The third and final day (Sept. 8) of the seventh annual Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Conference & Awards , held at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta, offered an illuminating look into the mind
The third and final day (Sept. 8) of the seventh annual Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop Conference & Awards , held at the Renaissance Waverly Hotel in Atlanta, offered an illuminating look into the mind of rapper-turned-actor Chris "Ludacris" Bridges. The Disturbing Tha Peace/Def Jam artist was in the spotlight during the ASCAP-sponsored Billboard Q&A, a one-on-one interview with Billboard R&B/Hip-Hop editor Gail Mitchell.
Ludacris touched on all facets of his illustrious career, encompassing music, film and brand marketing. Throughout, and to the amusement of the SRO crowd, he effortlessly managed to promote his new album, "Release Therapy," due Sept. 26. Whether discussing spiritually aware lyrics, musically diverse rhythms or female empowerment, Ludacris brought it all back to a specific track on the album.
Ludacris said he wanted to create a more personal album with "Release Therapy." It was time, he noted, "for me to get loose. Before, people knew who Ludacris was. Now, they need to know who Chris Bridges is." Pausing for a couple seconds, he added, "This album is the closest thing to perfection I've ever done."
Musically, Ludacris will not let people label him. "I'm not comedic rap. I'm not gangster. And I'm not crunk," he said. "My range is limitless." The same can also be said of his creativity. Ludacris is already laying down the foundation for the follow-up to "Release Therapy." According to Ludacris, it will be called "Theater of the Mind," and will continue on a more personal tip.
When talk turned to his TV and film work, Lucacris acknowledged that numerous established players in Hollywood were watching, waiting for him to fall flat on his face. But once "Crash" hit the screens, "the naysayers can't say a damn thing," he said.
Hot on the heels of this session, Elroy Smith, operations manager of Clear Channel Chicago stations WGCI and WVAZ, helmed the "Everything You Wanted to Know About Radio and Were Afraid to Ask" panel. His dynamic personality and talk-show-host-like style entertained and educated the audience.
While attendees wanted to know the best way to get their tracks into the hands of program directors, the panelists could not stress enough the importance of a great song -- one that goes way beyond hot beats. And part of the process of getting new music to program directors involves, in addition to having a great record, consistent follow-up which helps pave the way toward building relationships, noted Thea Mitchem, program director of WUSL and WDAS in Philadelphia.
A touchy topic for radio programmers appears to be the personal people meter (PPM), which has the potential to change the way programmers program music. For the less knowledgeable, PPM technology enables stations to actually monitor tune-out levels among listeners. Many in attendance voiced concern over this new technology because it could very well lead to even tighter play lists. At the same time, it could also limit the opportunities for new artists to break through.
For attendees seeking additional controversy, they didn't have to go any further than the next panel, "Relationship Counseling," which focused on how Elliot Spitzer's payola investigation has affected the radio/record label interaction. Moderated by Kevin Fleming, newly named program director of KKBT (The Beat) in Los Angeles, the panelists and audience members discoursed on everything from how to get your first gig in the radio and record industries to cycling new songs through radio rotation.
The latter topic really raised the room temperature. While stations are still working with a current hit single, record labels frequently urge that station to stop and make room for that same artist's next single. Reggie Rouse, PD of WVEE in Atlanta, says he's still playing Mary J. Blige's "Be Without You" even though the label is working on a third single, "Take Me As I Am."
"Labels have their own agendas," Rouse said. "Mine is to play what my listeners want. If I have room and a single fits my [programming] criteria, then I will add it."
Added Doc Wynter, Clear Channel's senior VP/urban programming, "It's a dated system that doesn't work anymore. Records have longer lives now. It's not practical anymore to run stations like that."
Craig Davis, VP of urban promotion at Jive, agreed that the business is changing. "We have to be a bit more meticulous in the moves we make," he said. "With 15 weeks left between now and the end of the year, senior VP/urban promotion Larry Khan and I are looking at what we have left to release. We're fighting against radio and our own company when our job is to make things happen."
Rounding out the day's panels was the "Mix Show Master Class" session featuring DJ Drama, J. Period, Robert "Kaspa" Smith and Michael "5000" Watts. The DJs played to a full house with moderator Ebro of WQHT (Hot 97) in New York leading the way.