I recently had the opportunity to speak with Kevin Lavender Jr. aka VH, President and CEO of independent label Truth Tone Records. In addition to being a label executive and artist, his philanthropic work has positively impacted the community and reinforced the importance of artistic responsibility while exemplifying the true essence of hip hop culture. In this Q&A session, he shares his wisdom and experiences as well as gems that independent artist can use in the process of building their careers. Peep the written interview and listen/download the audio versions below.
Achickwitbeatz: Who Is VH?
Kevin Lavender/VH: VH is Kevin Lavender Jr., born in Atlanta, Georgia '81. Son of a preacher man...son of two hardworking parents...oldest sibling of four. Father, businessman, artist, educator, mentor...that's just part of who I am. VH used to stand for "Verbal Hemlock" from '06 to 2013. Then I changed the meaning of it to "Victory & Honor" aka "Voice from Heaven". I'm not saying I'm God, I'm not saying I'm perfect or The Almighty, but I'm a vessel that He uses to speak through like many other people.
Achickwitbeatz: When did you first discover that you needed music in your life?
Kevin Lavender/VH: Since I was born I think. As far as me personally discovering it, I've been around music my whole life. I have a great musical heritage. I can remember my when my dad put this alto saxophone in my hand when I was in second grade on the stairs at the crib...I'll never forget he opened up the case and he didn't have a reed for it because he had just rented it. He was like, "Son, I still need to get you a reed tomorrow...the store was closed, but here's the instrument." I remember that night...I blew through that thing to try to make it make noise before I had a reed. I knew then, that I had a passion for music and sound and feeling and expression through art. I didn't know that that's what it was, but that's when I knew.
Achickwitbeatz: You run Truth Tone Records, what would you say is the most valuable thing you've learned since you've started your label or since you became an artist?
Kevin Lavender/VH: Own everything. As best as you can. From the graphics of your album cover, to the lyrics of your songs, to the beats of your songs. Do your best to own everything or at least network with people that can own it. I try not to work through too many third parties unless I can have full ownership or majority ownership. Family is important, put God first, then family. I've learned a lot but I would say those things stand out. Stay loyal, stay working hard, but own as much as you possibly can.
Achickwitbeatz: What would you say is the biggest obstacle independent artists need to overcome?
Kevin Lavender/VH: Financial support. If you're working with a small pot of money to kick it off, like a grassroots approach how Truth Tone did, even though we had 7-8 people none of us had a significant amount of money. We pooled together what we could to make it happen. Now we're talking twelve years later. But a lot of it was off of no money, not getting paid, showing up paying for stuff. But I think the biggest obstacle for independent artists is financial support. Which is why I really like the Gofundme.com website because you can really specialize your fundraising efforts and disburse it to your network in a way that could galvanize some support financially for you to put out a project. You cut a lot of middle people out. You see where your true support base is, and that's the data that majors would want to have. So I would say financial support, promotion and marketing on a bigger scale other than just your homeboys and your crew.
Achickwitbeatz: What are 5 attributes/skill that would place an artist on your top 10 list?
VH: Sincerity, bars (if you're a hip hop artist), the impact they have within their own lane, someone who's not perpetually promoting that foolishness- the same degrading, decaying thing, and their musicality/creativity.
Achickwitbeatz: Conversely, what are 5 attributes that would place an artist at the very bottom of your list?
Kevin Lavender/VH: Perpetually promoting negativity, degradation of the black community, perpetually promoting youth crime and violence, illiteracy, lack of knowledge of self, and just that coonin' stuff...like my man Conscious put it "that tom-foolery".
Achickwitbeatz: What's next on the horizon for VH & Truth Tone Records?
Kevin Lavender/VH: VH as an artist...you'll get some new stuff coming out eventually. I know I've been saying that for years, but my focus over the past three and a half to four years has been on my children. My children and those young people that are within my midst whose mothers have reached out to me or have embraced my reaching out to have an influence in their kids lives. I've been focusing on the next generations. Not that I'm a preacher, but the Bible does teach that a righteous man considers his children's children. I try to emulate that in my actions, my behavior, my music and my lyrics as best as I can. But as an artist, you'll see some stuff coming out. My sister DC and I have thrown around the idea of putting out an album together, but I've always been more of a supportive role. I love supporting Yolonda and her career and all of the amazing things she has done and continues to do. It seems like every other week it's something new...I can't keep up! DC the same thing, she was just on the Lori Moore show...I can't keep up, I need a bigger staff of people to help me. Conscious, every time I look up he's on a new flyer for a new party. He didn't even start as a DJ...he diversified his portfolio and now he's killing every party and is in extremely high demand all across the country. You know, I like supporting people. Vokab is doing his thing, Imagry is doing his thing...so as an artist? Stuff will come out as I feel like it, but more as an executive, I like to support people. My energy and time has been more dedicated to that.
Achickwitbeatz: How can people connect with you and stay current with what you have in the works?
Listen/download audio versions of Conversations & Quotables: Q&A with Kevin Lavender below.