As President of SRC Marketing Group, James Cruz [click to read] has had a very good year. From a heavy hand in the marketing and branding in the careers of Asher Roth [click to read] and Akon [click to read], Cruz will also be assisting Diddy in his Last Train To Paris campaign. In a conversation with HipHopDX this week, Cruz dismissed notions of a financial drought in the Hip Hop sector.
"From my perspective I firmly believe that this is a great time of opportunity. People are still trying to figure out how the Internet is going to affect our overall, day-to-day growth. What I see is people reinvesting in themselves," noted Cruz enthusiastically from his SRC offices. "I believe in hiring and working with stars, because stars tend to find their own way. And I firmly believe when you see the successes of what Jay-Z has been able to do, what Puffy is doing, Kid Cudi [click to read] and Asher Roth. I think the age demographic is changing. I think the lines between urban and mainstream have been blurred for a long time. But I believe that as society changes and as Hip Hop hits its thirties that we’re changing and we’re maturing and we’re growing and I think that’s good for everybody."
With that said, the veteran manager for the likes of 50 Cent and Missy Elliott professes change in the formulas. "I firmly believe that a lot of the labels have to again change the way that they’re going about doing business and how they’re spending monies." While the viral culture pushes quanity, Cruz insists that quality translates to lasting power. "Things have become a lot cheaper to create, but then some things have lost their texture and their artistry. You know people are doing videos for no money, you know but then you look at, you know if you look at the nominees for MTV [VMAs] and the people that have won, they’ve invested in their look and in their attitude and in their styling in their presence."
Through the success that Cruz achieved in carrying Akon to his latest gold plaque and Roth to six-figure rookie sales, he has reunited with a Rap superstar at another level. "We’re helping launch Diddy’s album, The Last Train to Paris, which is a constant connection to me and Puff for years. He gave me the best advice of my career about [going to] learn management, now I thought he meant literally management of an artist, but he meant management in every way whether it be brands, artists, messaging, management of myself. So that was probably the best advice of my career that I ever got or ever will get, in my opinion, and you know bringing that back to full." Cruz noted that just as artists are collaborating to better their brands, labels should also consider working together for the best strategies possible.
In the Twitter era where aspiring industry tag-alongs are creating start-up's, Cruz values his experience. "There’s strength in marketing, there’s strength at radio, there’s strength on the Internet, there’s strength in terms of team work and chemistry, there’s history, there’s experience and there’s knowing how to win. Why do you trade for a veteran player, 'cause he knows how to win, so him knowing how to win it helps the younger players realize and learn how to win you know and I believe that’s what the record label has a lot of its strengths from – drive."
As a marketing guru, Cruz was asked about the value of Hip Hop advertising, a trend that proved fruitful for Jadakiss' The Last Kiss, despite increasing belief that it's futile. "I’m gonna say two words, two brands and I'ma say it in the liquor space, Ciroc and Nuvo. Nuvo owns so many different videos, so much placement in videos. If you watch, if you go online right now and click on AOL Videos and watch whats going on, you see Nuvo from 50 Cent to T-Pain to Akon, you name it, there you’re gonna see a Nuvo bottle show up in the video. That’s alternative advertising at its best."
Cruz encouraged all Rap artists to remember the value in advertising-based campaigns, adapted to the digital era. "I’m a firm believer that advertising is still important, it’s the advertising medium that’s how you go about marketing it that advertises a product that’s different. Now whether that be a radio giveaway campaign or Internet website or customization campaign or an outdoor ad what works for the brand, but it has to connect the dots, it all has to fit."
"106 & Park is a great show and people watch it for the performances and stuff, but realistically when you wanna watch a video you go online, pop, and it plays right away. But 106 & Park and BET is a brand because of their interviews," added Cruz about how proven programming is still essential to artistic success. Pointing to Terrence J and Rocsi, as well as Angie Martinez on radio, the former Violator exec stressed the importance of worthwhile outlets. "So you know that’s another medium that we’re talking about that’s been exceptional from an advertising standpoint because you’re advertising yourself. Artists have start thinking of themselves as brands and when they, not ever artist is a brand so an artist knows that every medium and every interview and every video and every tour date is an opportunity to sell your brand and what you believe in."
James Cruz is presently at work on Diddy's Last Train To Paris.