Industry Profile: Jeremiah “Ice” Younossi
By Larry LeBlanc
This week in the hot seat with Larry LeBlanc: Jeremiah “Ice” Younossi
Working closely with 50 Cent’s G-Unit Records, Jeremiah “Ice” Younossi’s New York-based A-List Talent Agency coordinates international tours for such American hip hop acts as 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks, Mobb Deep, and others.
In the past six months, Younossi has arranged shows in Chile, Colombia and Venezuela. Over the year, he has also handled bookings for dates in Africa, Dubai, and Southeast Asia.
During the past two years, he has also booked the duo Black Violin on over 300 dates in the U.S., including the 2009 Earth Day concert on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
Younossi previously worked at Emmel Communications, the booking arm of Violator Management and was involved in the touring of 50 Cent, Busta Rhymes, Missy Elliott and G-Unit.
While growing up in Cambridge, Massachusetts, Younossi attended hip hop shows by A Tribe Called Quest, LL Cool J, Mobb Deep, Nas and the Wu-Tang Clan at local colleges and the Middle East Club in Cambridge’s Central Square.
During his junior year at New York University, Younossi landed an internship at Violator Management operated CEO Chris Lighty and his younger brother Mike. Younossi soon came aboard full-time and his duties included overseeing the touring of its clients Mobb Deep, Clipse, and Busta Rhymes.
In late 2001, Younossi was paired with rising rap star 50 Cent. After releasing his 2002 album “Guess Who's Back?” 50 Cent was discovered by Eminem and signed to Interscope Records. In 2003, 50 Cent released his debut Interscope album, “Get Rich or Die Tryin'” which debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200.
Younossi oversaw 50 cents’ first American club tour, a year-long 100 city plus run that included night clubs, theaters, ballrooms and several arenas.
In 2003, 50 Cent co-founded G-Unit Records (distributed by Universal Music Group's Interscope Records) that signed such acts Young Buck, Lloyd Banks, and Tony Yayo, Olivia andrap veterans Mobb Deep.
While an agent at Emmel Communications, the booking arm of Violator Management, Younossi oversaw a 2005 concert at Dubai Media Center Amphitheatre in the United Arab Emirates by Missy Elliott and Busta Rhymes that attracted around 9,500 fans, ranking it a major success.
The concert was promoted by Done Events, a subsidiary of the UAE's Arab Media Group. It was the first rap double bill the city had hosted.
In 2005, 50 Cent's 2nd Interscope album, “The Massacre” sold 1.14 million copies in the first four days and peaked at #1 on the Billboard 200 for six weeks.
The same year Younossi was encouraged to launch his own independent booking agency in alignment with G-Unit Records.
Specializing in global touring, Younossi has since earned a formidable reputation as a global trailblazer by helming bookings for 50 Cent, G unit Black Violin, and other leading hip hop acts in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, Eastern Europe, and Southeast Asia.
In 1995, Younossi began to represent Black Violin--Kev Marcus and Will-B an astonishing rap/classical hybrid act which hardly fits the profile of a stereotypical urban act.
The music industry took notice of Black Violin after they performed with Alicia Keys at the 2004 Billboard Music Awards. Afterward, they opened tours for Lloyd Banks and Lil Wayne and backed Linkin Park's Mike Shinoda on a world tour with his hip-hop side project, Fort Minor.
Black Violin has since toured Europe with the Wu-Tang Clan and Jay-Z; performed alongside hip hop mainstays P. Diddy, Kanye West, Fat Joe, and Akon; and worked with Aerosmith, Tom Petty, Aretha Franklin and the Eagles.
In March, 2009 Black Violin performed a brief residency at the New Victory Theater on Broadway.
The hip hop tradition is unlike the rock music tradition in which artists build their fan base in clubs and support other acts on larger stages. Most hip hop artists hone their craft in the studio, working to hook up with the right producers and appear on popular mix tapes. The live performance element is viewed as, “I’m not going to be doing shows until I’m on the radio.”
His hands-on style of representation, Younossi argues, can often be a better fit for emerging hip hop artists than being with a major agency. As a freestyle agent with management capabilities, he can experiment with various types of venues and promoters in all territories.
You launched A-List Talent Agency in 2006.
At the beginning of 2006, I set up A-List in an alliance with G-Unit Records because G-Unit Records is a growing (label/management) organization with a lot of new energy.
There’s now a significant energy between management, the label and the your booking company.
I look at it this way; from 2001 to 2005, I was working with 50 Cent and his younger acts. That was taking up, I would say, 90% of my time. But I was working on those projects from the management office. So when 50 started a new office and he was looking to bring other people in, I said, “Why don’t you let me just come over to the label and run your booking arm, and we could work closer together? We could have an open dialogue about opportunities.” So I took that on.
What artists there do you represent?
My main projects are 50 Cent and his label roster. It’s a small roster of three or four acts but they are all very successful. There’s Lloyd Banks who has been successful for me over the years, and Mobb Deep, the legendary hip hop duo that has put out 10 albums, all of them “gold.” They are a fantastic act. They are as close to the Grateful Dead that you are going to get in hip hop.
A-List’s first project was supporting Mobb Deep’s album “Blood Money.”
It was my first project. One of the main reason that I had wanted to work at Violator (in Emmel Communications, the booking arm of Violator Management) was to work with this group that is so iconic and has had a major impact on Generation Hip Hop in the 1990s. Mobb Deep, Wu-Tang and those kind of acts were larger than life.
Today, much of your work is focusing on 50 Cent’s international touring career. He is also represented by William Morris Endeavor Entertainment Agency. How do you fit in?
I believe in what a major agency can do, and how they can serve an artist of his nature. I told him I wasn’t going to get in the way of that. But the idea is to fully service him and not to under service him. If I am onboard, I’m able to focus on opportunities that may be overlooked because a major agency’s scope is too broad. Africa, obviously, is not a priority (for them). Nor is the Middle East a priority for a major agency. Maybe in 10 to 15 years, Live Nation will be more involved in some of those markets but, for now, there are not many major agents focusing on those territories. 50 Cent is very popular in those places so I want to put him there. The last two years, I’ve been focused on Latin America
A difficult market?
Latin America is a complicated territory. There are a lot of different markets there. In the past year, we’ve done Chile, Colombia, Venezuela and Peru. Maybe we will do another 5 or 6 countries in the next year or so.
How have you positioned 50 Cent there?
Reggaeton is responsible for introducing 50 Cent to the live market there. We have been packaging 50 Cent with reggaeton acts that are popular there. In exchange, 50 agreed to do features on some of their projects. Reggaeton means one thing in the United States, and it means a total different thing in Latin America. Some of these reggaeton acts can do 20 dates in one country down there..
Is it a challenge finding promoters in Latin America?
Most of them have found us. The challenge is finding a competing promoter. It’s difficult to find out if there is a competing promoter or to find out if (a promoter) has a monopoly in a country on a specific type of show.
In most South American countries, there are rock and roll promoters who have been promoting for over a decade. Finding a hip hop promoter is more difficult. You look at the young (promoters) that are doing electronic shows or pop concerts, and you try to determine if there something there. A lot of the guys we work with have reggaeton and electronic (shows) that speak to a younger generation of youth, to folks in their late teens and ‘20s. That’s the market that we are trying to compete for in Latin America or anywhere else we go.
Have you found the Asian market challenging as well?
Yeah. You can play in Hong Kong but that’s not really a true play in China. We’ll see what happens there. There are so many interesting things happening in China right now with the formation of NBA China (by the National Basketball Assn.) and other forms of Western entertainment coming in. We have seen a few (Western) rock acts go to China. Not many.
I read an article in Billboard about having (Western-based) heavy metal bands in India and I found that interesting. 50 Cent has been to India. He was the first (major) hip hop act to go there.
There are numerous countries that 50 Cent has developed for hip hop.
Yeah, he’s still three or four years ahead of Jay-Z, Eminem or Kanye West. It is just his will to go to these countries. I tell him that he’s a pioneer. That this is the first time a hip hop artist of his status has been to this country. It is an honor and a responsibility. It’s more than a fee. These are his fans.
50 Cent has also toured Europe extensively.
50 Cent went to Europe with Eminem on the Anger Management Tour (in 2003). Eminem was a stadium artist at the time. He was doing 100,000 tickets in Tokyo. He involved 50 (in touring the U.S. and then overseas). He was a big fan of 50’s mix tapes. Going to Tokyo was like going to another planet for 50. He came back a different man. He said, “You don’t understand how many people we performed for in Tokyo.” At that point, he began to see his career as being global. He told me that he no longer looked at his career as playing to just the core audience of folks in the inner city, at these urban nightclubs, but that he now saw his career on a larger scale.
So we broke markets in the Caribbean. We broke markets in Africa. We broke markets in the Middle East. Now we are breaking markets in Latin America. 50 has been everywhere from Caracas, Venezuela to Kosovo. It’s not been about (going to) a great destination to hang out. It been about the fact that his music has had an effect on the world. And he treats every country equally.
50 Cent was the first American rap artist to be in some of these markets.
Absolutely. He’s pioneering those markets. Why? Because he’s flexible with his fees, and he’s willing to lessen his production. 50 loves using pyro and bringing a full set but he’s willing to (tour) on a smaller scale if he has to. I think that’s the intelligence that top artists have to apply when they are looking at touring (globally). It’s not just about the fee. It’s not just about the ticket price or how they view the country, whether it’s a great place to go or not.
50 is willing to tour. He will do isolated dates. He will do small tours and he will travel abroad and see every corner of this planet. I compare 50 to Kanye West, Jay-Z or to Eminem; and he’s the hardest working artist of that pack. 50 Cent is the most popular (hip hop) artist in the first, second and third worlds.
How do you rate Kanye West, Jay-Z and Eminem?
Kanye West has incredible music. Eminem is, perhaps, the most popular. Jay-Z has incredible production. He focuses on everything from A to Z on his show. Jay-Z’s (stature) is similar to a country artist. He is very popular in the United States. He’s unbeatable. He’s done maybe 5 headline tours in the past decade and he’s getting bigger and bigger. Like Kenny Chesney, he does the numbers in the U.S. And with (his 2008 deal with) Live Nation, Jay-Z going to do the numbers everywhere.
So many folks from high school, college, law school, medical school or whatever have grown up and remained Jay-Z fans because he’s grown with them. He’s no different than Bruce Springsteen or any successful solo rock act. Jay-Z has a fantastic future ahead of him.
While an agent at Emmel Communications, you booked a co-headlined Missy Elliot and Busta Rhymes concert in Dubai in 2005. That seems pretty ambitious for an agent still in his early ‘20s.
I started researching Dubai around 2002. I had about three years of research and development and trying to create a dialogue with different promoters. I knew that Mariah Carey, Black Eyed Peas and Sean Paul had been there. I was sure all of them had gotten paid pretty well for an isolated performance in Dubai, but I wanted to do something a little differently. Not just to have a show that was well attended but something that could (provide) media campaign with a big hype.
The idea bringing two of the biggest hip hop artists in the United States to Dubai was exciting to the promoter there. Busta Rhymes and Missy Elliot were both very flexible and easy to work with. Both are managed by the same firm (Monami Entertainment) and both wanted to go there. So I took advantage of the opportunity to do a co-headlined show. I didn’t pioneer that market. I just came into the market with a very specific vision
It was your first trip to Dubai. What was your impression?
You get off the plane and you assume that you are going to see 100% Muslims and local people in wardrobe. That it is going to be a complete cultural shock. What you encounter is a hybrid—a mixture of the Western and the Muslim world. There were shops and restaurants there and there a lot of people from the West.
There are a lot of young people from the West in Dubai for their holidays.
Exactly. You also see a lot of people from Europe, including British and French people. Various Europeans are there on business. They are not just there by themselves but they are there with their families. They have to worry about getting their kids into school and doing family activities. The concert business there serves a community of Westerners in Dubai.
The British, South Africans and Australians each have a significant population in Dubai. You go to a concert in Dubai, you are going to meet folks from those three backgrounds there. You also see a lot of Arabs from different countries that are there, whether it is their primary or secondary residence or they are there for vacation. They are there and they enjoy concerts. As you said, there’s a tremendous amount of young people there in the their late teens and 20s and 30s with disposable incomes having a great time. The club business is thriving in Dubai with top international DJs going out there on a weekly basis.
Have you had other acts in Dubai?
Yes, I have. Black Violin first went to Dubai (in 2007) and played the Desert Rhythm Festival. They were scheduled to play the first night opening for Kanye West. That went really well so they played the second night opening for Joss Stone. Black Violin had a huge impact. The headlines were really strong. We were really impressed with the press we got out of that.
I first saw Black Violin with Alicia Keyes at the 2004 Billboard Awards.
Yeah, Black Violin was on the (Billboard Awards’) TV show. I first saw them at the Apollo Theatre. They won “The Legends of the Apollo” title and were given a nice cash award. After that, they formed a relationship with Alicia Keyes’ management and they performed with her on the Billboard Awards. During that same time, I started meeting with them, and we talked about representation. We formalized a relationship in 2005.
My goal was to first tour them on the college market with all of the different conferences. I made a partnership with Harris Goldberg (president/CEO, Concert Ideas) in Woodstock to develop Black Violin on the college touring market. We really hit that scene hard. They went from doing a few shows that Spring (2005) opening up for Lloyd Banks and few other hip hop artists to the following semester when it t felt like they were a 100 date a year college act.
They then did a world tour with Linkin Park’s Mike Shinoda for his Fort Minor project.
Yes, we took a step back from the (American) colleges. Through the Alicia Keys’ camp, we formed a relationship with Mike Shinoda and Linkin Park, Mike was doing a side project called Fort Minor--something he wanted to do for a long time. We all grew up in Generation Hip Hop and, I think, that Mike wanted to step back a bit and doing something innovative. It was a great project. He won a Grammy for the album (“The Rising Tied” for which Shinoda wrote every song and played nearly every instrument) and he toured internationally in Europe and Asia.
Black Violin was part of that band. They weren’t part of the band individually. They were always mentioned as Black Violin. The same way that you would see a rock band combined with another rock band. There was always that understanding that there were two different brands.
What was the impact of that world tour on Black Violin?
Well, performing in front of large audiences with Mike, gave the guys a lot of practice and exposure on the international scene. It just broadened their horizons. They started seeing the world differently. I don’t think it helped their individual touring career but it gave them a lot of practice, and confidence.
After the Fort Minor tour, we went back to the (American) college touring market, doing a heavy touring schedule. We started to research what was next. Up until that point Black Violin had been a soft ticket act. They weren’t going into venues and selling hard tickets with basic guarantees. So we established this vision to take Black Violin and do something theatrical. We researched the youth and the performing market and did some of the different conferences. Next year, they will do an entire North American theatrical run.
Black Violin is quite a project.
Since 2005, they have probably done over 600 shows (in the U.S. and Europe). The guys have a lot of vision. It is a very innovative music organization to work with. I just really steer their ship. Their audience is so broad because it’s a family show. They have an audience from 6 up to 90. They did a three week run at the New Victory Theatre on Broadway in March (2009). It was the first opportunity to take a musical act, and put them up on Broadway. Never mind a hip hop musical act. We’re watching rock of ages. Rock and roll is starting to hit Broadway in an unique way; and hip hop is hitting Broadway in an unique way as well.
With Black Violin, is it a complicated booking mix?
Well, there’s college touring as well as theatrical, festivals, international festivals, corporate entertainment and private entertainment (shows). I have formed relationships and partnerships with people and companies in all of these different fields. It is interesting to navigate all of these different opportunities and to piece it all together within a single year.
You represent them in all those different areas?
Yeah. I represent them all. Black Violin is a music company, a theatrical company and I represent the company in all of its facets. I look at the group no differently than the folks that started Blue Man Group or Cirque du Soleil looked at their companies early on.
Black Violin must open a lot of doors to different fields.
Yes. They do a lot of music scoring and arranging for television. They did a commercial for Vita (Enhanced) water that aired in the NBA playoffs called “The Great Debate” with Kobe Bryant, and LeBron James, They pulled in Dwight Howard for the finals. Vita licensed Black Violin’s song “Fanfare.” Another song was licensed by “CSI” and another by the children’s show “Angelina Ballerina” on PBS.
You started as an intern at Violator Management when you were at New York University (NYU).
Yes I did. I was a NYU summer intern. Chris (Lighty) and his younger brother Mike took a strong liking to me and (appreciated) my ideas and my work ethic. This was prior to Violator signing 50 Cent. So a few months later when they signed 50 they were shopping record deals, and were trying to figure out how to tour him.
What were you studying at NYU?
I was an undergraduate studying political science. I didn’t graduate. I left early. I sat down with my (student) advisor in the fall semester of 2002. I had about a year left to graduate. I said, “Look, 50 Cent just got a record deal. They have offered me a full-time position. I am booking his first tour. I am about a quarter the way done with the tour. This is a full-time gig. Can I leave school for awhile?” He said, “Take the leave of absence. Go for it.” I’m still on a leave of absence.
You worked 50 Cent’s first big club tour that got the buzz going in America?
I had started working with 50 Cent in 2001. I was then the initial booking agent who routed him in North America. You talk about the 50 Cent story; it’s really something extraordinary. I did his first club tour and then 50 signed with William Morris. We did sort of a partnership by which William Morris books the major tours in United States and Europe and I do non-traditional projects. Very focused and specialized.
I heard about 50 Cent six months before his first Interscope album dropped.
That’s because he released 10 albums of illegal music leading into his deal. It was all illegal music. In New York City before the federal government started cracking down on corner bootleggers, you could buy a 50 Cent mix CD on any corner in New York City, from Canal Street to Harlem and everywhere in between. This was before IPods got really big. People still had CD players.
50 Cent was kind of the pinnacle of that mix tape movement.
Absolutely. The mix tape movement had started in the 1980s with local DJs on the East Coast making their mix tapes off of their turntables and blending music. By the mid ‘90s, it had become mix tapes on CDs, the same concept but it was easier for your car or walkman to skip through a CD. 50 Cent was the finale of that CD mix tape movement.
50 Cent was ahead of his time. And I’m not just talking about hip hop. I am talking about in the music industry. He had a vision. Back in 1998, he was saying that “Music is free. Everybody should have my music. I am the best rapper.” (His philosophy was) not only that music should be free but that making music should be free as well. it’s all about the track and the chorus. So if he liked anyone’s track and chorus he going to write a better version. He made a huge (street) buzz before signing.
You grew up in Cambridge, Massachusetts?
My mother was Boston public school teacher and my father was a pharmacist for Boston City Hospital. Both of them worked for the city. My grandfather was an electrician who built the house I grew up in. Cambridge is the home of Harvard, and MIT as well as Ben Affleck and Matt Damon. They went to the same high school as I did (The Cambridge Rindge and Latin School) as did (NCAA basketball champion) Patrick Ewing.
Did you see rap shows locally growing up?
I saw my early rap shows at either the university campus or the Middle East night club. I was a student of Generation Hip Hop.
There’s dozens of personalities and lifestyles within the hip hop culture.
It is a very large genre. I’ve been going to (music industry) conferences and speaking on panels for almost 9 years now. I like to talk about the effect rock and roll has had on the world and then compare that to the effect hip hop has had on the world culturally and on my generation.
You know who the historians and archivists of hip hop really are? The producers. They go to record shops all over the world and buy these records and listen to every single detail from beginning to the end. These hip hop producers are innovators. They take the old and the new and they fuse it together. This all started before the Internet and before digital. It was really hands on, the process. The producers are so talented, and they rarely get recognized.
Unlike rock acts, hip hop acts practically jump from the studio to big stages without grinding it out on a club circuit for years.
You are one thousand percent right. These acts spend all of their time in the studio, buying clothes, having fun, making music. They get a record deal. They get on a big single or make a lot of buzz in the mix tape scene and they build a brand for themselves. A hip hop artist will build a brand for themselves without having performed one live show. That happens.
The median for authentic hip hop was always mix tapes. Then the next thing was to get record deal and make it big with radio and television. MTV and BET have played such an important role in the hip hop economy.
Well, doing a hip hop tour in the U.S. was quite challenging even five years ago.
Absolutely. Every style or genre of music has its own set of problems and challenges. There are certain challenges with hip hop. There are challenges touring in the United States, and there are challenges in touring abroad.
Is it easier today touring in the U.S.?
I would like to see is more hip hop tours make the Top 15 (tour list). Last year, Kanye West and Jay-Z made the Top 15. I think it’s about packaging and managers working together.
How do you tour a New York-based rapper?
I’m sure the big agents find ways to package and route a national tour, but, as a hip hop fan first and foremost, my option has always been that a tour is going to be in the North East (U.S.) then Canada and then California and then some of the Midwest.
When I look at a classic New York rapper and how to tour them, I will say that this artist is very relevant from (Washington) DC up to Boston in the major markets. There’s also a handful of secondary and tertiary markets you can play them in the northeast region. Then you go into Canada where you are doubling your market if you do it the right way. So if there are 20 possible plays from DC up to Boston for a classic East Coast artist, you will have just as many plays up in Canada. Any hip hop artist who wants longevity needs to have the Canadian touring market as part of their agenda. I think a lot of artists have made mistakes with (not doing) that. The fans up there are amazing.
It’s tough to build a national concert audience without first building an audience in clubs.
Yep. Hip hop is a studio-driven tradition. It is almost like you are born into it. I don’t know about this generation but in generations past where you came from, the part of New York or the part of the United States, the neighborhood, was key.
Hip hop is not like “American Idol.” It’s not that kind of process where the most talented rapper can go on a television show and freestyle and whoever wins is the next big rap star. it doesn’t work that way.
There are communities and neighborhoods in New York City and other part of this country that breed talented artists. The tradition is the way that they speak. It’s their slang. It’s not just the studio.
For instance, there’s Queensbridge House in Queens. A dozen hip hop artists have come out of this one community. You almost wonder “What’s in the water?” They are all are so good. There’s a tradition there. It’s a tradition of rapping and going into the studio and collaborating and doing all of the different lifestyle things that they do together and talk about in the music. It is not just making music. It’s really their way of life.
And the way of life in Queensbridge is slightly different than of life in Southside Queens where 50 is from and slightly different from the life in the Bronx and Brooklyn.
[Queensbridge House, the largest public housing development in North America, has been a hotbed of hip hop musical talent for decades. Among the artists associated with “The Bridge” are: Nas, Prodigy and Havoc of Mobb Deep, Cormega, Tragedy Khadafi, Nature, Screwball, Capone-N-Noreaga and Big Noyd. Producer Marley Marl’s Juice Crew collective in the 1980s featured Queensbridge rappers MC Shan, Roxanne Shanté, and Craig G.]
Successful hip hop artists end up living into two worlds, selling millions of records but they still have to be from the streets.
That’s true for every music artist. Every artist has to maintain their authenticity. From where they come from, they don’t want to sell out. People meet 50 Cent and they think he’s nice. What do you think he’d be like? Do you think he’d be this successful without polishing himself? He’s articulate. That’s the way he’s been his entire life. He has a good business sense. His positive attributes are obvious and authentic. That is a big factor (in his success).
50 Cent is going strong after nearly a decade. Jay-Z broke over 15 years ago.
50 Cent is an example of the American dream. Even 15 years into his career, Jay-Z is bigger than ever. (Traditionally, with) 15 years in hip hop, it is like you are over. You may as well as retire. In rock, it’s like you are passing the first lap. You’ve got three or more decades to go if you are the greatest in that (rock) genre.
It will be exciting watching Jay-Z further develop, and it will be exciting watching 50 Cent’s development internationally.
Larry LeBlanc was the Canadian bureau chief of Billboard from 1991-2007 and Canadian editor of Record World from 1970-89. He was also a co-founder of the late Canadian music trade, The Record. He has been quoted on music industry issues in hundreds of publications including Time, Forbes, the London Times and the New York Times.