Rocko is much more than the astronomical, controversial smash, “U.O.E.N.O.” He’s been around for years, having signed to Def Jam in 2006, but U.O.E.N.O. it. He’s more than just a rapper, having signed Future years ago when his name was Meathead the Future, but you don’t even know that either. In fact, after sitting down with Rocko Da Don, founder of A-1 Recordings, it’s apparent there’s a lot we don’t know about the young rapper/exec due to the stealthy way he moves. Even by today’s standards of increased autonomy and independence you’d be somewhat hard pressed to find another young artist making such sound and well thought out business decisions.
Recently, Rocko snuck into New York City. As usual he was moving below the rada, only popping his head up to make a few power moves and do a little press. Here are some thoughts Rocko wanted to share while he zipped around the island of Manhattan. He may have even driven right past you and U.O.E.N.O. it. (Have we beaten that sufficiently into the ground? Good. Onto the interview.)
People think you’re a new jack but you’ve been in the game a minute. You were signed to Def Jam right?
That’s correct. It was a Shakir Stewart who reached out. I was in the midst of a deal at Interscope, and Shakir called me up like, “Rock you got to come and meet my man.” I was closing this deal at Interscope but he was like, “OK you can sign with them but come meet my man. Just come meet him.” His man turned out to be LA Reid. LA Reid locked the door on me until we [negotiated a deal] and we went from there.
So how was it at Def Jam?
I really was never able to get all the way in the building. Jermaine Dupri became president of Island Records so he had been reaching out, but he was dragging his feet. Shakir was really the one that got that deal closed. Shakir was really the one who should have gotten the credit. He’s a real dude so he let JD get the credit. But Jermaine Dupri he kept trying to put “So So Def” [logo] on my projects. No disrespect to them but they never gave me $10 for a haircut. So I told JD that. But shortly after that Shakir died so I wasn’t feeling it over there. So I asked LA to let me go. Shakir was my go to guy. Without him I wasn’t feeling the building. At first LA didn’t want to let me go, but eventually he did. I appreciated that and I told him we’re going to business again in the future. But yeah, ever since then I’ve been independent.
People don’t know, but you signed Future. He’s been down with you for years. Tell me some stories about putting in work to showcase his talents and how it’s paid off.
He came to my studio years ago and I took a liking to him. He’s my little brother. You don’t want family to get the wool pulled over their eyes so I’m teaching everything that I know. [As a result] he’s seen a lot and he’s seasoned. He been rapping since before I got my hands on him.
What was it about him that made you enlist him in your ranks?
Early on he told me, “Bro, just believe in me. I’ll work harder than all of these other dudes.” His name was Meathead aka The Future. [Laughs]
[Laughs] Yup. Meathead. So I said, “We’re going to drop that Meathead. You just gonna be Future.” He was spelling it with a “P.” I told him we were going to spell it the regular way. He didn’t complain. He gave me his word he was going to work hard so I signed him.
That brings up something interesting: loyalty. The people you have around you now, are they different from the people you came in the game with?
Yeah, there are both. A few people I came in here with, but I met key players along the way. I met Propane in the bathroom in a Benihana. He was like “Gimme a shout.” He was persistent though. So finally I told him “Man pull up to the crib.” That was 2010 and ever since then we’ve been together doing business.
You’ve got one of the biggest songs of the year. How’s the fame feel? Is it different now when you move around?
My star power is through the roof right now. It’s crazy, the old people, the young kids… I pulled up in a parking lot and this little 6 year old boy said, “Rocko the Don!” That shocked me. But I never take it for granted and I stay humble and appreciate it. I like being a regular dude. I think that’s why people respect me. I’m the same way all the time and I never let money change me.
Do you remember the first time you made money off rap?
In 2002 I got my first big check. It was for my Rocky Road label before it was called A-1 Recordings. I signed a deal with Universal for one of my artists. Ever since then I just been moving. A few years ago I slowed down. Maybe 2005-2008. I was just trying to figure my way through it all, figure it out move smarter. A little later after that I started again with A-1.
So I heard you own your masters. Can you speak on how you did that?
Correct. I own my masters. I own all of my music. I put my music out independently. Instead of getting points from the label or an advance I can advance myself. And the same people that the labels use like the independent marketing and promo companies, I can hire them and pay them out of my own pocket that way I keep all my money when the iTunes money comes in every 45 days and still keep my masters. I showed and proved that it can be done. My song is up there on the charts with the big boys.
Damn I’m sure a lot of aspiring and established rappers are looking to you for pointers.
[Laughs] You got to get the book. I’m on my author thing too. It’s just about not having to sell your soul for an advance. An advance that I got to pay back. I’m just not going to do that. I’ve been independent all these years. Not saying I know everything. I still have a lot to learn. I’m just trying to gain knowledge I need to open up different revenue streams.
That’s why I do this. I want it to inspire young artists to take charge of their careers and business.