredibly smart, like Einstein smart. Dude was comfortable talking theories relating to quantum physics and alternate realities smart. His smarts also made him a little nutty as well.
Understand the time too. In 1996, Puffy (it's still very hard for me to refer to dude as Diddy) was basically the center of the urban music industry. Everything he touched at the time turned multi-platinum, plus, B.I.G. was still very much alive and killing every track he rhymed on. Jake's quivering voice was an indication of how he felt his dreams were coming true, how he was Puffy's biggest fan, Stan even. He kept repeating over and over how this wasn't really happening, how he must have been dreaming. This whole opportunity was a chance for Jake to finally do right in his life, to finally escape the cycle of suffering and pain his family had experienced for so many years. We go ahead and set up a meeting with Puff at his midtown recording studio Daddy's House. Before I go on, let me tell you more about Puffy.
Somewhere along the line, Puff mastered the basics of the Jedi Mind Trick. What I mean is that dude, in all the times I've met with him in business settings never lets you on to what he's
thinking, especially when he's listening to something you're trying to sell him. As a matter of fact, he's always acted like he was completely disinterested in whatever it was you were trying to get him to pay attention to. I've literally seen him make grown men cry on account of how he would act like what you had was pure garbage, even as he was doing back flips inside on how hot your material was. Acting like this, plus the fact at how dude is basically a living legend almost always gave him the advantage of having way more leverage over whomever he was negotiating against. I knew this going in, Jake didn't.
So we're in the studio, playing hit after hit, Jake is all nervous, sweating even, because Puff is busy cleaning his nails, talking on the phone, calling his assistant in to make sure she ordered the right flavor Snapple, flipping through the Source magazine. The more Puff is acting like he's disinterested, the more I know he's shitting his drawers on how insane Jake Nimble's music is, and I'm already counting the million dollars in my head that I'm about to squeeze outta Bad Boy. So we end the meeting, Jake looks like he's ready to kick rocks and Puff's about to bounce when Jake notices Puff's tattoo on his inner forearm. You might know about it. It's a tattoo of a scroll and on the scroll, there's a quote from Psalm 23 that reads "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death" and what not. So Jake tells Puff how dope the tattoo is, we all shake hands, dap and bounce.
In the elevator, Jake is all sweaty, nervous, whining about how he fucked up, how he and his music is pieces of shit, how he should have taken that post office job his baby's mother told him about a week ago and I'm tryna tell him collect himself, stay focused and cut all that nonsense out. Lo and behold, by the time get to my office, I have THREE calls from Puff not only saying that he wants to use Jake on his project, he's also offering us a deal and kinda begging me not to take Jake anywhere else.
So I call Jake at home and let him know the good news. I hear a thud and nothing. I'm thinking he fainted. Funny thing happens though. Jake's music is so incredible that it's getting around the industry and by the end of the week, I shit you not, we get two more offers on the table, one from Universal and one from Warner Chappell, the music publishing arm of Warner Brothers. Being that we have three offers, basically a bidding war, Jake and I are sitting on a mountain of leverage, ready and waiting to count the fortunes these entities are about to throw our way.
So word gets back to Puff that we have two other deals on the table and he personally calls my office one day on some cuss out shit. Oh, he's cursing me out about how I used his name to drum up interest from other companies and how much of an eff'd up person I am, and how I'm finished in the music game, and my mother is all types of goat and such. As he flinging hateful words my way, I'm laughing inside because I'm really seeing first hand how much he needs Jake in his life and how he's realizing how much he's about to invest in my kids' college funds. I try to diffuse the situation by clappping, saying "bravo" and telling Puff how much he's learning from all them acting classes he's been taking and how convincing he's sounding. I think that made him laugh a bit, he wasn't expecting that, and when he calms down, I tell him that Jake is still open in negotiating the right deal with him. Puff demands that we meet him the following day to see what it is we need in order to close the deal as quickly as possible.
Even though we had our choice of deals, I knew Jake wanted to sign with Puff. At the time who DIDN'T want to sign with dude? I think if I was talented, I would have wanted to sign with Puff myself. I tell Jake what transpired and he shows up to my office the next day for our meet up with Puff. What I wasnt expecting was that when he showed up, Jake instantly pointed straight to his inner forearm, gleefully stuttering in excitement as he proudly displayed a brand new tattoo, IDENTICAL IN ITS ENTIRETY TO THE TATTOO HE SPOTTED ON PUFF'S ARM A FEW DAYS AGO!!! WTF!?! I'm seeing the leverage we built quickly going down the drain and I lose my cool. "What the fuck you doing man, you fucking crazy? Puff takes one look at your fucking tattoo and he'll give us goddamn peanuts on this deal!!!" "This shit is unacceptable and you WILL not let that man see your arm until we cash the fucking checks, you got that?!?" Going off like that, I could tell I threw Jake off, which was good, shock some sense into that knicca's noggin. Even though it was July and like 90 degrees and muggy I marched dude to the nearest Modell's and brought him a brand new hoodie. As he slipped the hoodie on, I ordered him to keep his arms covered during our meeting, let me do what I do to get the best deal possible. He nodded in agreement.
So we get to Puff's, and he's talking about how he didn't appreciate how we got other labels involved and before we start talking deal points, I look around a see Jake's hoodie tossed aside on the floor, Jake all wide eyed, happy and all crazy looking as he stutteringly proclaims "Look P-P-P-Puff, my new tattoo, I got it the d-d-d-day right after I met you, hee, hee, it's incredible right? Incredible! Yea do I walk t-t-t-through the valley.....wow, P-P-P-Puff, I got one too! Where do I sign?"
POOF! Like that, our leverage instantly disappears, like it never even existed in this whole scenario. I'm also a bit creeped out because I'm thinking dude lost his damn mind, really. I look at Puff and I could tell he was a bit creeped out as well, like I just delivered his biggest stalker right to his door step. We end up doing the deal for like 200k, I'm calling the other companies, explaining that they can keep their millions and we keep it moving.
On a good note, Jake's still writing with Puff, with Bad Boy, and he's had a steady string of hits coming out of that shop ever since. On top of that, he's still making good money and lives down south with his wife and kids. We keep in touch and he turned out to be a really good dude. We still even go back and laugh about that whole deal and that tattoo thingie. I'm really glad he's one of the few cats that can honestly say nothing bad about his financial relationship with Puff.
But every now and then, I'm thinking how much we really could have g'd off had he not gone and got that stupid fucking tattoo on his arm.
I wish I could make these stories up.