[THE SIX is a regular interview feature on 206UP.COM with a simple format: One member of the local hip hop community and six questions. For past editions click here.]
If you’re a fan of Seattle hip hop, you probably wouldn’t know DeVon Manier’s voice if you heard it. You would, however, know his artists’. Manier co-founded the venerable hip hop label Sportn’ Life Records back in 2002 which has grown to be the region’s most successful independent purveyor of local rap and R&B. Co-founder D. Black (now known as Nissim) is a familiar voice; so is Fatal Lucciauno’s; and Spac3man’s. You get the picture.
Manier’s influence on the Town scene is far-reaching but fairly under the radar. He sits on or advises various boards around the city including the City of Seattle Music Commission (founded in 2010), a vital municipal task force dedicated to preserving Seattle’s rich music tradition. To understand the scope of our city’s hip hop heritage, you must at least partially go through DeVon Manier. We’re excited and pleased that he took a few minutes to hop on this week’s edition of THE SIX.
You and your team started Sportn’ Life Records in earnest back in 2002. Talk about the hip hop “environment” in Seattle then. Why did you think it was a good time to start a label?
From my position at the time, the local environment was nice and competitive, but just starting to grow and separate. It felt more like “hip hop” and less like just “rap music.” The business mindset was just starting to settle in with most people. There were a few labels popping up and the biggest names at the time were Boom Bap Project and Byrdie if I remember right.
The number one reason for starting a label at the time was that the talent was staring us right in the face. We had a crop of fresh talent from the CD [Central District] and South End neighborhoods, and I couldn’t wait to take the music “downtown” so to speak, especially since it was a time where music from Seattle’s black communities wasn’t getting much shine. It was also a great time to sell CDs out of the trunk of the car and strive to be like Roc-A-Fella, No Limit, Bad Boy and earn money while making a name on the streets.
“Live For Now” – Nissim (feat. Bonhom)
As a record label owner, is it frustrating these days to have to compete not only against other labels, but the “independent” movement as well? Is the monumental success of someone like Macklemore a death knell for record labels?
It’s probably frustrating to those [who] aren’t willing to embrace new tasks, new business models, and new roles in the industry. Sportn’ Life recognizes our strengths and we’ve recently made a change to do more artist management and consulting, to less label work. It just makes sense for our situation. Overall, I don’t think labels are dead — maybe record companies are. Today some indie artists have a “team” of people doing the work of a label, or a manager; artists are doing the work of a label. Either way you look at it, the work has to get done, things have to be paid for, and fans need to help.
Is there one particular “artist that got away” who sticks out during your time with Sportn’ Life?
Nah, not really. There [are] a few that I wished we had gone further with, or released more material from, but that’s about it. But none that “got away.”
“King Street Freestyle” – Spac3man
Is the Seattle market capable of supporting so many hip hop acts? Do you think the scene will reach an over-saturation point? — Or has it already?
Well, whack stuff has a way of weeding itself out eventually, and that always helps the odds. But just as long as people want to hear, pay for, and go see music live, I think we’ll be fine. Seattle is a mecca of music and creativity, and I don’t see that stopping anytime soon.
What was the last song that played on your iPod (or on your car stereo)? Be honest!
I’m not familiar with the song names yet, but the last album I played was the new Mayer Hawthorne Where Does This Door Go.
Go ahead and plug one or two upcoming projects in the Sportn’ Life pipeline.
Up next from the label would be Spac3man’s EP Beyond the Stars. Then we’ll be releasing a long delayed project from My Life My Love, a collective group consisting of Nissim, Fatal Lucciauno, Spac3man, and Larry Hawkins. As far as artists we manage, people can definitely look out for a new EP from Fly Moon Royalty and the debut project from Larry Hawkins and Davey Jones titled Butterfly Sauce. They’re a new R&B/rap duo who we think will be turning quite a few heads this Summer/Fall.
“This Way That Way” – Larry Hawkins & Davey Jones