Dame Crawford and Ishmael Ferguson form Drop Squad Entertainment. They are a production team that originated out of South Central Los Angeles. They have successfully parlayed their love of music and their chemistry into a spanking brand new label deal through Fontana/Universal Music Group. The future is bright for these die hards. They have stayed the course and time seems to have flown. This partnership and friendship of almost twenty years will seem to some to come out of nowhere when they unleash their artist arsenal. Trust and believe, these guys are no overnight sensation. The grind is long and strong for Dame and Ish and Drop Squad Entertainment.
How did you guys initially link up?
DAME: We met in jazz band class in high school. I used to play trombone and I wanted to switch to drums. Ish was the drummer in jazz band and the section leader in the drum line. I was a freshman so I got put in the drum section and I used to sit behind Ish and watch him play. He told me he had done the same switch from trombone to drums so that thing we had in common kinda bonded us. We were both like class clowns in the band. We ran into each other again after we graduated.
ISH: It was at Guitar Center. We were both trying to work on beats at that time. Guitar Center was like our studio at that time. We’d get on the MPC on display and do beats. We’d be in there 6 or 7 hours like a work shift. We took client meetings at Guitar Center!! That was our spot until they started locking down the keyboards and display items. At that time Wylde Bunch was already formed and Dame invited me by their rehearsal. Another cat named Roscoe was playing... I don’t even remember how it happened but I became the drummer in the band. That’s basically how we met.
As far as production, how did you guys segue into producing for artists?
ISH: At some point, I got an MPC and I had the Yamaha SY77.
Wait… the SY77????
ISH: Yeah, it’s a little keyboard Yamaha made that..
Oh, I KNOW what it is!! I’m just surprised to hear that crappy name. (LOL!!!) Talk about “started from the bottom, now we’re here”!! (We all crack up on that one)
ISH: And we had a 4-track tape machine. I wouldn’t even give it the respect of calling it a 4-track. It was a tape machine.
Sounds like one step above just remembering the sh*t yourself!
ISH: Exactly. One step. We’d be in the living room over on 75th making music. This was in like, ’95… ’96.
So what was the first in-studio production work Drop Squad did?
ISH: Well, the band we were in got some interest from a local indie label in L.A. called World Movement Records. We became the staff producers for all the acts on World Movement AND for Wylde Bunch. So that was our boot camp. That was our camp, working in a real studio and we got to produce albums. Not just songs. Whole albums. So we had to learn the whole process. Doing beats, dropping ‘em to tracks on the tape machine, mixing. There were no shortcuts. It was a helluva learning experience. We had a full service mini-Motown as far as the workload and the team that got it done.
DAME: After that, we got a production deal with Shep Crawford, who’s a dynamic songwriter, musician and producer. That was where we first started getting experience working with established artists. Shep has worked with some of everybody that’s anybody... Whitney Houston, Boyz II Men, Tamia, Vince Gill, Rosanne Cash, Neil Young, Deborah Cox, 98 Degrees, Kelly Price, Gladys Knight, Kenny Latimore, Heather Headley, Luther Vandross, Yolanda Adams.. and that’s just PART of the catalog. I remember our first session we did with Shep was with Gladys Knight. She did a song with Jamie Foxx. Talk about one of the most intimidating sessions in our lives. Professionally, that was the biggest thing we had done up to that point. And she was amazing... two takes and she was done. I asked the engineer what reverb or what effect he used on her voice and he told me “Nothing”. That was just how she sounds. Amazing man.
What was the first song that you guys got credit for?
ISH: We did the Kenny Latimore song “Don’t Deserve”. That was our first credited song that was released as a single. That was like 15 years ago. And during that time Shep was the R&B ballad KING so all the labels were calling every day to get their artists on his books. So for a three year period talk about BUSY!!! And the artists, they were coming to the hood to record. We weren’t in Hollywood or The Valley recording, they were coming to 124th and Normandie. You never know who you’d see sitting in the living room when you come in to work... like Deborah Cox or Kelly Price chilling. That was the kind of respect Shep was getting.
Fast forward to today… what projects do you have in the making right now?
DAME: We just signed a distribution deal with Fontana/Universal that finally allows us our own label imprint. We can now A&R and put out records we choose. So of course, among other artists, we’re gonna get Wylde Bunch in there.
How will that work? I mean, in these days of the digital music marketplace, distribution doesn’t exist in the old sense. So how does that work?
DAME: Well for our deal with Fontana, it’s not just distribution. We do get distribution but with John Patella, the guy we signed with, we get the old-school label feel including promotion and advertising and product placement. John comes from a Sales background and he’s done this same deal on the independent side for labels like Suave House and Swisher House. With his background and connects he’s able to get us stuff like features on Pandora the iTunes front page and some of those digital looks that help advance our position.
What about club and radio promotion?
DAME: This is also included. We’re already started some of the set up for the first records. For instance, John is taking me to a meet and greet with DJs from San Diego and Bakersfield and the POWER radio stations. You know the DJs they are the gatekeepers now. Where it used to be A&R that were key in getting a record all the way to market, now the DJs are the new gateways to market success. Not NEW but more viral now.
So will you guys be in the market for artists or do you have your roster already set up?
DAME: Our roster will include Candice Nelson (writer of Take Me As I Am/Mary J Blige and Resentment/Beyoncé’ and a staff writer for Timbaland) who will be releasing her project through Drop Squad. I’m managing K. Mack, Kevin McCall, who wrote and produced “Deuces” and “I Just Wanna See You Strip” for Chris Brown. We’re working on his album right now. It will be released through Drop Squad as well. We also have three girl groups, all different. Lady X, kinda like the new Destiny’s Child. They are about to go back on tour with Mindless Behavior September 28th. We will be dropping a single on them before the tour resumes. Then we have AudreyChanel, who are a little more street, a little more hood. I’d describe them as having a little more edge. They all have a dance background so that means their live performances are really high energy. The third girl group is a Pop act called Eurliee. Another group of amazing singers and performers. We’ve got a kid named Infatuated Jigga, a 15-yr. old singer/rapper out of Inglewood that’s amazing. We have another amazing rapper called Troi Breeze.
What, if anything, will set your label apart from what labels are currently doing?
DAME: Well... the way we’re doing Drop Squad, the label, we want to change the paradigm of how artists are treated at traditional labels. For instance, an artist might get 12% of sales on their album at a major, but we are going to offer our artists from 30 to 50%. ‘Cause we’ve been artists and we know how it is to have a record that’s doing well in the market and everyone around you is getting paid off of it and you’re waiting for your dough. While there is no monetary advance up front, we get right to work in a great studio doing a real record that we can take directly to market. No fees for producers, studios, etc. Less overhead so we can break bread with our artists from dollar one.
I’m encouraged by the Drop Squad story. It just shows that focus and drive makes positive things happen. Ask anyone in this industry how easy it is to make it in this aspect and the horror story is the same. These guys make it look easy.
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