(Photo: Def Jam)
A lot has changed in the music industry since Atlanta rhyme slinger Rocko first dropped his club smash “Umma Do Me,” in 2008. The success of the ubiquitous single paved the way for the then-independent self-starter to release his major-label debut, Self Made, on Def Jam later that year. Though the album peaked at 21 on the Billboard charts, Rocko opted to take a hiatus from life as an artist to pull strings behind the scenes as an executive on his independent imprint A1 Recordings. The label launched in 2010 with local up-and-comer Future as the flagship artist.
Now four years removed from flipping indie hustle into major label bucks, Rocko thinks he may have it in him to turn the trick one more time. With the recent release of his DJ Scream-hosted mixtape, Gift of Gab, which features the club banger “Squares Out Your Circle,” Rocko tells BET.com that he’s ready to wear his artist cap one more time.
“Personally I like being a CEO better,” Rocko admits. “I like being behind the scenes, I never really wanted to be in front of the camera but it's a job and it pays me well so I've got to capitalize off it. God blessed me with the gift of gab to be able to write rhymes and deliver them. He blessed me with a stage presence, so I've got to capitalize off all my talents.”
The ambitious go-getter has already seen a return on his talents as a CEO. After Future had a breakout year in 2011 appearing on YC's smash "Racks" and then delivering his own street anthem "Tony Montana" featuring Drake, Rocko worked out a deal for his star pupil to join the newly revamped Epic Records. The agreement between A1 Recordings and Epic that brought Future his first major-label deal also opened the door for Rocko to do business with his former Def Jam boss L.A. Reid, who now serves as chairman and CEO of Epic Records. Naturally, the idea that Rocko would reunite with Reid as a solo artist on Epic comes to mind, but it’s something the ATLien is still contemplating.
"I'm not sure you know. We've been talking about it; they want me to come over to Epic,” he says of the conversations with the label. “I'm independent right now with my project and I'm really loving my independence, but if I do decide to do a deal it may be at Epic, it may be in that Sony building somewhere."
Though his label situation remains unsettled, the big picture goal is to release new material that’ll pave the way for his sophomore offering, One of One. With that in mind, Rocko is making a conscious effort to step his game up on the artist end to match his drive as an exec.
"I told myself this year I'm going to go hard just on the strength of my fans,” Rocko says. “You know everywhere I go on my downtime when I’m just chilling out or kicking it with my kids, it's just the love I get. People tell me how they live by my music; it motivates me to go into the studio. I'm not going to lack on one end. In the past I put a lot of my energy into handling business rather than being an artist, but this year I'm going to balance it all the way out."
While fans wait for One of One, which is scheduled for release later this year, they can check out Rocko’s more well-rounded approach on Gift of Gab. The brash rapper-producer promises that the mixtape will be an earnest example of what’s to come.
“I'm sincere about what I say and how I say it,” he boasts. “That’s the only way I'm going to go in the booth...when I'm being sincere.”
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