Inside Benny Pough’s Career in Hip-Hop
Music exec Benny Pough has shaped the hip-hop industry in a career that’s spanned from Motown Records to Def Jam to Roc Nation and now his own entrepreneurial pursuits. Benny joined me on Trapital to discuss his 30-year journey and where it’s heading next.
The defining feature of Benny has been his ability to spot and develop musical talent. He’s responsible for signing the likes of Future, Jeremih, and Yo Gotti, among others. That skill was initially forged from having an ear for what would catch on the radio, but has evolved in the streaming era. Despite this radical shift in music consumption, Benny says “stars will always be stars.”
After working at seven different record labels, Benny left the corporate world in 2019 and dove full-time into entrepreneurialism. He runs two separate companies — DVERSE Media and Kandiid. The former is a global music distributor and publisher, while the latter is a mobile app for creators to monetize their content. Benny also manages a diversified real estate portfolio.
Like Benny’s own career, our conversation covers a lot of ground. Here’s our talking points:
[3:13 ] How Benny Developed His Eye andEar For Talent
[4:42 ] Differences Between Hit-Makers andSuperstars
[6:10 ] How Has Streaming Changed Superstar Development?
[7:33 ] Record Label’s Role in Talent Development
[13:07 ] Inside Def Jam’s Business Turnaround During Mid-00s
[16:02 ] Aligning Business andArt at Def Jam
[18:15 ] Teairra Mari and Rihanna Coming Up at Def Jam
[21:37 ] Balancing Short-Term andLong-Term Business Goals
[24:39 ] How Did Benny Adapt To Working At Different Labels?
[27:00 ] Why Benny Became a Full-Time Entrepreneur
[28:34 ] How Does Benny Split Time Across His Business Ventures?
[31:26 ] DVERSE Media’s Pitch To Artists
[33:15 ] TikTok’s Role In Talent Development Today
[34:43 ] Monetizing Content On Kandiid
[36:07 ] How Benny Got Into Real Estate
[38:54 ] Benny’s Upcoming Book
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Host: Dan Runcie, @RuncieDan, trapital.co
Guests: Benny Pough, @bennypough
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[00:00:00 ] Benny Pough: You can have a star, but if you don't have people who can market it and promote it and put the music together, then it's going to take that star a little more time. Or you can have great executives, but you have artists that don't have drive. They're kind of confused on who their identity is. They write good songs, they don't write great songs, then it's kind of off balance. It's that marriage of really strong executives and really great artistry.
[00:00:35 ] Dan Runcie: Hey, welcome to The Trapital podcast. I'm your host and the founder of Trapital, Dan Runcie. This podcast is your place to gain insights from executives in music, media, entertainment, and more, who are taking hip-hop culture to the next level.
[00:00:55 ] Dan Runcie: Today's guest is Benny Pough. He is a music industry veteran. And when I'm talking about people that understand promotion, understand what it takes to make an artist go from sixty to a hundred, this is the person to talk to. He has identified talent over the years, working at Motown, Perspective, Arista, MCA, Def Jam, Epic, and Roc Nation Records. He worked at Def Jam during one of the turnaround eras for the record label from 2003, all the way up to 2011. So we're talking about that stretch where you had Rihanna, and Jeezy, and Kanye, and so many artists that made a huge impact there. Then he also worked at Epic where he was able to see Future, and Jeremih, and Travis Scott, and Yo Gotti. And so many of the artists there. And now he is building his own company. He works at Diverse Media, which is a music distribution and global publishing platform. He also has an app called Kandiid, which helps content creators and artists connect more directly with their fan base. We also talk about some of the ventures he has outside of music. He does a lot in real estate. We're talking about some of the real estate he does, even in my hometown, which was pretty dope to hear how he understands the neighborhoods pretty well. So this is a great interview. If you want to talk about a mogul that understands each point of this industry, and with this upcoming book where he is sharing these insights as well. This is the interview for you. Here's my conversation with Benny Pough.
[00:02:27 ] Dan Runcie: All right. Today, we got one of the music executives that has seen this industry and seen hip-hop through so many pivotal moments at some of the most storied record labels. Mr. Benny Pough. Welcome to the pod.
[00:02:40 ] Benny Pough: What's up, Dan? Been waiting, man! I don't know why you kept me out here so long, but thank you for having me today.
[00:02:47 ] Dan Runcie: People have been asking for this one, people have been asking for this one.
[00:02:51 ] Benny Pough: Yeah. Yes, sir.
[00:02:52 ] Dan Runcie: And I mean, I think one of the reasons that people have been asking is because of your track record. You have identified some of the best talents in this field. Yo Gotti, Future, Jeremih, could go on with the list, but it's clear that you understand what you're looking for and you have an eye and an ear for this. What are you looking for when you spot talent?
[00:03:13 ] Benny Pough: So, you know, being a promotions person is how I started in the business. Like, my first entry point was at Motown records, doing college promotions. And at that point, I realized that, you know, music changed my life when I was able to take a song, and from a college level, and have it played across the airways, 'cause you have to think about over the decades, the mass means of communication was radio. So that changed everything. If you got on the radio in any capacity, you know, it could take you from zero to sixty. So for me, listening to the radio and listening to music one way or another, my ear just got refined to what sounds good on the radio. So with the artists that you mentioned, I heard their music before I even met them. So it's something about, you know, obviously the spirit, you know, that ooze through them that comes out in their music that always just resonated with me. So the next step would be, you know, to meet them and obviously the artists that you mentioned, you know, from Future to Jeremih, Gotti, F.L.Y., it was something special about them that they'd already created for themselves. They just needed, you know, that opportunity to present itself for them to move on to the next level.
[00:04:23 ] Dan Runcie: And I'm sure meeting that adds a whole nother layer 'cause you could have the voice but you're not just building someone that can record an audio track. You're trying to identify stars. What is it from meeting them in person that adds to it? Or is there something extra that you see when you're face to face?
[00:04:42 ] Benny Pough: I think what's probably problematic now is that people can become instantaneously popular just from streaming. But never been in, you know, never really been in a studio 'cause you can record in your house. Never performed at a dive because that's not what's required. Never actually performed in front of an audience. So they're great songwriters, maybe producers, but the bar is so much lower on the entry point now, because any and everyone can do it. The difference between the people who make just hit songs or records, and the ones who are superstars is that they have the full package. Not only do they write or they perform, but you know, they have that whole je ne sais quoi, something special about them that people want to hear more and more, see more and more of them. And that's what the key is. And always has been, you know, since the beginning of music, of those people who attract and draw you in.
[00:05:37 ] Dan Runcie: You mentioned streaming and how it is easier and how it's very different from having a hit record as opposed to being a superstar. But do you think that even some of the visual aspects are becoming easier to replicate, too? Thinking about how someone could do so much of the production of music videos, or even the visual of what they can do, whether it's through Instagram and developing a following, but there's still, there could still be a disconnect between having that piece of it as well and really being someone