The-Dream & Roc Nation's Lenny S Talk New VH1 Show 'SIGNED' & the Importance of Record Labels

Lenny S, Rick Ross and The-Dream on VH1's Signed
Lauren Gesswein for VH1

Lenny S, Rick Ross and The-Dream on VH1's Signed.

On Wednesday night (July 26), Rick Ross, The-Dream and Roc Nation's senior vice president of A&R/artist management, Lenny S, will premiere their new show SIGNED on VH1 at 9 p.m. EST.

SIGNED will serve as a music competition between aspiring hip-hop acts and R&B singers vying for an opportunity to sign with a record label. With Ross (Maybach Music Group), The-Dream (Radio Killa Records) and Lenny S (Roc Nation) representing their respective companies, the trio of executives will head to Atlanta and scout the crop of talent available to them. 

The contestants will undergo a series of auditions, challenges and workshops in order to move a step closer to a finale performance showcase. In the midst of their journey, the competitors will engage in personal sessions with the show's executives, while also working with surprise collaborators including Meek Mill, DJ Khaled, and producer Bangladesh. At the end, one lucky winner will have the opportunity to sign to either MMG, Radio Killa Records or Roc Nation.

Billboard spoke with The-Dream and Lenny S regarding their new show SIGNED, the importance of major labels and why it's easier for artists to land a record deal in today's music climate. 

What made you guys ultimately decide to join SIGNED

Lenny S: Well, two reasons, man. One, I definitely had to feel comfortable with who I was going to do this with. When I heard that The-Dream and Ross were the other executives/artists/bosses or whatever you want to call it, I was 100% in. And then, the second reason was what we were doing. We were helping to put artists on, give new artists exposure and give them an opportunity of a lifetime, if they did what they had to do. So those were really the main two reasons. 

The-Dream: Well, I mean, at the end of the day, I don't know if TV can actually hold what I would probably do without these guys [Laughs]. I was kind of lucky that it was Lenny and Rick Ross that were able to do this with me and make my debut a lot easier. 

Lenny S: Wait. The third reason is actually for all of us. There wasn't a platform for [new artists in] hip-hop and R&B displayed on television. There wasn't a platform for musicians and artists to get that fair shot. I just feel like there's way more pop platforms, you know?

How does SIGNED intend to separate itself from other music competition shows out there?

The-Dream: I think the idea of people who are relevant now in our culture and cemented in it -- and not just the shiny parts of it... It's real easy to take the icing off of the cake once it gets made up real good for you. Then, it becomes this real big pop phenomenon. But where it comes from, it comes from people like me, Lenny and Ross. We're like the first guys with it. So in order for the world to actually see that part, it would only be a place like this where you can see it. You can't see this anywhere else. 

For a second, we wondered if the show was going to duplicate Diddy's Making the Band and have artists walking for cheesecake. 

The-Dream: Nah. No cheesecake walking. [Laughs] You just go to the house. Ain't nobody got time for all that. It's not that, but I think the one thing that was great with MTV's Making the Band was that we did see people from the culture. You know, that was what that was about. We didn't take it from it at the time. We didn't notice it until it was off TV, until it was this kind of gap between what Puff had done and what was actually going on. We knew that it would have to be a great machine and platform to be able to have something like this. That's why we're happy to have VH1 and MGM decide to do it with us. 

What did Ross bring to the table on SIGNED that impressed you two the most? 

The-Dream: Oh, absolute entertainment. [Laughs] His music is long standing. His ears are long standing. How he make records, that's one thing, but to see somebody day in and day out -- you're gonna see us every week on Wednesdays for an hour -- you really get a sense of knowing him. He's just a pretty f--king funny guy, man. All of us are, in our own unique ways, but what we got out of him was a lot of life that you probably have never seen from Rick Ross the rap god. 

Lenny S: He ended up being like really, really, really comical. He has a great personality. Like Dream was saying, you don't really get to see that in almost any artist, unless they have television shows, or unless they're doing podcasts, or something that really displays who they are on their social media. But, for the most part, for a hip-hop artist coming from where we come from, you're pretty much not so much out there, and being as comfortable as you are with your closest friends and stuff.

On here, he's with two friends. He's being himself. The camera is honestly not even there. We're not doing anything different that we wouldn't be doing if the camera wasn't there. So he really displayed that in the funniest way possible. There's gonna be a lot of those Rick Renzel one-liners. 

What were some key attributes that you guys were looking for for your respective labels?  

Lenny S: I was just trying to look at somebody who can stand up to what we have, you know what I mean? We tend to try to keep a high bar. We have JAY-Z. We have Rihanna. We have The-Dream. We have J. Cole. We have Vic Mensa, Justine Skye and loads of great others. We just want to keep that bar at a certain level. We have Rapsody.

Like the caliber that we're dealing with, we want to make sure that it stays up. Same with The-Dream. He's one of the best writers in the world, especially of our generation. So you gotta think about who was before him and who that was. That was Smokey Robinson. That was Lionel Richie. Imagine what their bar is, or needs to be. 

The-Dream: I think the whole idea, and the reason why I haven't really kind of dove into the signing of people, is because I've worked with the Beyonces and the Rihannas everyday, day in and day out. That's kind of what my life has been predicated on for the last 10 years. And when that's the group and family that you belong to, it's the same thing that Lenny said, you have a bar. Whether you want to take it easy on somebody or not, it's probably not gonna happen. You want to make sure that they're in the right company.

I say this on the show, 'I'm here for a reason. It's either to send people in the right way, whether that's to music, or away from it.' The choice and what they do is theirs. They show up with 100 points and if you lose half of them or 75, that's on you. If you get an A-plus, then you get to move on. It's really that simple. 

How important was it for you guys to show that record labels are in fact still important in the music industry in an age where many artists are going the independent route?

The-Dream: Well, the double-entendre that I'm going to paint here is that it's kind of like clothes. The labels on clothes isn't what makes the person; it's the person that's in them. So it's the people that are in labels that have made these labels what they are. Like that's how they got their names. That's the part that everybody forgets. So when you have people like me, Lenny and Rick Ross, it's what we do as individuals to help these companies propel to a certain level.

Def Jam isn't Def Jam without all of the stars. That's how it got the name. Interscope is Interscope because of who it had. That's Death Row. 2Pac. Dr. Dre. That's what it comes down to. It's really that simple. So I get the whole anti-label thing, but really those labels are made up of beautiful artists in the first place. 

Lenny S: And think of the labels that have no stars. 

The-Dream: Exactly. The labels that don't have any stars never became labels, because if you have one, you would have became a label anyway. TDE has Kendrick Lamar right now? 


The-Dream: Well, TDE is now a label. They have to do things like a label does [Laughs]. The point is to get big. 

Did you guys have to deal with any bad apples or big-headed acts during the show? 

Lenny S: I think in life, in general, whether it's the workplace or somewhere personal, you come across those. You can go shop at a store and have a great salesperson, or somebody you can tell that doesn't want to be there. So I think we've definitely came across a few people who felt entitled. I say that's probably the best word.

For us, it's like, 'Man. Where's this entitlement coming from? You haven't really even worked for anything.' We've all worked for this. Nobody here on this panel, nobody here who's helping decide what artist makes it or not got it easy. We all worked super-hard for it, and it took years. So you're not gonna come here for two weeks and be like 'My sh-t is popping. Put me on.' It doesn't work that way. And yes, some people did come in with an entitled attitude of 'I deserve to make it. I deserve to be here. I deserve to be on the cover of that magazine. I deserve to go on tour with that big-named artist.' I'm sorry. I'm missed that part. 

Do you both feel artists today have an easier route today in terms of getting signed in contrast to the '90s and 2000s?

Lenny S: I personally think so, only because before you had so many things in the way of getting exposure, right? You had to build that all up. After building it up, you had to take it on the road. Right now, you have digital technology. 

The-Dream: You got a laptop. 

Lenny S: You don't need to go to Atlanta. I mean in the early stages, just for somebody to find out who you are and what your record sounds like. Before you had to do that. You had to ship and mail records places. You couldn't e-mail a record to somebody. So again, digital technology make it easier. Now every label can just sit back and actually watch like, 'Oh wow. This is pretty good. I'm gonna call them in for a meeting.' It's super-way-easier.