Billboard: Who conceptualized Universal Music Group's Urban Legends?
Andre Torres: That was pretty much my idea… coming from the media world. Also, having an editorial background, I noticed Universal [Music Group] was dependent upon media outlets to really get the message out about our releases, or anniversaries. We needed outside media for whatever it was that we were trying to bring to the market. So, I started thinking about that system and how we as a label had an opportunity to be part of the conversation.
When I initially came up with the idea for the Urban Legends platform, I saw it in much humbler terms. But after bringing on Senior Editorial Director Lauren Nostro, I began to understand that the site could be so much more than I had imagined. After working with Lauren at Genius last year, I gained huge respect for her abilities to translate our culture in a really fresh and engaging manner. I trust Lauren with the editorial tone of Urban Legends, and I know we’re in good hands with her at the helm.
We can now start some of these conversations. Urban Legends enables us to be connected to the fans. That is really where I see editorial coming in as a marketing vehicle. When you look at content now, people are really looking for more insight, and context. I felt like we as the label could provide more of that content. Maybe [even handle this] in a manner that the media outlets were unable to do. The website was a perfect opportunity for where urban music is right now. It is the number one genre! It is the most streamed genre of streaming music services.
There was plenty of content when I started to look at our catalog to build from, whether [that was a] birthday or death. There was always something that we should be sharing with the rest of the world. I just thought, “We need a platform to do that," then Urban Legends was born.
What can users expect in the weeks to come from Urban Legends?
There is going to be a lot of JAY-Z. It’s HOVember! So, we have a few anniversaries coming up from JAY-Z this month. Also, we'll be releasing behind the scenes [footage]. Urban Legends is fan driven. So, we put together a few fan round tables. We want to hit the ground running this month. I do not want to let too much out the bag-- we do have a few surprises. I think primarily, it’s about celebrating these [UMG] anniversaries and the real milestones that these labels and artists have. We are mixing in the younger artists, too. They’ll be next with the catalog.
What are your thoughts on Universal Music Group's impact throughout the history of hip-hop?
Oh my God! Yeah, it was certainly something I was somewhat aware of prior to my arrival at the label, but once I really started to dig in the catalog, I could see how expansive it was. It is clear that there is no other label out there that has been as committed to urban music. I mean, you’re talking about labels like Def Jam and Interscope. There are imprints like No Limit, TDE, and Priority Records.
It [has been that way] literally from the very beginning of recorded hip-hop. Back in, like, Kurtis Blow days. All the way to the most recent, and biggest rappers in the world. You know it is clear that there is really no competition in that area. If there was a project that was going to take place, in an imprint, this was the one label that I was capable of [building Urban Legends]. There was so much material. It was overwhelming, in a sense.
How do you think Urban Legends will differentiate itself from other platforms?
Having been in media, I know the game. It is really advertiser- and clicks-driven. That is sort of the goal there. We are not playing that game, at all. This platform is about fan engagement. So, I think we have a different perspective. We know we are not trying to recreate that here. This is something different, and really about connecting fans with music they love. Urban Legends is getting them to see a little bit more context.
[We want them to] celebrate the cultural moments. Obviously, there is a connection with the new generation and nostalgia, which sets in much quicker these days. We also have the opportunity to emit the traditional catalog space. They may have waited twenty years to celebrate records they love [in the past]. This year is the fifth anniversary of [Kendrick Lamar's] good kid, m.A.A.d city. Next year is Kanye West’s 808 & Heartbreak [10th anniversary].
We celebrate these moments a little quicker. We do not have to wait as long as you would have to wait with the rock [genre].
You have substantial editorial experience. What is your take on the desire for music consumption past and present?
You know, coming from running a magazine that was really about record collecting, with Wax Poetics, and then working at Genius last year… a startup that focused on the newest music that was out -- it has given me a good perspective on both ends of the editorial spectrum. It is clear that streaming will continue to build. It is the preferred choice in which people consume music.
This is an interesting moment. Especially, as all this is taking off, you also have vinyl coming in as the preferred physical package. There is a sort of different relationship that millennials have with vinyl. Some of them are leaving these things on their desk. They are [now] sort of like souvenirs.
So, I still think there is a way to kind of get in the middle of that. We can be able to service listeners, in whatever it is that they’re listening to. There is certainly more shelf life for vinyl, I think in the years to come. Again, there is clearly a connection between those two formats. Many of these albums that we do want to celebrate, we want to come along with some sort of official deluxe version, or box set. I am really in the process of re-imagining how those things are put together.
I want to see what goes in them, other than maybe a couple of records, and a booklet. I am working on some collaborations with different brands. I am re-imagining some of the content and merchandise that you can infuse in a box set. I am really excited about where music is at, right now. We are looking at new artists that we are signing, like 6LACK or [Lil] Yachty, and Playboi Carti. When they put their first album out, they’re making the UMG catalog. Within a year or two, those albums will come across my [label] brochures. It is sort of an accumulative process.
Do you remember the first record you dug out a crate that changed your life?
Oh, wow! It was a long time ago. I remember that! I was in college when I started digging for records. I was primarily looking for samples. I think it would probably be Leon Haywood. It’s the album that had [the song], “I Want’a Do Something Freaky to You.” "Come And Get Yourself Some" has the sample from “Nuthin’ But a 'G' Thang.”
When that song came out, it was 1992. I knew the track, but I did not know the sample. And, I was going on a random record hunt, at the Goodwill, I found the record not knowing what it was. I came home and that same “Nuthin’ But a G Thang” beat came on. It was like, “Oh my God!” I thought I had found some buried treasure that was worth millions of dollars. It was very clear to me. I thought to myself, "I’m on to it." Like, I’m starting to figure out how these guys [at labels] are putting this music together. It was not just James Brown and Funkadelic samples, anymore. [They were sampling] things that we did not recognize at first.
Initially not understanding how Dr. Dre had put that beat together, hearing the original, kind of made me like, “Oh! Okay, I got this." So, that was definitely one of the big ones.
How is Urban Legends comprehensive?
I do not think there is any precedent for what we are doing at Urban Legends. It is a label imprint that we are launching. We will reissue and celebrate a lot of these classic albums. It is also an e-commerce platform and an editorial platform. [I know] how music and fans sort of work together. I understand how editorial and content drive engagement. Because of the scope and diverse spread of the Universal Music Group catalog, there are a lot of opportunities to explore some of these seminal moments and the albums. Who else is really capable of presenting a catalog as live and expansive as ours, or in the same manner?
I don’t know of anyone who has been thinking about this or found it worth exploring. But, I wanted us, as a label, to be celebrating our own material. We need not rely on anyone else in the world. We can send out that message with Urban Legends support. We can do it for our own artists, in a way that no one has done it before. So, yeah, I don’t think anyone is thinking along the same lines! We’re ready to start with this. I’m super excited to launch this and dig in even further in the coming months and years.