Interview: Grand Agent
Jared L. Taylor, Philly born artist, better known as Grand Agent is working on some new releases to redefine and relaunch himself. We got together to speak about his previous work and career, the collaborations with Oh No, Tom Caruana, Soulspazm, his time in Germany and much more! “I saw an opportunity to live my dream, so I went for it and when I left, I left for that very same reason.”
Jared L. Taylor, Philly born artist, better known as Grand Agent is working on some new releases to redefine and relaunch himself. We got together to speak about his previous work and career, his time in Germany, the collaborations with Oh No, Tom Caruana, Soulspazm and others and what people can expect from him in the near future.
Would you please give a quick introduction of yourself?
This is Grand Agent. I am originally from Philadelphia. I’ve traveled around the world, a lot of Europe in particular. I’ve lived all over the world, like Cologne (Germany), New York City, Los Angeles – lot of different places, pretty much wherever my music took me.
Can you tell us a little bit something about how your career started and how you started with music?
I started writing from the age of 11, as far as I can remember. The first time I really went into a recording studio, I was about 19. And the first time I ever released a record, I was about 22. So actually getting really busy in the business of it, was about 1998, when I made some conscious decisions to advance myself in terms of establishing a career. Between ’95 and ’98 was where I got a lot of street level credibility and experience for myself in Philly.
I was a member of a group named NAME, myself and two other guys -Ozzie Jones and Mr. Cisum. At that time, in Philly, there was a big void, because before our era there had been a lot of big artists who came out of the neighborhoods of Philly and were getting deals. And after these guys had some success, they got picked up by bigger labels. That was the impression of Philly made in that era. After that happened there was a big drop-off in terms identity for Philadelphia. The last two things that happened was Bahamadia and The Roots – so we are talking about ’93, when things started to cool down. So ’94 and ’95, there was nothing going on. So a real street level movement started. Guys would just be downtown, rhyming on street corners and in little different spots, like cafes.
Eventually it grew up into a lot of artists actually putting on shows, booking venues and really got a good local scene poppin’. I came in around that time ’95, with my group NAME, started working, working and working and eventually got to the point where I earned a few opportunities to leave Philly and go do some things in other places. And that is what really led to the Grand Agent solo project, the ‘By Design‘ album.
So I came out to L.A. by that time and that is how I really got started. In L.A. It was a totally different culture, more geared towards business, entertainment business. By that time I had a pretty good feel, of being able to do something pretty decent, or decent enough to get people to be willing to invest in it. So it all got started here, in L.A. around ’99, 2000.
Talking about your time in Germany, tell us a little bit why you came and why you’ve left Germany.
I teamed up with a guy who had a label and we were both kinda going along the same path, trying to make something really positive happen. He had a label and he had an act, but I guess they really weren’t as committed as he was. In the process of looking for a distributor for my album ‘By Design’, we came across Groove Attack. They had me come over to Europe to do promotion and stuff like that and it was really good for me, since the traveling and seeing the world became an important part of my work.
So, right as the album came out Groove Attack was having me over to do some shows, but mostly TV-Spots and some shows. At that time I was still working back in Philly with a regular day job. So when I was coming to Germany, people treated my like a star, when I went back to Philly I was driving a taxi. So I started thinking, you know, maybe I got to stay in Europe.
There was another artist from Philly who was basically living in Europe by that time, and one time when we both were in Philly, somehow he found me and he was talking about booking some shows for us and asked me to come over. I went over with him and we did some shows in Sweden for a few weeks, and what happened there was kinda the turning point, because at that time I was able to get on another tour which was organized and Groove Attack agreed to get me over. I told myself when I left for that tour that I probably shouldn’t come back, and that is what actually happened.
I went for a tour in ’01, basically a few months after the first album came out, and I just never came back. I hung out with some friends I had made down there in Cologne, and before I knew it, I was running around in Cologne recording, then all around Germany and Europe, touring for a living. I was living a dream life by that point. So the second half of ’01, ’02 and ’03 I basically live there and toured. So many crazy places I went, some weird little ones, little villages, youth prisons, some much stuff. I was just really fortunate while I was there, just blessed, and I took full advantage of it.
Why I decided to come back actually, is because after a while, after hitting up the circuit so much, it became less interesting for people to see Grand Agent so much. So I kinda burned it out, so to speak. And also I started thinking, how this is going to look at the end of my career, as a whole. I wanted it to be a part of the story, not all of it, so I decided to go back to America. I saw an opportunity to live my dream, so I went for it and when I left , I left for that very same reason.
I love Germany, it was such a relaxed atmosphere compared to America. I was finally learning the language, so I didn’t have that issue anymore. I was a 100% comfortable over there, I could have stayed there ’til I died, I really liked it that much. But my whole life is really one with my career, more like a mission. So I thought that in the end it shouldn’t be that I ended up in Germany, it should be that I went to Germany, learned something, established a fan base, which I did and never would have otherwise, and then I came back here.
Where did you get your on stage experience, which makes your performance so full of raw energy?
A lot of that know-how for the stage I got from the early days in Philly. Philly is a crowd that will just look at you, I mean you got to rock ’em, otherwise they’ll just look at you and stand there, they don’t give it up easy. People say things like “If you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere” – that might be true as an all around lifestyle thing. But in terms of rocking a crowd, particularly like an MC-thing where all the attention is just on you, you can learn a lot in Philly. So I got good experience from that, from my early days.
The number of shows from that time, helped me to get better, to know and feel the audience better, to know how long to let the record play and when to switch it up just to keep it interesting. The initial courage to get out there and just go hard, that came from the beginning in Philly.
Also another thing was the other emcee in NAME, Ozzie. He is very much into theater, he directs plays and such. So he is very theatric and dynamic on stage, so I know that his influence kinda rubbed off on me as well.
Later I realized that I had to start making records that go more towards the energy of the show. There is such a huge difference between being in a studio and on stage, where sometimes I’m super energetic on stage, but super laid-back on the track. It therefore helped me a lot to think of the mindset of what I am going to do with the track on stage, when I was doing the record.
‘Fish Outta Water‘ and ‘Fish Outta Water (Beat Society Remixes)‘ – which one do you like better?
(laughs) I like the first one more, since it’s like the record of my whole life in Germany. I’ll have the memory of that album forever. The remixes are just remixes, they cannot beat my time back there, which was like the time of my life. In Europe I met all of these guys, I hung out with them, recored with them and people hated on it, because they didn’t know who they were.
I came from a situation with ‘By Design’ where I had noticeable producer names on there, to launch and support me as a new artist back then. Whereas ‘Fish Outta Water’, I took it into my own hands and took the risk of it costing me some fans, but I wanted to do it the Grand Agent way, where before it was the label way. So I was separating who likes Grand Agent as an artist from who liked Grand Agent for the producers who did the record. I got to do it how I wanted to do it, which was to do the record with people who I hung out with and spent time with.
I felt this was the right thing to do. Germany was showing me love, I tried to give it back by putting some of their producers on and giving them a chance to be heard outside of Germany. I love the project because of how it was made, e.g. it was made with money that I made touring in Germany.
And you get the story with the original record, which you don’t get with the remix project. There you just get a bunch of names, which people are also into sometimes. So we basically got both out of one project.
What was the reason for kind of “re-doing” the original album?
There were a few things. I was in a different kind of contract with Groove Attack, so we arranged it in a way that it was more like a distribution agreement. So I would make the record and they would press it up and sell the stuff.
Because I was living in Germany, I needed a little help from America. So that is how I got in touch with Soulspazm, since they offered to help me with the release in America. So when I went home to America, we started to think about doing another single. The single turned into an EP, then it turned into all of these remixes. We thought about doing some remix singles to help promote the original album.
When we started giving out the acapellas to two or three people, we received back so much stuff. It also kinda worked for the name of the ‘Beat Society’, because it was all about the beats and promoting producers. It kinda served the same propose, as ‘By Design’ -getting peoples attention with the names of the producers. Ultimately the label has to do that, do whatever works on the market at that particular time.
It kinda was something that grew bigger than we originally planned it and it turned into another album.
Then ‘Under The Circumstance‘ followed in 2005, a project with just one producer: Oh No.
Yeah, strange thing about that Oh No thing. Actually, it was recorded the summer when ‘Fish Outta Water’ came out. I came here to the U.S., doing promotion. Declaime was coming over a lot and for him, at that time, it was only Madlib and Oh No beats. And he was really insisting that I do this project with Oh No. He had this label situation with illmindmuzik, which allowed him to get some money together for me and Oh No. We did it in a crazy way, in the summer of ’03.
We got to L.A., got the beats and started going through them, started recording, then had some troubles and had to leave the studio. Finally we got into another studio, continued but had to stop earlier than expected. So whatever was finished by that time, Oh No took it and started working on it. I also had some other acapellas ready which I gave to Oh No, he finished it and it was great. But somehow things fell apart a little bit in terms of getting it out, it sat around for a while. I played it for Soulspazm and they liked it, so the next thing I know is that they were putting it out. It took all that time until 2005 to get it out.
But long story short, the reason why it happened is really because of Declaime – he was insisting on it. Once it was done, I took it from there to make sure it got released.
Your latest release was in 2010, ‘Ghetto Ain’t A Place’, with Tom Caruana. How come that came out with almost no buzz or promotion?
That is what I am talking about. See, promotion takes two things. The number one thing is money and the number two thing is, at this time and age, someone who can take the time to sit online do the networking and everything it takes to get the word out. So it is basically a resource issue.
But the good thing e.g. about iTunes is that even if I don’t get the right promotion for something at the right time, it will still be out there and available. So when the time and opportunity comes to get the proper promotion, all the projects will be there. It takes time for people to get to it and the word to spread. It’s a piece of art, it is out there.
I think it came out quite interesting to me, since his music is different, I don’t think I ever heard a style like that. We were making that since ’06, I think. And another thing is, I’ve never met that guy. We did all of that through myspace and sending files, I never even shook this guys hand or whatever.
Let us talk about your future projects. What are you up to, what can we expect?
Well, last year, 2010, the idea was getting everything else out which was done, so I can start 2011 with a clear mindset.
I have a few big projects in the making, which I cannot really say too much about. They venture into other media are in development right now. It’ to update myself and I’m using a tool that I call AC Hip-Hop, bringing a level of maturity that I think is missing, for people who grew up with Hip-Hop and got a certain amount of principles from it and we know they need to be maintained in the music.
So you are not working on an album or something similar right now?
Well, yeah, you can say that. I’m always recording. As you know I just finished March Madness writing and recording a song a day for the month of March. We ended up with only 27 joints in the end due to a PC crash though. We are re-working some of those tracks to be included in upcoming releases. But for right now, I would like everybody to focus on March Madness: Countdown To AC Hip Hop so they can get a feel for where everything is headed. But in terms of an official album, there is something being put together like I said with some of the March Madness material combined with new stuff.
I’m also working with the Ecke Lloyds from Bremen (Germany). So you can see, all the time I’ve spent in Germany is still paying off for me, because I get so much love and I am still able to work, to this very day. But that project is not yet set in stone yet, until this introductory project comes out and makes a way, for the promotion of it. Because one thing that has been an issue and a factor for me: the promotion of my previous work has been little or none. Therefore right now I am looking more at the marketing and positioning of Grand Agent, so that the album that does come next, has a real chance to do, what a lot of them have been capable of doing so far, but just haven’t been able to do because it takes marketing.
When can we expect anything to happen then, finally?
It’s happening right now. March Madness springs into April Action. Everybody should get their free download here and then head over to my site and get up on the AC Hip Hop Movement.