Record executive Kevin Liles is responsible for elevating the careers of artists like Estelle, Trey Songz, Ty Dolla $ign, D'Angelo, Fetty Wap, and Young Thug. "If you cut me open," he said, "I'm hip-hop."
The 300 Entertainment label, which he cofounded, is in the middle of its Birth of a New Nation Tour, which touches down Saturday at the Trocadero.
The lineup features young artists Dae Dae, Shy Glizzy, and Philly's own PnB Rock.
These rappers aren't seen as socially conscious. How do they relate to a tour called Birth of a New Nation?
First, they're young men. Dae Dae has children, Shy Glizzy has children, PnB growing up in his life. I don't tell them, "We're doing a Birth of a New Nation tour, and you got to make a record that's socially conscious." Seven months ago, Dae Dae sent me a record called "Black Lives Matter." It wasn't about forcing them to come up with something. It was really about providing a platform for them to express themselves on the tour as men. The music reflects the time that they're going through. They don't want to be another statistic or just another rapper.
What does the "new nation" look like to you?
I'm a big proponent of Generation E - for education, entrepreneurship, and empowerment. It's not just about playing basketball, it's about owning the basketball team. It's not about playing baseball, but owning the company that makes the bat. It's not about playing with the app or downloading it, but making your own.
How do you stay tapped into millennials?
You can't tell me what's hot in the club, because I'm in the club. I know what record comes on at 1 [o'clock] in the morning. You can't tell me what's happening with the new Drake tour, because I'm at the tour. When you love your job like I do, it becomes a part of your world. Each client, partner, artist, whatever term you want to use, they're allowing me to be a spokesperson for their brand, so how can I do that if I'm not in it? I don't stick my toe in it. You'll see me in the streets.
Does 300 have a type?
We look for artists who are moving culture. We don't look for records. We might even decide not to sign somebody if we feel they don't have an assist in the mission, and that is to empower young people to have a voice. And that's across all genres of music. The thing about us, we don't want to be known for just the records you hear, but how we make you feel. How does it make you feel when you hear Young Thug perform a record? How do you feel when Shy Glizzy does a record called "Funeral"?
Like Maya Angelou said, you may not remember what someone said, but you remember how they made you feel.
That is truly the message we try to instill. We don't want people to just hear, but to feel [these artists]. I call it the hand-to-fan experience. I want them out there every day touching the very people who need motivation and inspiration. A lot of times, kids don't understand what they mean to their fans. They're a glimpse of hope or light.
You talk about the culture a lot. What is the culture to you?
The culture to me is young people. You have freedom fighters who were 18, 15, 22. You have ministers who were ministering to congregations at age 30. Our responsibility is to minister through our music every single day. When I speak about our culture, I'm speaking about the engineer, the intern, the doctor, the lawyer, anyone who has been influenced by our culture.
Our culture, you mean black culture?
I mean hip-hop culture. Black lives matter to me, my culture, and the way people perceive our culture. The power and influence of our culture is most important to why I wake up every day and try to be an example and not a statistic.
Your cofounder Lyor Cohen is moving to YouTube. What does this mean for 300?
Highly Suspect is breaking as a rock band. Young Thug has a sold-out tour. PnB Rock, Shy Glizzy, and Dae Dae have a sold-out tour in Philly. We built an environment that is not about one person. It's about every single person in that building. So if things change, it's only going to be for the better. To be very clear, Lyor and I been together for 25 years. Everything we do is strategic. Everything we do is for our culture. 300 was created not so he and I could have a place we called our own, but a platform where we could empower people to take ownership. Anything could change, but what won't change is the mission statement.
What do you think of the Philly music scene?
I been on Philly scene when Colby Colb had RadioActive. I been on the Philly scene since Schoolly D. When you talk about Philly, you're talking about a part of me, to see the growth and continuation of Philly artists inspire the world. It's a blessing. I want to see what's next. I want to be a part of what's next, and Philly will always be close to heart. You know a Philly cat when you hear a Philly cat. I love the aggressiveness, the truth, and the rawness.
A Birth of a New Nation tour 7:30 p.m. Saturday, The Trocadero, 1003 Arch St., 215-922-6888, thetroc.comEndText