Tony Austin Is Bringing Baltimore With Him to the Top
Tony Austin, a new recording artist with more experience than most star MCs, might be the first legitimate executive turned rapper in the game. A beloved kingpin in his hometown of Baltimore, Austin came up on the streets, served some time in prison, used his childhood friendship with Def Jam impresario Kevin Liles to get a driving job and then became a Def Jam executive before being hired as partner and co-president of the Russell Simmons Music Group -- and this was all before entering the rap game two months ago with the release of 'The Influence,' his new DJ Drama 'Gangsta Grillz' mixtape.
Now, Austin is using his status to become your classic entrepreneur. The BoomBox caught up with Austin in Baltimore to see how he can fit owning a popular strip club, recording albums, turning urban literature into movies and various other hustles into a single day. Austin, who seems to be known and loved by just about everyone he encounters during our journey from the bank to the barbershop to the studio and strip club, demonstrated why he is known locally as "Mr. Make It Happen." In this, part one of our interview, he took me over to East Baltimore's Architects Recording Studio to discuss rapping, putting together his first mixtape, using only B-more producers and how his experience as a high powered executive has given him the knowledge on how to work the music industry like it's just another business to dominate.
The BoomBox: You are one of the first cases of a Baltimore rapper trying to go national. Why is that?
Tony Austin: Basically, between my entertainment companies and being in the business running a company with Russell, being at Def Jam, I had the knowledge, wisdom and understanding of what it takes. A lot of guys that's from Baltimore don't have the capital, don't have the know-how and a lot of 'em just don't know how to come in and put songs together that's on a national level.
They could do it, like we have a couple producers out here that do the Baltimore sound [club music] and all that. You'll hear that on the radio. It's a little cliquish. They never get outside of their gap. I'm trying to help them break they gap. I mean, you got a couple artists out here that really could break, but don't have the opportunity. I feel like I'm gonna open up the doors. They never done it before. I made sure to only use original beats from Baltimore producers on this one and we're pretty proud of that.
How do you plan to pick up support for your records?
Me, I'm putting out 100,000 'Gangsta Grillz' across the city and having Rap Star promote it. You know, the hottest ones that's doing it in the streets, having different people behind me. They don't understand that's what it takes. Once they see it done, then other executives will come. It's like Jay said: You set the blueprint and foundation for other people to do good things. You know what I mean?
Then you get outside of Baltimore and start recognizing this city ain't only known for 'The Wire' or some good seafood or the harbor. You got someone coming out of here, someone that's respected in the industry amongst everybody, from the Jay-Zs to the Diddys, from the Russells to the Kevin Liles. I know everybody. I'm not asking for a handout. Once you do something, everybody will find it.
How did you actually start rapping? Tell us about putting 'The Influence' together.
Jeezy and I had a conversation and I was like, 'Ah, man, you know what... I don't know. Let me try.' One day I came over to this studio [Architects Recording Studio on Harford Road], 100 Grand brought me over here and we've been working and working ever since. The idea came and I was like, 'OJ Da Juiceman would be good on this one' and Niige [Austin's engineer] was like, "Yeah, if you can!" That night OJ was walking in that studio. This other one, I went and got Gucci, went down to Atlanta with one song and came back with two. We had Beanie Sigel come in here and do his verse. All this is relationships. Everyone came in here. It's nothing that I can't do or get accomplished.
Do you think your past success give you a huge competitive advantage?
Well, you gotta have funding. A lot of guys don't have that. A lot of guys don't have the relationships to pick up the phone and be respected like that. Yo Gotti wouldn't do a record with anybody else right now. He too hot. It's a lot of different avenues and a lot of different things to have in your corner. Even me being in the game as high as I was, I always still had respect for everybody. I always did what I said I was going to do. If I tell you, 'I'm gonna do it,' then I'll do it. If I say, 'I'm gonna try to do it,' then I'll try. If I tell you I can't, then I can't. I was always a man's man, so I was never a person to tell you something and then not pick up the phone. A lot of guys in the industry do that. I never had no problem with nobody because of this.