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Escape Artist

Patrick Mamou exercises his options.

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Patrick Mamou has his own conventional wisdom when it comes to the music business, and it doesn’t include sitting around waiting for a knock on the door. On a balmy day in late October, the 31-year-old owner of One Soul Entertainment is in New York meeting with representatives from Sony and Universal records about his top artist, a sultry young soul singer named Tenille.

“My philosophy with everything,” he says, “is options.” Independent success is important, he says, but it should only be a means to an end — getting hooked up with the big leagues. It’s important to create an “independent buzz,” he says, “or having an independent game plan that a major label can chime right in with.

“There is little to no artist development with major labels anymore,” he says. “Turning a profit is so important that their interest has turned away from developing major artists for long-term careers. To work with that, you play into it to a certain degree. I think ‘marketing’ all the time. You have to market the talent, and you have to have talent to market.”

Mamou seems less concerned with what genre his artist Tenille fits than with pushing the idea that she’s a genuine talent. “Tenille sounds like Tenille,” he’ll tell you if you ask about her music. Originality is important to the record label, he says, because it tells them that the record-purchasing audience will buy it, figuratively and literally.

“Initially they want to know: Is there a truth or quality in an artist, from their personality to their ability to sing or perform on the spot?” he explains. “They want to sell millions of records with an artist who has a quality that people can believe in. Music is entertainment and fantasy delivered to be realistic to the public looking for an escape.”

Mamou was once an entertainer, too. His first performance was rapping at age 13 at a club on Broad Street called The Cellar Door. Two years after he earned a degree in art from William and Mary in 1994, he started a multimember hip-hop band called Jazz Poets Society, an alternative rap group similar to Digable Planets and The Roots. Though they released two CDs, performed live on BET and attracted major label interest, Mamou says he began to realize that the business end was his true calling, and he left the group after six years to develop other talent. “That’s what I did with my group,” he says. “I just wanted to do it with others.”

It’s a joke with Mamou’s circle of friends for them to call him “Diddy,” after the producer Sean Combs. Mostly it’s just an inside thing that comes from the first letter of his name and the fact that he’s in the music business. But there’s a truth there, too, in terms of philosophy, and Mamou will be the first to admit that he admires P-Diddy’s style. “Like him and Russell Simmons,” he says, “they all had a certain vision in how they marketed their artists and companies, and ultimately themselves — options.” S

Hip-hop in the 804 ...

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