Strange Music has billed itself as the prime example of possibilities within independent Hip Hop. For the past decade, the Kansas City-based label home to Tech N9ne and Krizz Kaliko has become a multi-million dollar empire. However, things weren’t always what they seemed if Kutt Calhoun has anything to say about it. He shocked fans of the label last year when he decided to part ways with the storied crew. Months later, Calhoun dropped a YouTube video providing insight into his decision along with an accompanying freestyle.
Shifting focus, Calhoun has found inspiration in his own upstart, Black Gold. Named after his last release on Strange Music in 2013, the emcee hopes to take all the lessons learned there while making a way for himself.
Speaking with DX, Calhoun discusses the process of leaving Strange Music, how much he made before and after his time with the label and his own venture Black Gold.
Kutt Calhoun Explains Leaving Strange Music
DX: I saw the video some time ago where you explained your relationship with Strange Music. The news of you leaving the label has been around since later last year. What made you come out with the video now?
Kutt Calhoun: Well, you know, what made me come out with the video now was that I had to get things together on my end. I started trying to pick beats and it took me a while. Finding the right beats because everyone and their momma wanted to send me beats but, that didn’t mean everything was good. The first thing I was doing was getting my Black Gold Entertainment; getting the business part of it taken care of. At the same time, I was also picking beats and formulating the right theme for my EP. Just trying to get business taken care of. Once that started flowing smoothly I’m like now these fans are waiting on music and want to know what’s going on. I was trying to keep them updated through little videos on Instagram but now it got to a point to where I did my photoshoot, got my press photos, media photos and stuff together. Now, I’m like I have to put something out there and give them an explanation on what’s going on. Especially the diehard fans, they deserve an explanation for those who have been there since day one. I want to give them an explanation and at the same time let the new fans that may not know who I am or Tech fans who think it was a bad move for me to leave Strange Music because they don’t know. I wanted to kind-of like clear the air with an explanation. I wanted to do this professionally so I met up with my dude who did the photoshoot and shot the video. It was just about timing. I put out the freestyle first and the second was the explanation video. I was just trying to bring everyone up-to-date and let everyone know I got new music coming out. Also, just letting everyone know why I left Strange Music. The fans deserved to know that.
DX: At this point, Strange Music is pretty huge in terms of being an independent label. When was the moment where you actually made that decision to leave? Any doubts?
Kutt Calhoun: No, I never doubted it at all. Maybe if I was a newer artists signed to Strange Music around 2010, 2011, or 2012. But, I’ve been with Strange since the beginning. I’ve been there and helped build the corporation from the ground up. So, I know all the ins and outs and been apart of everything that took Strange Music to where it is. I didn’t have any doubt at all, I knew exactly why I was leaving, the reason for leaving and if everything would have been straight I would have stayed. When I made that clear minded decision that was kind-of long overdue, I was waiting sitting stagnant hoping things would get better for me before I got to the realization that it wasn’t going to happen. We’re just getting older each day and when I made that decision, it was very clear minded. I 100 percent stuck to the decision I made and was definitely ready. I wasn’t shaky about it or anything or hesitant. No worry about whether or not I made the right or wrong move. Not at all, not at all.
DX: That had to be hard to leave considering the friendship you had with Travis, Tech and Strange Music. What was that conversation like after telling them you wanted out?
Kutt Calhoun: It actually happened via email because Tech and them were on the road. Travis is busier than a one legged man in an ass kicking contest so it’s hard to get in contact with him. When I actually made the decision to do so, Travis was out of the office and he had a voicemail stating he was going to be out for some dates. I left my message on what I wanted to do and put in my resignation with the secretary or assistant with Strange. She was like that’s something I’m going to have to talk with Travis on. I left a message, emailed her and CC’d Travis and whatnot. So, everything that went down was not face-to-face via email which was probably best. Did it get heated? It didn’t get heated at all. I stayed very professional and the reasons for me leaving. I explained why I was leaving and what I wanted to happen. It took a while because Travis took some time to produce the right papers and get everything straight on his end. Once everything was finalized, there was no issue. There was no misunderstanding on anything. No fighting or bad words at each other. Had we been face-to-face, the outcome probably would’ve been the same. But, you know, I can only speak for myself. Things didn’t get heated but was it mutual?
I’ll say this, I had a meeting with Travis a few months before that, earlier in the year last year, and I sat down and had a meeting to where I almost brought up the same thing, like “This how I feel.” And so… am I not wanted on Strange Music? And at the end of that meeting, which was probably like an hour and half long — close to two hours, Travis was like, “No! I mean, Kutt if you’re asking me, no I don’t want you to leave the label.” But it contradicted was I was [doing], you know what I’m saying, it wasn’t fair kinda contradicting when I was dealing and what I was receiving on my end. And so that got left there, where a few more months went past and I’m just like, “You know what, what went down at the meeting is not matched up with what was said and how I’m still feeling and the props I’m getting. And so that’s when I just decided to be like, “You know what, it’s time for me to do what’d be best. It’s for my wellbeing and for my best interests in me to go ahead and leave.” So when I say it’s mutual, I would say quietly it was mutual, because I’d been hearing little things… not negative… but just little things to where I can get the hint of like we’re still doing Kutt Calhoun’s shit. They’re claiming I haven’t recouped my album and it doesn’t make sense business wise to keep putting out Kutt Calhoun material if he’s not recouping and we’re losing money.
These are the things that I’ve been hearing over the years, but at the same time in person, you get told a different thing. And I wasn’t understanding that, you know, because the things that are going on — the backup promotion and marketing that was done as an individual artist for myself — is the majority of the reason why album sales weren’t up to par to where they could of been. And that goes for all the artists, besides Tech, on that label. But I can only speak for myself so, when I was hearing things like this, I just was like “What the hell are they talking about?” I know exactly why we’ve had [?]. I’d say, “This is why the albums stop recouping because you’re not putting the same energy, effort nor finance behind my project, that you would put behind Tech’s.” Whatever we did to get Tech to the point to where he’s at now, that’s the same thing you have to do for each artist on that label, whether it’s a group or an individual artist. And if you guys don’t put that energy, that finance, that same promoting and marketing into each individual, you’re not going to get the same result.
You can’t just put minimal finance or backing behind an artist and expect the same result that you would [piping] 10 times more into another particular artist. And so, with that being said, when I was hearing that and getting richer off this and that, I was baffled, I was dumbfounded by it ‘cause it didn’t make sense. Like, well you know what, if you wanna see your album sell more, or if you wanna generate more cash from album sales, this is what you need to do. But these are things that were already talked about, so I didn’t understand why they were being said. That played a lot of part in why I ended up choosing to leave as well because I’m like, this is not matching up. I’m hearing this, then when I talk face to face, it’s a whole different language and a whole different ball game. But then at the end it’s the same result of me feeling how I’m feeling. So, you know, all that stuff then combined had a lot to do with why I left.
Kutt Calhoun Breaks Down How Much He Received On Strange Music
DX: Explain to me how exactly Strange Music works, considering you’ve been there since the beginning and now you were there when it was a smart entity. How did it get to the point where it is today and where do you into that mold?
Kutt Calhoun: We got to where it is today. I remember Tech just before Travis was around or heard of or anything. So this was late ‘98, early ‘99 when I ran into Tech N9ne in a recording studio, in Icy Rock’s recording studio. And Icy Rock was Tech’s deejay as well as producer when Tech was in what they called Nnutthowze. And all Kansas City based. Kansas City, Missouri based. And we were recording in the same studio, which was Icey Rock’s house, down in the basement. And I ran into Tech, he liked my style, he liked my music, he asked me if I wanted to do shows with him. And of course I said yes. Then it started out with me just doing shows with him, locally and regionally, around Kansas City and surrounding cities around it. And it led up to us meeting Travis. Travis, which was the investor, he was the financial backing, he was the one that got Tech out of his deals with Warner Brothers and QD3 and Midwestside. Travis provided the income and the financial backing to get Tech outta these messed up deals, or should I say these fucked up deals. So, with that being said, Tech had the idea of Strange Music. He had the idea for the symbol of Strange Music and what it meant, what it stood for, and this is the foundation of it. So Travis was the guy who was able to make, what was in Tech’s head, true. Ok, cool. So now it’s Tech, myself and Grant Rice. And it’s the 3 of us doing these regional shows, locally, to surrounding cities of Kansas City, and we’re doing these shows and what it was was Travis was putting the money in for the travel.
We was given gas, a travel here and there, hotel rooms, and we started making merchandise. The first Tech N9ne Strange Music shirt, we was making those. It was about merch, it was about doing shows, and then Krizz Kaliko came along — so now it’s four of us on stage. And, I will say this, Travis funded all of that. Travis was already a self made millionaire when we met him so it was no problem for him to fund all this stuff. And so [?] started out. So we started generating money from shows because now these shows starting to turn into sellouts because of the performance on stage. Shortly after, Grant Rice was no longer a part of being on stage with us, but now it’s me, Tech and Kaliko. And so still in the early stages, myself, Tech, and Kaliko were the reason these shows were selling out. These weren’t selling out because of the music, these shows were selling out because of the entertainment that we provided on stage. Word of mouth — you guys gotta go to the Tech N9ne show, the show is better than anything you’ve ever seen. And when you put it like that man, it leads to all these sellouts. Yeah, I played a maaajor part… if Strange Music was built on making this money from touring and selling out shows and selling merchandise, then there’s Tech’s name was on the merchandise in the beginning because he’s the posterchild. He’s the creator of Strange Music so we’re all acting and supporting Tech. Myself and Krizz Kaliko are individual artists but we are on stage hyping Tech, along with doing some our own music, hyping Tech and supporting Tech.
We built Tech up to as high as he can be, to this pinnacle. And so, all this stemmed from shows, the entertainment, shows, word of mouth. Word of mouth lead to sellouts and sellouts lead to sellouts everywhere else. And, you know, the more the sellouts the bigger the audience is. The bigger the auditoriums… the bigger the venue leads to more money, more merch being sold. That lead from going to the basement of Travis’s house to a small warehouse. And then that lead to getting the warehouse expended, and then that lead to now we in a $2 million warehouse. We got workers in there working daily on shipping stuff out over the internet. We’re making so much money off of merch, and then the touring money… It all stems from merch and touring. The idea of making money off of records… From 2000, when Strange was established, until 2007 or almost ‘8, there was no money made off of album sales. Tech didn’t start making money off album sales ‘til like 2007–2008. Right around Everready or The Gates Mixed Plate. You know? Myself, Krizz and Tech are the reason that Strange was successful. Of course Travis was funding a lot of this stuff in the mud but the money we were generating on tour, and the merch that was being sold, he would say that he was putting it all back into the business, which was what you supposed to do, you reinvest, but at the end of the day man I’m one third of the reason why Strange reached a success rate of where it’s at now.
That doesn’t take away from Tech’s talent or anything, because he’s always been talented, but I’m just saying all this to say no money was generated from music actual album sales until 2007 or ‘8. Granted, we’d been doing this since 2000, so when I say that I played a major part in where Strange has come to now, yes. And if anybody else denies that, they gon’ be lying, you know? That’s why I put out that video, because of my fans didn’t know. People thinking that I’m just hating and I’m leaving and I’m bitter, which is not the truth. That’s why I had to explain like, “Hold up so y’all don’t know?” I’ve been around since before there was a Trav or Strange Music. So I everything it took to lead up until this point.
And did I play a major part? Yes I did, I played a third of the part because it was three of us that we’re selling these shows out, or helping Tech selling these shows out. Had Tech been on stage by himself, it wouldn’t have been sellouts like that! It wouldn’t have been too much to talk about. I mean you got a guy that can rap his ass off, he’s dope and he’s talented, but it wouldn’t have looked the same. The reason that people come to these shows is because the three of us had our own individual lanes that we were in but it all combined to make for a great show. So yeah man I had a major part to do with that and I just was wanting to let the fans know. Am I bitter? I mean, I ask you this: Would you be bitter if you were at a job, and you worked from the ground up from the start of a business, and then it reached a success and you never got promoted, and you never got paid what you were supposed to be getting paid, and then at the end of the day you don’t get [time]. You just feel like man if I stay here I’m never gonna progress, I’m never gonna get promoted. You can call it bitter all you want to but I just call it like: I’ve had enough to where I’m not gonna let this get done to me no more. So bitter? People can say bitter but I just say: I’ve reached the point of I had enough and I’m not gonna continue to get bent over and fucked with no Vaseline. That’s how I look at it.
DX: So if you can tell me… How much were you making in the beginning of Strange and then how much did you make by the time you left? And then how much were you supposed to get?
Kutt Calhoun: Ohhh boy. [Laughs] You asking some good questions man. I’ll tell you this Ural: I was making… Compared to what I should’ve been making, I was making crumbs on the label. And I say crumbs because if people actually knew the dollar amount that myself and Kaliko made versus what Tech made, or what Strange Music brought in, they mouths would drop to the floor. I can tell you we started in 2000 getting $100 a show. And I can tell you this: that lasted ‘til about 2004. We was getting $100 a show and then it went up to $250. So 2004 ‘til maybe 2007, you know, it went up to maybe 300. People probably thinking we getting $1,000 or more a show. And so we were in the low 100’s man and I’ll just say this: By the time I left Strange Music and resigned I only had a couple hundred dollars more than that. And I won’t give the dollar amount but, you know, just me saying that will make people’s mouths drop. For what was being made per show with these sellouts, and merch, and all of this stuff, and for what? The part I played, and you know, being a reason why.
Do you want the reasons why these shows are sellouts everywhere? It should’ve been three or four times more than I was getting paid. So I’ll just leave it at that. But then I’ll also say: While I was still signed to Strange, and when I was going out on solo tours with Johnny Richter of Kottonmouth Kings, and with Hed PE, I was getting paid double what I was getting paid when I was with strange. And that’s just out there by myself. And I wasn’t doing 15–16 straight days in a row, true that, but just one show was three times the pay with the label I was on, doing it by myself. And to this day, I get paid three–four times more than I ever did being on that label. I think that’s just absolutely backwards. If I can go out there and get paid for a solo show, but I’m opening up for being a headliner on my own… If I can get paid three times more than what I did on the label, and the business I’m with is bringing in $11, $7, $8, $9 and $10 million dollar a year, it just doesn’t make sense to me.
No matter how much you wanna say you’re reinvesting and putting it back into merch and this and that, that doesn’t take away what’s being made per show and then what’s being paid out to me. I’m not even gonna put anyone else in it. What’s being put out to me — knowing that I’ve been told that you’re this or you should be getting that, when the label has tried to get verses or shows for me in the past, they shoot for the high prices saying this is what I deserve. But when I go out on the tour with the label, and we’re doing these sold out shows everywhere, and you getting so much per show — why am I getting crumbs, the thinnest? To this day that still baffles me, I don’t understand it. So yeah I get paid three to four times more doing stuff on my own than I was getting paid ever while I was doing business with that label.
Kutt Calhoun Discusses His Own Black Gold Label
DX: Your last project was Black Gold. Was the situation around that album the beginning of your feelings at that point?
Kutt Calhoun: Yeah, when I look at it now Ural, I look at it — Black Gold to me was some of my best work, I’m ensured a lot — [concept] matter, things I was talking about. I’m ensured a lot, and I got a lot of the same feedback from fans like each album kept getting better and better. You got fans out there that, you know, they like my first album a whole lot or my second album a whole lot. But for the masses and ratio, [everybody] agrees that Black Gold was my best work to date. And when I look at it now man, I was in the zone on Black Gold, I’m like: this is the path that’s taken me to where I wanna be going. Unfortunate that I had to leave the label because I felt like, you know, if I stayed there then I wouldn’t be going towards my goal or going towards the path I wanted to, but since I’ve broken away from Strange, I feel like Black Gold was the foundation of a new start of where I’m tryna go. And then it also turned out to be the name of my label, Black Gold Entertainment, and for what Black Gold stands for to me, was nothing more than the perfect name that represents me and what I’m tryna do with myself as a individual artist and also as a label for other upcoming talented artists out there.
DX: So you got your label Black Gold, what’s your plan?
Kutt Calhoun: My plan is to, now that I do have my own business, I gotta put on a different head. I’m no longer an artist, I’m a artists who know now… My plan is to achieve the success past where my standard success is. And I got the tools and knowledge to do that and, like I said, it’s to go past where I’ve already been. There’s no need to go backwards. It to go past where I’ve already been and I do appreciate Strange helping get my name out there. They did do that, me being on Strange Music has put the Kutt Calhoun fans out abroad, all over the world. I ain’t gonna say United States, there’s people in Australia, Switzerland, all that stuff, that know about Kutt Calhoun. I will say Strange had a lot to do with that. But at the same time, I don’t feel like I owe Strange anything because I worked just as hard as Tech or whoever else on that label to achieve that notoriety or celebrity. So I worked hard for my name being out there. Strange helped, with it being a label that grew as big as it did, being a part of it helped me achieve that. Not only did I work for it, you know what I’m saying, I didn’t get nothing given to me, but being able to be a part of Strange helped get that name out there because we tour more definitely than anybody. You know? We toured maybe more than anybody, even the mainstream people, so Strange played a part in getting that name out there. But at the same time I worked for it too. So with Black Gold, I already got the name, and my goal’s to expand the name to a larger mass. My goal is just to get to a point to where I’ve reached a gratifying success level to where I’on gotta keep rapping man. I’on wanna be 40, you know, late 40s still tryna rap and make it man. I wanna be able to help others out, as far as artists go man. Make them some money, make myself some money as well, and be able to just relax with my family, take vacations and be a daddy, a husband — a family man as well as a businessman too. That’s what my goals are man I don’t wanna be the richest, most wealthiest, most known label in the world but I do wanna be a successful label. And I do wanna be the proof that, you know, that you can get out here and do this thing on your own with the right tools and the proper education, and the determination and the drive, you can be a successful entrepreneur out here. That’s my goal: To show others my trials and tribulations and me prevailing out of them and succeed just as well or even better than I would have with the label I was once with.
DX: You don’t seem really angry or bitter about your situation at Strange. Considering your issues with Strange, what kind of environment was there? Strange doesn’t seem, though the music is wild, like a hostile environment. Though you guys make incredible, wild music, it still seems like there’s a level of respect that you still have for the label…
Kutt Calhoun: I respect Travis’s business mind to the fullest. He’s a brilliant businessman. When it comes to business, he’s at the top of his shit man. You know what I’m saying? He’s a great businessman, I respect his business mind so much because without him Strange wouldn’t have reached to where it’s reached. It ain’t like the artists did that. As far as the business side of it, that’s all Travis — the avenues he opened. I respect Travis, I’m not gonna say Strange Music, I respect Travis as a business. I’ve learned a lot from him. I definitely respect Travis. The environment, you know, never hostile or whatever it is. Believe it or not man, everybody’s kinda down to Earth. [Laughs] If anything, if you heard any of my albums or Red-Headed Stepchild, if anything I was the… After Skatter and Snug left, I was probably the wildest artist on Strange Music. [Laughs] I was the wildest dude, and I’m always the wildest dude, because I’ve been saying that the life I live, and being a street guy man, and gang affiliations and all that stuff, nothing [?] but that just made me who I was. I was just me, you know what I’m saying, and everybody knew who I was when they met me — Tech knew who I was, Travis, everybody knew who I was — and my lifestyle was just a little bit different. Tech’s lifestyle wasn’t like mine, even though he’s a member of the Rogue Dog Villians or whatever, Tech didn’t partake in the things that they did.
Now they was some wild m’fuckas too, you know what I’m saying, a lot of fighting, a lot of hard, grimy horse-playing and shit. You know, street shit. Tech wasn’t that, Tech has always been his own guy. If anybody was on the right side, Tech was the left guy. And you can’t take nothing from that, you can’t blame a person because they don’t have a criminal record. You can’t be like, “Aw man he ain’t down ‘cause he ain’t do nothing wrong.” You can’t… A person gon’ be who they are. I’m just telling you why I felt he stuck out ‘cause I was that guy — going to jail, getting in trouble, been shot, fighting, this and that. You know. That doesn’t mean I’m better than anybody. That’s just who I was. Kaliko, his upbringing, he had his trials and tribulations he went through far as you hear his music being teased and jumped on or picked on, because of how he looks, because of the vitiligo. He’s had his things that he’s went through, but if you wanna talk about a rough upbringing, that would probably be what he would talk about — having to fight every day, be witty with his words, and now with people tryn’a talk shit and crack on him.
But far as anything related to anything on the streets or whatever, I don’t think it would be in comparison with mine. And the same is with Tech. So not hostile at all but if anybody was considered the wild guy, or the one that kinda broke the rules, it would be me. And I don’t glorify that or think that that’s nothing to be proud of… But I am me. I just am who I am but the environment is not hostile at all man. Tech is actually one of the nicest guys you can meet, the same with Kaliko, he’s one of the nicest guys you can meet, and me, I’m one of the nicest, most humble guys you gon’ ever meet — I think to a degree to where I’m more humble and approachable than their own guys. Everybody’s nice man but if it came down to it, you know what I’m saying, I may do some things they may choose not to just because of my mentality. But everybody’s nice and humble and kinda respectable to each other. Yeah, so it’s a very organized and humble environment in Strange.
DX: What’s going on with you and music man? Are you working on a project, anything like that?
Kutt Calhoun: Yeah right now I’m doing a EP man. I want it released by May or maybe June. I’m working on a EP… the name of it… I believe, if I’m not mistaken man, it’s gonna be called Kutting Loose. And that’s also just another extension of getting the fans a little insight on how I feel and why I left Strange and where I’m going from here on out with my music and with my life and with my career. And so that’s what I’m working on now man, I’m working on the EP. I’ve got quite a few songs recorded and, like I said, I got a tour coming up where I can get back out there and find these fans that ain’t seen me in a while and I’m going from there man. I’m just handling it one move at a time, slowly but surely. But the foundation for making sure all that’s done and with our people in there.
DX: So how exactly do you put together an EP? Especially by yourself now, considering you come from… You’re kind of going from one…
Kutt Calhoun: The only difference is now that I pay for everything. [Laughs] Instead of the label taking care of it. Basically I pay for, out of my own anyway, ‘cause you gotta pay that back with say the albums or the EP units that you do sell. You gotta recoup it and then they can pay money back. It’s a little bit more easier that way because now you don’t gotta trip. You can still get money from touring but you got time to wait in between one of your EP, how many units or how many albums you sell, they’ll make their money back and you’ll recoup on that and then you can go forward from there. So now though the difference is that I pay for the beats, I’m paying for the studio time, I’m paying for the artwork, I’m paying for it to get mixed and mastered, and all that stuff. That is the only difference. But far as making an EP or an album and shit, it’s the same formula man. You get beats, you listen to beats, and you pick the beats that you feel, that your soul feels, you pick those beats and you write to ‘em, and you write your heart. You know what I’m saying? Once you write your heart on there, then you go to the studio and you record it, and you make sure that it’s the same or even better — I would say better because I always wanna get better — better than your last song you did or better than your last project you did. So it’s not really hard putting it together it’s just a matter of, you know, handling your business part of it. Getting your stuff published, getting your publishing taken care of, and paying for it… Doing the necessary steps it takes to be able to put it out. Because the recording and writing part for the artist is the easy part, but now you’re jumping to the business side. You gotta handle the business it takes to be able to get the artwork done and get the CD’s pressed up, and you gonna do it all [with your own road]. You gotta deal with the distribution or do you wanna go this way and do it by yourself? Are you gonna make cases for it? Is it just gonna be digital only coming? So once you get those things out the way, man it’s really nothing putting together a EP. It’s just about being able to pay for what needs to be paid for.
DX: Will we ever see Kutt Calhoun work again with Tech N9ne or even Kaliko?
Kutt Calhoun: Aw, everybody’s… Not everybody, but people have been asking that. When I first was leaving Strange, Tech was like, “Man, we’re gon’ seal this and get this together man, you know what I’m saying,” Travis hasn’t said anything to me about it. But, you know, that is still yet to be seen man. I would have no problem doing anything with anybody on that label. It’s like I said, it’s nothing personal with anybody, one particular person on there, it was just all business. I didn’t agree with the business and I felt that I could do a little bit better for myself without being on that label. I’on think that’s any deterrent on who I work with on that label, so I would work with anybody on that label still. This is just a business move… Like Cash Money… Ah I can’t even name them man. All I can say is just because you leave a label doesn’t mean that you cannot work with anybody that’s on that label anymore. Unless it’s something personal with an artist I guess. But I don’t have any personal vendettas with anybody over there, I just made a business choice to do my own business and no longer do business with them. So that is yet to be determined, like I said, I haven’t talked to anybody over on that label. That is yet to be determined but I’m more than open and willing to continue to do stuff down the road with any one of those guys over there.