While record-label cronies cater to radio playlists and Billboard charts, Polow Da Don reps for a constituency composed of common folk.
Articulating the themes of ordinary people, he took Ciara from a cute, round-the-way diva-in-training to a grown-ass woman flaunting what her mama gave her, aided the bump-and-grind poetics of Jamie Foxx with "DJ Play a Love Song," captured the sass of Black Eyed Peas product Fergie, helming the No. 1 hit "London Bride," and gave disenchanted ingenues a song of liberation with Ludacris' "Runaway Love" featuring Mary J. Blige.
Without the bling-bling markers of success, Polow Da Don, currently lauded the world over as music's best thang smokin', exudes a cool confidence only half a lifetime in the game can provide. Despite the efforts of recent bandwagons miscasting Don as an up-and-comer, the Atlanta product began freestyling in middle school alongside then-unknowns Kris Kross, carried records for Lil Jon before his crunk had juice, and signed his first record deal as a teenager. Later, he would join the hip-hop outfit Jim Crow, members of a collective including the YoungBloodz and known as the Attic Crew, releasing the critically acclaimed Crow's Nest in 1999.
As a leader of a new generation of ATL producers whose fondness for funk and melodic grooves has created swelling demand for his soulful compositions, Polow Da Don enters 2007 with a new label deal for his imprint Zone 4 -- distributed by Interscope -- and projects by Rich Boy and Keri Hilson. The talented producer weighs in on his recent successes and vision for ATL's musical future.
Your music not only rules the charts, but it also seems to create anthems for everyday people. How do you balance commercial success without alienating the average consumer?
I stay in the streets every day. I talk to folks with 9-to-5s. I make innovative music in tune with the average person. The novelty aspect of the game has come and gone. Whether gangsta or conscious, music that lasts has to be heartfelt. I don't write for the labels. I never will become an industry dude.
Despite your early grounding in hip-hop, your productions cross over all musical genres and even transcend into the pop world. How does a hip-hop head create a sound with universal appeal?
Just reaping the benefits of hard work. I am looking at music from a different perspective. I came up in the game when you had to be good to survive. I am trying to make it hard for folks to be mediocre and considered great.
I got that ATL flavor and bounce to my music, but it becomes an international style. Even when I do a pop record, for some reason, a street dude will hear it and be like, 'That is kinda hard.' I am from Atlanta, so I got that soul in me no matter what I do.
Why fuse a classic R&B staple from DeBarge with a bass-heavy street record on Rich Boy's "Throw Some D's"?
I wanted something to represent the 'hood that sounded authentic, but when you compare to the average song on the radio it would feel larger than life ... like it cost some money to produce.
You have single-handedly redefined Ciara's career with her grown-woman strut "Promise." Talk about the process of crafting a ballad for an artist known for up-tempo dance tracks.
That was the point. I took on the challenge to make a slow record because that lane was wide open. Ciara is known for performing, but everybody questions her vocal ability ... questions her ability to do ballads. I asked her, "What kind of song would make you wish you had a boyfriend or girlfriend? What do kids dance to at the prom?" We needed a slow song that was hard, with a driving melody, but still felt young.
I told her Janet Jackson did more than just dance around ... she had slow records. You have to be a full artist all the way around. Everybody in Ciara's camp questioned my approach to produce a ballad. I was like, "Y'all watch!"
Explain your aim in broadening the musical vision of Atlanta.
Atlanta needs a makeover. I feel like I'm a leader of a new generation who must step up. It's time to take music back. Black music is so strong, but we are not smart enough to capitalize off of it. My main goal is capitalize off of what the South and all black artists have built. The South has influenced all types of music, New York folks are making Southern bounce beats now, but it has not capitalized from a business standpoint.
My main goal is to bring the business side of music back to Atlanta. We just have a music scene here. We need labels, jobs and six-figure A&Rs based in ATL.
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