Some artists make a conscious decision to make music. Others, by a stroke of fate, or some other force from without, just happen to be at the right place at the right time with the right mix of skill and hustle; they make the music they make simply because nobody else could. LA’s Damian “Te-Money” Jackson is the latter. Te-Money was tried as an adult at the age of 16 and subsequently spent from ’93 to 2000 behind bars, helping to shape the sharp mind that would later pen raps for an impressive list of artists, build the label now known as Konvict Gang and eventually be utilized to create music he hopes will “bring the substance back” to hip hop music, while not becoming irrelevant. Te-Money proves to be a well rounded man, with skills that extend across the gamut needed to function in the music industry today, both behind the scenes and on stage. Te began his work in the music industry as a businessman, but, sparked by the untimely and quite unfortunate death of Te’s rapper Dolla, who was more like a son and a brother, Te-Money found himself in a position to blend his skill set from executive to artist in order to carry on the unrealized dream he and Dolla had dreamt. Te-Money took some time out of his busy schedule on the east coast this week to share the dream.
1. Who is Te-Money?
Te-Money is, you know, just a kid that was born and raised in Los Angeles, California pretty much.
2. How long has Te-Money been active in the hip hop game?
I’ve actually been involved in music since 2000 when I was released from jail. I started writing music when I was incarcerated – I got tried as an adult when I was 16 years old and started writing music in jail. When I got out in 2000, I [served time] from ’93 to 2000, that’s when I pretty much got involved in music, in 2000.
3. What has your history in the industry been like?
I was introduced through one of my neighborhood friends, well, he’s a little bit older than me, his name is D Mac. [D Mac] was around Puff (S.Combs) a lot, like he did a lot of business with Puff, he had an artist named Mark Curry that was signed with Puff. And actually Loon was signed to Bad Boy [too], he was back and forth when he was younger, between LA and New York, he was from New York, from Harlem, but he was raised in both places. You know he was kinda like a troubled kid, so he lived in LA and he grew up in my neighborhood, was back and forth, and was working with Puff. So I kinda was around Puff and I started writing for a group called the Lil Razkalz, which consists of Dolla, Scrap and Sas – Dolla’s the kid that got killed at the Beverly Center. [Dolla] actually ended up getting signed to me after, well after the group kinda, they didn’t break up but the deal with Silvia, she signed ‘em, and when she left Warner Bros. or whatever the case may be, the [group] broke up and [Dolla] ended up moving to LA with me when he was like 15. Then I started a company called The Gang Entertainment and, you know, we started working and ended up getting a deal and doing a joint venture with Akon and 50 Cent, and we ended up gettin’ a distribution deal with Kon Live. I started out on the business side, I wasn’t always an artist, you know.
4. As you just said, you started behind the scenes on the business side of things, and now you are also a recording artist. What called you to front and center from behind the scenes?
Well, what transitioned me, you know, was [Dolla] gettin killed, him passin at an early age, and us having a vision and a plan to be successful and us having a company we were trying to build, which was The Gang Entertainment. We had a lot of plans and wanted to sign other acts and [do some] other things together and I just felt that because he was more like my son that [I couldn’t just replace him with another artist]. I pretty much kinda like raised him, I had been around him since he was in the group (Lil Razkalz) since he was like 12/13 years old and he moved to LA with me when he was like 15, so he was more like my son than my artist… I never even introduced him to people as like, “this is my artist”. I was always more like, “this is my brother”. Like when you, especially in the streets, but corporate wise [as well], people knew what it was, so everybody who need to know, they knew. The people that was around in the streets or whatever knew like, that’s Te-Money’s little brother. So there was no need to explain myself. It wasn’t like I could go get [some]body else and sign them you know, it just didn’t feel right at that time, and it still… you know you cant, when you that close to somebody, it’s hard to go get somebody else and just keep going and saying “you’re my artist now” and this and that. Because we were friends. We were brothers, we were friends, he was like my son, we were family. It’s not like someone I met on the street and was like, “you’re talented so hey come on and come fuck wit me, and you know I’m gon’ sign you and get you a deal”. So, I felt like the only person that can do it is pretty much me.
5. You recently released a couple of great singles, the most current was called Real Eyes. What was the inspiration behind this track?
[It] came from me thinking about people recognizing what’s real and what’s not real. So I had the beat, listened to the beat or whatever, and there’s a kid, a kid named, Siree the Kid who wrote the hook. I wrote my verses, but he wrote the hook and we came up with it together, you know, we sat in there together and came up with the concept of looking… through somebody’s eyes and recognizing real things. The Kid is real talented and that’s how we came up with that song you know.
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6. A couple of weeks ago, you released a track featuring Fab and Akon, called Salute. What, or who, is being saluted?
Just the real people in society and in the streets period. We’re saluting everybody that we feel like, is real… everybody that’s real.
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7. What is your relationship to Akon?
Man, that’s like my brother. I’ve been knowing Akon for about 12, 13 years. You know, he’s always been around, you know like I said [I did] the joint venture with him and Dolla and we’ve always been cool beyond the music. Like before Akon was AKON, he was just a talented dude and we always believed in him. I am from LA and he’s from, well he has been in Atlanta for a long time, he’s actually from Senegal or whatever, but when he used to come to LA we would like [work] together or whatever; he’s just been real supportive. Besides anything, at the end of the day, that’s my brother. Beyond the music, if this shit doesn’t work, if Akon never got famous, he’d still be running around doin’ what we do tryin’ to get some money some how some way.
8. Can you tell us a bit about Konvict Gang?
The Konvict Gang thing came up, because like I told you about The Gang Entertainment, me and Dolla’s company, and Akon had [already had] the Konvict thing and when Dolla died we were still trying to keep everything going so we came up with the concept of the Konvict Gang. That’s where that extended from, from my vision [with Dolla] and Akon already having a company that was established.
9. What is the aim/focus of Konvict Gang?
Really the purpose of it is, we’re trying to bring substance back to music. There’s a lot of nonsense, and I don’t want to contradict myself – I do have songs that’s fun you know – but more of my songs are story telling and have substance. You know there’s a lot of kids that’s never left the hood before, that’s never been on an airplane before and you have all these people that’s talkin’ about all this money, and these boats, and these jets and these kids have never seen that. There’s still teenage pregnancy, there’s still crackhead mothers and jailbird daddies, and crackhead daddies and jailbird moms. You know, that’s still going on and in every generation we’re gonna have that. Like, everybody’s not as fortunate, I wasn’t one of those fortunate kids, I [just] had the opportunity to come out of it and I did. I just took the opportunity, and even after being through everything that I’ve been through, I still found a way to come out on top. I had a lot of help. A lot of these kids is just hearing this bullshit and then having aspirations of being drug dealers and, you know, [and] some of them are going to turn out like that. Some of them, that’s all that they’ve seen. It’s not they fault when they grew up in it, and in that type of environment. As a kid, you know, this is what they were born into. The only people we can fault is, I guess the parents, for not doing what they have to do in order for their kids to have [better] situations growing up in areas where this is not going on, or where they don’t see these things. But even those people have problems also. Our music, or anyone that I’m signing or dealing with, we’re trying to have real substance. And, of course, we’re gonna have those fun songs because we are humans. We go through those things, we go to the strip clubs, we go through problems and we have those ups and downs, so were gonna have that type of music because we talk about the things we see and what we’ve been through. So, of course we’re gonna have those type of songs, but all around, we’re just trying to bring substance back to the music.
10. Your music definitely has some depth to it. What inspires you to put a little more thought into your music than some others we might hear in the mainstream?
Well, there’s the substance records like Keep Ya Head Up and Dear Mama and then there’s the drop it down and shake your pussy songs, those are the type of songs that don’t have any substance. But, I’ve always been a person of substance because of where I grew up at, and this is what I’ve seen. I wasn’t a fortunate kid, therefore, this is what I have in my mind mentally, and I’m just expressing myself through the music or whatever the case may be. So that’s what keeps me in my lane, in the lane of wanting to bring the substance back into the music. The one person that is bringing substance back to the music, as far as I can say, is Kendrick Lamar. A lot of people slept on Kendrick, and what’d he do, 240k his first week without a radio hit? Because of the substance. You have people that’s ready for that, you have people that want to hear that because everybody’s not rich and everybody don’t know how to pop a bottle, or throw money in the strip club. I know kids that ain’t never been on an airplane before and they’re like 20 somethin, 30 somethin years old and they’re like “man, I ain’t ever even left my hood”.
11. Who are some of the executives and artists that have inspired you as you have grown in both of those realms?
Man, the record execs and the artists that I look at, that’ve helped me grow, that I look up to and that I could sit at the table with and learn a lot from is: Puff, 50, Ice Cube, Jay-Z, Tupac, Eazy-E, of course Akon, Bu (‘kon’s little brother), and Devine Stevens. Bu is an executive, Devine is good at what he does, he’s an executive, Akon is an executive and an artist, Ice Cube [helped start] gangsta rap and is doing movies, comedies. I don’t know one other person who can put out a comedy and a gangsta rap album in the same year and we believe him, you know. You have Jay-Z, he’s a great artist and an executive, you know 50, it looked like 50 came up so fast but he’s been grinding for a long time, look at the moves he’s made. You know, Puff is a genius at what he does. So, those are they type of people that have influenced me and I don’t think that they’re that different from me. And Oprah, she’s from the ghetto, from the hood, and look at what she’s done. Those are the type of people that I look up to. I’m no different from them, now it’s just puttin’ forth the effort and doing what I say I’m gonna do, or at least try. It’s not about how many times you fall, it’s about how many times you get back up.
12. Three emcees every rapper must be familiar with?
Sheesh. It’s gonna be more than three, the rappers that everybody should know? Okay, everybody should know: Tupac, Biggie Smalls, Jay-Z, Ice Cube, Eazy-E, Slick Rick, Doug E. Fresh, Run DMC, Rakim, KRS-One. Everybody should know them.
13. You have worked/collaborated with so many great artists; who have been some of the best artists to work with and why?
I mean, of course Akon is always a blessing to work with. That dude is so talented, whether he is doin’ some raggaeton, or some urban music. Yo Gotti, he’s dope as an artist man, you know, he keeps it one hundred. And of course Dolla. Loon was awesome to work with. These are people who I’ve been knowin’ and I have had a chance to work with; I haven’t had a chance to work with some of these dudes who’s up and coming and stuff man. People might not know too much about this dude, but Lil Zane was talented, I had a chance to work with him. That’s about it, a lot of stuff I do, I keep in house – Money J he’s signed to Konvict, Swift, Verse Simmonds – all of these dudes are talented man, I just think they haven’t really got a chance to [expose their talent to the masses]. Rock City, I’ve worked with them, they’re really dope and have done work with some of my pop groups and stuff like that.
14. As you move forward, who are some artists you hope to work with?
Cube and 50. Those are two people that I really, really want to work with.
15. Rappers always get love and recognition, but producers/beatsmiths often stay in the shadows. Three producers every hip hop fan has to be familiar with?
You know what’s so funny is, a lot of the producers, a lot of the people doing beats [even for some big songs] aren’t known. But of course like Dr. Dre, Polo da Don, and whatever, but there’s also a lot of producers that people don’t know like Slade da Monster, The Honorable C-Note, Evil G, these are producers that, and they have placements, but other people put their name on stuff or they’re signed up under some of the big producers or whatever the case may be, but C and Monstrosity, these are great, great producers. Actually, ‘Kon is a producer, he’s a real dope producer. But, I think I want to give like Honorable C-Note, Evil G, and Slade da Monster credit.
16. Who are some producers you hope to collaborate with in the future?
Honestly, I wouldn’t care if I worked with a big name producer or not. I want to stick with Honorable C-Note, Evil G and Slade da Monster. I want to keep it like that.
17. Why don’t closed mouths get fed?
Man, because everybody needs help at times and a lot of people let their pride get in the way… I just feel like if you need something, regardless of whether you feel you should or you shouldn’t, you should just ask. The only thing a person can tell you is “no”. We’ve all heard no before and [then] you can find another way to get it. But if you never ask, some people are not the type of people to just give, there’s some people you just have to ask. The whole concept of [my mixtape], Closed Mouths Don’t Get Fed, was, I felt like everyone was telling me I should do an album because I was writing for so many people and doing so much work for so many people, they were like you should do it. I was like, “shit, I’m gonna start rappin’ my ass off and, if I don’t, I’m not gonna get no money!”
18. What were some of the highlights of creating your forthcoming project, “Closed Mouths Don’t Get Fed”?
Every time I’m in the studio is a highlight. Just the creativity, with people that’s known and not known, from Akon to the producers. It’s a creative moment man. I think every moment in the studio, or creating a song, is a highlight because you just never know what you’re gonna come up with. For me, it’s a group thing. I’ve seen Puff do this a lot, like I told you he’s a genius, you put ten people in the studio with a beat and everybody hears different sounds, and different lyrics and a beat gives everybody a different feeling. One person might come up with something and another person comes up with something else. I’m just one of those people who likes [those] creative moments. So, sometimes I just go to the studio by myself and I’ll come up with a song and sometimes I’ll take four or five people with me, from singers to rappers and they’ll be like, this is what I hear. I think every time I’m in the studio is a highlight.
19. When’s the project drop?
Within the next month for sure.
20. Final words/thoughts on the current state of hip hop?
Right now? It’s bullshit.
To be honest with you, I’m not diggin’ it right now; there’s no substance in the music. We gonna try to revive it, we gonna try to bring hip hop back. Like I said, there’s a few individuals [on the same tip], but it’s just like the hip hop scene is whack right now. There’s a lot of people out right now that didn’t really live this, you know, they’re tellin’ somebody else’ story. As a whole though, it’s garbage right now and everybody’s talkin’ about bullshit right now, you know. And the next person can have their personal opinion about my shit when it comes out and about hip hop, but the way I feel about hip hop right now, it’s terrible.
Te-Money boasts an impressive resume in hip hop and has the makings of an even more impressive future. He has been shaped for this moment here and now and the world is watching. Will he bring substance back to hip hop and realize the dream he and Dolla began dreaming years ago? Time will tell. One thing is for sure, no one else can carry his torch, so he marches into the future with a Dolla and dream.
Check out Te-Money’s Souncloud.com page HERE
Peace and Love,