Great instincts combined with years of hard work have propelled Riggs Morales from an intern at The Source to Vice President of A&R and Artist Development at Atlantic Records. Riggs had a hand in the discovery of David Banner and Eminem during his tenure as Music Editor at The Source and experienced multi-platinum success with Eminem, D12, 50 Cent, and Obie Trice as Sr. Director of A&R at Shady Records prior to coming to Atlantic. Check out our exclusive interview with Riggs featuring some great advice for aspiring artists.
Interview by Jonah Bayer
How did you get your start in the music industry?
I started at The Source in 1995 as an intern. Internships have always been important to me because they're a doorway to opportunity and the more you take advantage of your internship the bigger your chances increase toward taking it the next level. I worked my way up starting out as Intern, then Music Assistant then Staff Writer then Associate Editor until ultimately I was made a Music Editor. That experience was so important because it gave me a lot of perspective, much of I still instilled today when it comes to the way I approach putting together an album since all I did was listen, dissect and review albums. I was blessed to have had one of the best seats in the house watching urban music grow into a multi-billion dollar entity.
Could you talk about how you transitioned from writing for The Source to working on the other side of the industry?
Prior to being an intern I always wanted to get involved with A&R. I had read an article on what A&R was and thought that it was something I could do well, but that would’t happen until six or seven years later. In order to eventually transition into A&R I needed to get my hands on the Unsigned Hype column when I started working at The Source. The column had already been responsible for some of the biggest names of that time getting signed, including Notorious B.I.G, DMX, Common, Mobb Deep and Capone-N-Norega to name a few. It was the only editorial outlet where I could hone my craft, so to speak. My first discovery was David Banner, then later couple of notable names that came and went like Kardinal Official, Juelz Santana, but my most prominent discovery had to be Eminem three years before Dr. Dre laid his hands on him. When I decided to make the transition from music journalist to A&R, Eminem and Paul Rosenberg—who had always been his manager—got wind that I wanted to make that move and offered me a wonderful opportunity at Goliath Artists, Inc. managing music producers and looking for new talent for the label, Shady Records, during its early years.
From an A&R perspective what was it like the first time you heard Eminem?
His talent as a rapper was was undeniable, from the beginning. You have to keep in mind that, at the time, Eminem was an enigma. Prior to Eminem there was Third Bass and Vanilla Ice. Outside of The Beastie Boys - who were already music legends - white rappers were stigmatized for a long time. So, here comes this kid who was just all about the music; there was no color to it. Once I got my hands on the music and started listening to it I was like, "Wow!". I didn't know what the future held for him, because there was nothing like him at the time.
What personally draws you to an artist?
I'm still old school in the sense of intuition. I’m also a fan of characters and personalities. That “stand out” factor that separates you from the average. I need to make sure that if I'm listening to you, not only are you saying something but, how you say it. I still think that word of mouth is still as valuable as ever. Also feels it's important that an artist has it together on all levels–from a musical standpoint to their artistic vision and their team. It has to be as complete as possible before it becomes something worth pursuing further.
"I've got to tell you, right now more than ever, do something different."
What advice would you have for an artist who wants to get your attention?
I've got to tell you, right now more than ever, do something different. As an A&R I've reached a frustrating point where, from producers to artists, there's an opportunity in this climate to try something new and no one is really taking full advantage of it. Something unique that won't go over people's heads. If you want to get my attention do something different–and when I say “something different” I don't mean if you see me across the street you let a bus hit you while singing and go, "here's my demo." I'm saying just do something different, because my ears are numb to “ordinary" and only the really significant stuff stands out.
How important is the live show?
It's very important, because I have to see if you're able to entertain a crowd of three, a crowd of a hundred or a crowd of a thousand. I always like to see an act perform, in fact, I have to fly out in a couple of days to see an act who is on no one's radar–no buzz, just some really great songs and this is the first show they're going to be performing in a long time. The beauty in working with Atlantic is that I'm heavily involved in the artist development aspect, which begins in trying to find the areas they can improve on.
You've been in the game for a while. What keeps you excited and thirsty for new talent?
Their approach... Everybody can sing about the same things–it's all about perspective. As far as street rappers go, everyone has a street story, but I gauge it off perspective: it's one thing to say what you've done this, done that, but how you say is another thing completely. That's why I'm intruiged with the Young Thug movement, because it's totally left-of-center street. I think artists aren't taking advantage of how open-minded audiences are today. This is the Shuffle era: listeners go from Coldplay to Drake to Lykke Li to Hanz Zimmerman, and artist don't take advantage of that–they play it safe as hell. What’s got me excited is approach and perspective and how that translates on a musical scale.
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