In Hip Hop when you haven't heard from a artist in a while... people tend to assume the artist must be doing bad for themselves... That is not always the case, especially with Rapper Tracey Lee.
Not only is Tracey still recording & releasing a new mixtape that's perfectly titled "Free Consultation" with production from 9TH Wonder, Deric “D.DOT” Angelettie & Young Guru to name a few, He is a Board Certified Lawyer with a DEGREE in Entertainment Law and doing better for himself than some of your favorite rappers.
Tracey first became known while signed to Universal Records when his single "The Theme (It's Party Time)" became a commercial success in 1997. He's also one of the few fortunate artist to ever record with Brooklyn's Finest Notorious BIG (Biggie Smalls) on his single "Keep Your Hands High".
What most people didn't know about Tracey is that he took time out from his busy music career to pursue a Law Degree. This is very impressive to me, a rapper with a Law degree is unheard of.
I had to catch up with Tracey to ask him about working with Biggie, persuing law degree, his current mixtape and to get some entertainment legal advice for those artist seeking knowledge.
You are one of the few fortunate artists who had a chance to collaborate with Biggie... What was that experience like?
UNBELIEVABLE!!! During our session, BIG taught me more about the game then I had known, at that particular time. He was the first artist that I witnessed write without a pen and paper, which inspired me to eventually write lyrics in my head (without pen, paper, Blackberry, Android, iPad, etc…lol). He was just a cool dude. His skill set on the mic is unmatched to this day. He forced me to step my game up on that record. To watch his whole process of creating the verses for Keep Ya Hands High was crazy! I am truly blessed to have had an opportunity to work with one of the greatest in the history of music! Not many can say, nor will they even have the opportunity to say that. Again I am blessed.What made you want to get into entertainment law?
Long story (laughs). The short version is my career in the music business made me want to study entertainment law. I want to be the eyes and ears for artists that are coming into the game and don’t have a clue about the music business and recording contracts, deal points, 360 deals, publishing, etc.. This is something that I didn’t have when I signed my deal, so who better to guide someone on these aspects of the business than me – someone who not only has experience as an entertainment lawyer, but who also is an established recording artist, as well.How long have you been practicing law?
Almost 5 years.Before you studied law and became a lawyer, did you ever sign a contract or anything that you wish you hadn't?
(laughs) of course! In hindsight, I would have never signed the contract with Universal under the terms and conditions presented to me. However, at that time, my main objective was to have my music heard worldwide, so I don’t blame anyone for the decisions that I made for myself. Besides, I probably would not have gone to law school if I had not signed my deal with Bystorm/Universal.
How do you balance having a music career and being a lawyer?
I am very selective about the clients I take on, and I am very selective about the music I create and put out into the market. When I take on a client, 100% of my effort goes toward that client, because ethically I must serve and perform in the client’s best interest. Therefore, everything for Tracey Lee, musically, gets pushed to the side for that period of time. As an independent artist (signed under Tray Lee, Inc) I’m not under any time constraints to put out a record. This takes away the urgency factor, which helps me to keep that balance.Nowadays, new artists are being pressured to sign 360 deals that give the record company a percentage of their income outside of just record sales. Is that a good move for the artist?
HELL NO! Realistically, it’s really up to the individual and their particular goals and aspirations. If an artist’s goal is to get the music heard, be seen by a multitude of people on a national and international level, and to receive greater financial backing, then they may have to give a little to get a little. So, if that means giving up show money, publishing rights and merchandising, then that’s what they’ll have to sacrifice. However, they should understand that there is no guarantee that they will become a national and international success by signing this kind of agreement. Also, to keep it all the way 100, the internet has evened the playing field, where you don’t need the “major label” budget to effectively market, promote and distribute the material – it’s a gamble. As an attorney, I would definitely give the pros and cons to signing a 360 deal to my client, so that they can make the best decision for themselves. Personally, I’m at a stage in my career... in my life where I will not consider such deals. I’m not against negotiating, however, but the deal has to be something that is fair for both parties.There are a lot of entertainment lawyers in the music business. What qualities should a artist look for when choosing a lawyer?
When choosing a lawyer, firstly, I would make sure that he/she is, in fact, an entertainment lawyer – that was one of my first mistakes. I would also encourage artists to look for someone with knowledge, experience, and most importantly ETHICS. You need a lawyer that has your best interest at heart – not the record labels, and not their own. Also, don’t be afraid to ask questions – and if you don’t understand it the first time, ask again. Remember, they work for YOU.
For artists thinking about signing a contact, but they can't afford a lawyer, what advice would you give them?
Educate yourself! Like it or not, business is a major part of entertainment. There are plenty of references on the internet, in bookstores, etc. dealing with every kind of contract in the music business. So, if that means you won’t be able to sign a particular agreement because the other party has placed some sort of deadline for you to execute the agreement, then so be it. Trust me another deal, (maybe even a better deal), will come along if you have the talent and passion for what you do.
In my opinion (and experience), it’s better to educate yourself now and protect your music and your rights, than to sign an agreement out of anxiety and ignorance and live to regret that decision later down the line. Hindsight is crazy… 15 years ago I was in this exact position and my answer was obviously totally different (laughs).Hip Hop has changed a lot over the years... What's your opinion on the current state of Hip Hop?
I honestly don’t know. There are some aspects I like, and some aspects I despise. I think my distaste is more so for the business of music, which creates the characteristics and image of hip-hop that I don’t like.
Art and business naturally do not mix; there’s no time limit on art, art isn’t judged by CD sales, or by who produced the CD and what features you have on the CD. You can’t rush art for the sake of putting out a project before the 4th quarter of the fiscal year. As a result, a lot of projects sound rushed and incomplete, lyrics are half-ass, and most songs sound redundant and lack creativity…all in the name of making a profit or establishing a write-off (the business of music).
On the other hand, what I love about hip-hop today is the grind… the hustle… the urgency shown by today’s hip-hop artists to not become a write-off. Again, the internet has truly evened the playing field, where an artist doesn’t have to wait on a label to get their music heard. When I see artists putting out new material damn near every day, they inspire me to go hard. But one thing I won’t do is sacrifice QUALITY for quantity…What can people expect from your mixtape?
My mixtape, Free Consultation Mixtape Series Vol. 1 is a recap of sorts, mixed with a peek into the future – it’s a Tray Lee journey taking you from the beginning, right up to today. Did I mention that my mixtape is free?! This is the first in a series of mixtapes scheduled for release this year; leading up to the CD entitled, Esquire. Free Consultation Mixtape Series Vol. 1 has cuts from my first CD, Many Facez, along with other songs and freestyles to remind the fans of who Tracey Lee is. I also added some new music to give the fans a taste of what they can expect to hear on Esquire, as well as future Tracey Lee projects.
This project was put together with the help of DJ Conscience, who picked the songs, co-hosted and sequenced the material. I have appearances from the late great Notorious B.I.G., Pirate aka PIE (from RNF and The Reepz) Jim Jones, Diddy/Dirty Money, One-Step Beyond (from RNF), Kenya Flow (From One Step Beyond) and Priest Da Nomad. I have production by 9TH Wonder, Deric “D.DOT” Angelettie, Young Guru (Engineer and DJ for JAY-Z) DJ Blinks, Unknown, DJ Parlay, and the late great Scotty Beats.
The idea moving forward is to introduce content every 1st and 15th of the month, like pay day. Currently, I have 2 videos from the Free Consultation Mixtape Series Vol. 1 entitled, The Saga Part 1, and The Saga (remix) circulating the internet, including Youtube and my website WWW.TRACEYLEEINC.COM. On the March 15th, I plan to drop a new video entitled, New Jack City, which is the first release from the forthcoming untitled project featuring Tracey Lee and The Reepz that will drop on the April 1st…get the picture..