When you’ve worked with legends such as Jodeci, Ceelo Green, Faith Evans, and Outkast like Family Tree Entertainment founder Michael “Blue” Williams has, you’ve likely been part of moments that forever changed hip hop.
“[Lauryn Hill] only wanted to pay us $5,000 a show. The guys were making $20,000 a show. We fought, but I convinced them to do it,” Blue told REVOLT. “The guys cursed me out. But, when we came off the tour, we started getting $100,000 a show. After that, we never went under $100,000 a show again.”
In this installment of “Tour Tales,” the longtime manager discusses starting on the road with Jodeci in the ‘90s, why Outkast had to leave Eminem’s 2001 European tour early, and more. Read below!
Who was the first artist you went on the road with?
This year makes 30 years since I started on the road with Jodeci as a roadie fresh out of college. The job responsibilities were doing everything no one else wanted to do. I made the Waffle House runs. I did those kind of jobs.
What were those Jodeci shows like in the early ‘90s?
When Jodeci and Boyz II Men came out, New Edition was the only thing before them…The energy around Jodeci and Boyz II Men was crazy. DeVante [Swing] used to announce our hotel onstage every night. We’d have 3,000 girls in our lobby because DeVante would get on stage like, ‘So, who wants to party with Jodeci at the Hilton Hotel tonight?’ (Laughs) Every girl heard that and would show up at the hotel. It was an interesting time because I went to an HBCU — Central State University in Ohio — and I was surrounded by all of these Black women getting their education, so you get one impression of Black women. And then you go on tour, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God! It’s wild out here; anything goes (laughs).’
Jodeci was on MC Hammer’s “Too Legit To Quit Tour” with Boyz II Men. What do you remember about those performances?
A few things stand out: One, Hammer gave people the same energy every night, whether it was in Albuquerque, New Mexico; Los Angeles, Iowa or wherever. He never cheated anybody… I learned work ethic by watching Hammer. With Hammer, you toured six nights a week on a nine-month tour. That’s where you learn what being on a world tour is really like. Two, Boyz II Men’s manager [Roderick “Khalil” Roundtree] died on the tour when we were in Chicago [in May 1992]. They left the tour for a week or so to bury him and all. While they were gone, they recorded ‘End of the Road.’ Before they went on tour, it was Jodeci and Boyz II Men head-to-head every night. You had K-Ci and Jo Jo vocally battling Shawn [Stockman], Wanya [Morris], and Nate [Morris] every night. When Boyz II Men came back to the tour, they started performing ‘End of the Road’ at the end of their show in tribute to Khalil. You could see the elevation and separation. There was no question in the difference between Jodeci and them. When Boyz II Men started to perform ‘End of the Road’ every night, all those pop Hammer fans became Boyz II Men fans, killing it every night. You saw the impetus of everything that would become right there on that tour.
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What Jodeci songs really brought the house down?
‘Forever My Lady’ and ‘Say’ are undisputed. ‘Come and Talk to Me’ was gigantic. The ‘Come and Talk to Me (Remix)’ was also one of those records live.
What was the camaraderie like backstage between Boyz II Men, Jodeci, and MC Hammer on that tour?
Boyz II Men were always good kids, so they’d do their show and go back to their rooms every night. I used to play a lot of pool with Mike [McCary] from Boyz II Men; that was his thing… Hammer’s team was about 100-120 people deep. There was a lot of camaraderie between his crew and ours. There were some legends of the road on that tour.
How was it working with Outkast in the mid-90s?
I started managing Outkast in 1995. The thing about touring with Outkast a lot of people discovered Outkast by the time we got into Stankonia and all of that. But, in the early years, we were out there with 69 Boyz. We were out there with Tag Team. We were out there with Quad City DJs. We were out there with UGK, and 8 Ball & MJG. We were out there on that southern grind. We also did the west coast. A lot of people don’t know that San Francisco and the Bay Area were one of Outkast’s biggest markets, especially on the first album. So, we were doing a lot of shows out there with The Luniz, Richie Rich, and E-40. Chicago was our second-biggest market. They laid the foundation doing those dates. We did shows where the local hustler booked you and is giving you the $25,000 on the backend in a bunch of brown bags. The meat of Outkast was the Jackson, Mississippi; Memphis, West Palm Beach; and Mobile, Alabama. By the time we got to the third album, we had started taking shots by going on tour with Lauryn [Hill] and Moby, and expanding into a pop and more diverse crowd.
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Those Smokin’ Grooves shows in the late ‘90s had an unreal lineup. There was Outkast, Foxy Brown, The Roots, Lauryn Hill, George Clinton and the P-Funk All-Stars, and so many other legends.
When you get on a tour with Lauryn, Erykah [Badu], and Cypress [Hill], you have a combination of legends, pop crossover stars like Lauryn, and everybody is up on stage given it. Until this day, all those people we were on that tour with, I still see them playing in people’s bands or the background singers are singing with John Mayer and Sting. These people have gone on to become the biggest and best in the touring game. Smokin’ Grooves was run very smoothly. Everybody kinda hung around and caught everybody’s show, except for Lauryn’s. Once you realized Lauryn would be three hours late, you just slide out (laughs). It was one of the most fun tours we’ve been on.
What were some things Outkast had to iron out to get better at?
When I first started working with them, the biggest thing for me was that they always wanted Goodie Mob and members of the Dungeon Family onstage with them. I had to peel back the extra people and have them come onstage when they needed to go onstage, and not be up there the whole time. I needed Dre and Big Boi to shine. I come from Flavor Unit. I’ve watched Naughty By Nature rip stages with just them onstage. It was important for me to have just Big and Dre onstage. When you bring people out, the crowd gets excited to see Goodie Mob as opposed to everyone standing on stage at the same time. That was part of their growth.
What has been your main talent on the road?
Making the road fun. I’m the guy who pulls the bus over at a Six Flags while we’re on the road. We were one of the early ones to put studios in the back of the bus. Jodeci had crates, so they could take up their own TVs to their rooms to play video games. I found ways to make the road more comfortable. From the touring standpoint, I always wanted to push the envelope and not be comfortable staying in our lane. I convinced artists to take a little less to grow. One of the toughest decisions was when Lauryn offered Outkast to open up on her tour with them. She only wanted to pay us $5,000 a show. The guys were making $20,000 a show. We fought, but I convinced them to do it. I think I got fired and re-hired every day on that tour. They were tearing the shows down every night. The crowd was going crazy. Lauryn had to wait to come onstage because it was so hot. The guys cursed me out. But, when we came off the tour, we started getting $100,000 a show. After that, we never went under $100,000 a show again. That was because we got in front of Lauryn’s 12 million fans, who were hip hop and pop fans, and they became Outkast fans. It looks genius now, but I was getting fired every night. I was switching buses like, ‘Big Boi mad at me. I’ll go ride on Dre’s bus (laughs).’
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The “Stankonia Tour” was one of the biggest productions of a hip hop tour at that time. How did you translate the album into a tour?
They wanted to make the stage and experience feel visually how the album sounded. Dre wanted people to come and visually experience the same feelings you got when you listened to the album. It was about the texture of the lights, backdrops, and a lot of stuff. This was before we had LED boards. We achieved that feel. I’m actually glad that happen because we put Ludacris on his first national tour.
On Eminem’s All Access Europe DVD, he was hanging out with Outkast. What were those shows like?
We were supposed to do the entire European run with Em. Big Boi’s wife went into labor, and we had to leave because he wanted to get back for the birth of his son. We still missed it, and he was mad at me about that. Those seven dates we did with Em were still crazy. The venues Em was doing were huge, and the crowds were also Outkast fans. Germany and these other countries knew all the words. It was an amazing run. It actually led to the greatest tour that never happened. The greatest tour I ever tried to pull together was going to be called ‘The Greatest Show On Turf,’ and it’d have Outkast, Snoop Dogg, Eminem, and JAY-Z. We were going to do stadiums.
This had to be around 2005/2006. It was going to be each of them representing their blocks, so to speak. The stage was going to be each person’s neighborhood or block. We were going to do two stages that rotated. One stage would be the south, and then it’d flip around to New York. The other stage would be Detroit with Em, and Snoop with the west coast. Everybody would’ve brought out people from their crews. We couldn’t pull it off.
Was everyone on board besides Andre 3000?
We know Andre 3000 moves how he wants to move. So, how did that affect touring?
Honestly, until Dre decided he didn’t want to do it anymore and his anxiety kicked in, Dre was a professional on tour. He was never a problem. But, when he started to get anxiety about being onstage and other things started affecting his wanting to go out, that’s when things changed… He used to forget the words because a lot of the stuff they performed he wrote when he was younger, but he was amazing.
You also worked with Nick Cannon on his “Wild N Out Tour.” How was it compared to putting together a traditional music tour?
The ‘Wild N Out Tour’ was fun because we weren’t tied to any one artist, and no one thought it would work. It was fun because no one thought we could do it. They would say, ‘You don’t have any stars. The brand by itself isn’t going to do it. Nick’s not going to fill up an arena.’ But, when Nick explained to me how he would make it feel like the ‘Wild N Out’ show, I just had to bring in the Rick Ross’, Yo Gottis, Jeezys, and all of them, and sprinkle in some performances just like the show does. It was fun because once we got it out and people saw it, the energy from the crowd was crazy. People said they did not know what to expect, but it was fun, just like the show. It really worked. Nick is a great host. It was so successful that MTV came and took it back from us and gave it to Live Nation (laughs).
You’re now taking your expertise to help R&B group Vanity Rose prepare for their upcoming tour. What have you been helping with?
I think Vanity Rose is next in line in the history of the SWVs and TLCs. There’s a long line of really dope female groups that give you the same energy and sex appeal onstage. For me, it’s been getting them to understand the work starts before the tour. It starts with getting them up, and running. and getting their wind right. They’re in rehearsals with Q from 112 because 112 always understood spacing, crowd participation, and everything. Q has been working with them to get them tight. I’m going out with them early on in the tour to teach them how to live on the road and take care of themselves. As easy as it is, that Waffle House at 2 a.m. isn’t good if you’re not getting the following day to work it out. That’s how you gain 15 pounds on the road. I’m going to have them film the show to show them how to review your show. We never had social media back in the day, so when artists go off the stage, they go straight to their phones. They start reading the comments, and it affects their mood.
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What about Vanity Rose’s music will translate well to the live show?
The energy of the records they have. They can take any record and give that energy that’ll make every woman in the crowd feel like they’re just like them. But, they can also slow it down and do a song like ‘Anywhere,’ which will be a huge record.
What do you have coming for the rest of the year?
This is going to be a great year. We’re going to drop a Vanity Rose EP in the fall. I have my other client Yung Pooda, who is getting ready to drop his second project. We just dropped a single on him called ‘Drop.’ We’re going to be finding some touring opportunities for him. I’m planning on putting together an event called ‘Family Reunion.’ I’ve managed Outkast, Donell Jones, Eric Benet, Lyfe Jennings, Case, Jagged Edge, Nas, Busta Rhymes, Big Sean, and so many more. So, ‘Family Reunion’ is me getting everyone together for a big show and doc about Family Tree and its last 30 years. We’re putting that together. I’m also going to put out a book on management. There hasn’t been a definitive book on hip hop management and the toll it takes on you.
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