Charles Lewis - Little Jamaica to Rap City!
Turn Muzik Inc, (TMI) is a boutique recording, management and entertainment company fronted by Charles Lewis – V.P. of A&R, Michael Akuamoah-Boateng – V.P.
By Bill King
Turn Muzik Inc, (TMI) is a boutique recording, management and entertainment company fronted by Charles Lewis – V.P. of A&R, Michael Akuamoah-Boateng – V.P. Creative Design & Multimedia, Geoffrey Roberts – V.P. Public Relations & Marketing, and Chief Executive Officer CEO Casson “Kayci” Salmon - Chief Executive Officer CEO.
"TMI is a boutique–concept, a positive music industry footprint, entertainment media company specializing in the recognition, development and creation of artist-driven music content. It's about creating longevity and lasting careers in the music industry of diverse origins and genres, not simply "one-hit" wonders.
The partnership is about creating real business opportunities for both TMI and the Artist. TMI is positioned to leverage various marketing tools and business strategies to highlight the artists' merits and subsequent music product offerings. This includes, but is not limited to, pairing Artists with established music producers, content creators and streamlined delivery methods. With an outstanding ability to attract both national and international exposure, to, develop a strong marketplace presence for the Artist and awareness for the music-buying public."
One of the guiding lights behind developing young hip and rap artists in the region is V.P. of A&R Charles Lewis. Charles gives a bit of backstory, and the why's of creating such an all-encompassing project.
Charles's roots begin in Little Jamaica, Toronto, which traces its beginning to 1958 when many Jamaican immigrants settled in Eglinton West. Little Jamaica became Kingston, Jamaica north. Sidewalk vendors, record stores, barbershops, beauty salons, restaurants, grocers, tailors, record labels. A vibrant inner-city tale of community and achievement.
Bill King: You're an early riser.
Charles Lewis: Yes, I am.
B.K: So how's your day start?
C.L: Well, it opens with a hot cup of tea and me sitting in front of my computer, smartphone in hand.
B.K: Do you have your day mapped out?
C.L: Never, it just starts.
B.K: What are you working on at this moment?
C.L: We're establishing this record label called Turn Muzik and launching our first artists out the port. We are working on the structure of the label and artist development and releases.
We have this one artist right now, and the name is 96 Soul. He's the next Drake, Weeknd coming out of Canada. He was introduced to me by Richard from OVO. That's how this whole matter started. I think this kid has some chops, and he's on his way.
B.K: And where's he out of?
C.L: He's a downtown Toronto kid.
B.K: That's rare. What causes him to stand out for you?
C.L: His voice, tone, delivery, control, his enunciation, everything. He's a well-rounded vocalist who started in a church choir. No one out there sounds like him. People will say he echoes Drake, a little like The Weeknd. But, he also has some qualities like Justin Timberlake.
B.K: Is this a new management company?
C.L: It's a new management company and moves over to the urban hip hop R&B culture because I manage electronic music artists. I started working strictly with House Music. House Music has been my life from day one. I started taking care of hospitality and turned it into a management company, taking care of all the biggest D.J.s in the world. Swedish House Mafia, Avicii. I was the fifth person to hug Avicii at his last show when he got off stage. Carl Cox, Martin Garrick - all the big boys, they're all my people; they're all my friends/family.
B.K: In what respect do you work with them? Do you find them gigs? Are you a consultant?
C.L: It started off with tour management. I A&R records. I find vocalists, producers, ghostwriters, booking gigs, studio, hotels flights. I do a lot of things. My spectrum is very wide.
C.L: Some are complete management and tour management like artists Alan Aggreo, My Pal Al, Dave Armstrong. The list is crazy, but it interacts. A lot of house music, electronic music people do a lot of collaborations with each other. It goes from finding vocalists to producers. I worked with M1, Matteo DiMarr, Still Young. From booking artists to tour management to the festival tours and everything. There's a bunch of things that I do.
B.K: Did you re-evaluate what you were doing during the Covid shutdowns and make this transition?
C.L: The pivot happened during Covid. But it started a bit before when I was introduced to the entire culture. I had to do a music showcase for some of these kids. And the first one I did, 700 people showed up, and it was unheard of in the urban scene.
This industry, the way it's set up now, these kids have no filter and no way of knowing how the music industry works. So I helped one kid and gave him my number. So this kid passes out my number to everyone. So I have all these random kids calling me, "Hey, I heard you did this with this person and this person. Can you help me?" And that's what got me into the idea no one is paying attention to these kids because it's not my industry. It's not my sector. It's not my genre of music, yet it was an amazing showcase. And now all these kids want me to help them because no one's ever gotten them published.
For my first showcase, I had magazines. I had videographers and photographers. I had a couple of record executives from a few labels come. What is the purpose of doing a showcase? A showcase is to showcase your music for record executives. To get signed or put you in a proper position where you can get managed. So I had a bunch of managers show. I used my Rolodex and called a bunch of people who mattered. And that was the first time any of them got published. So what happens to the person who causes that? That person now is a person of interest. They all wanted me to do that. So that's how Turn Muzik began.
B.K: Do you consider this a new beginning, a fresh start?
C.L: I wouldn't call it a fresh start. I just call it something I've been doing, but I'm helping a new generation of kids who think that an artist needs to go into the studio and make hot music. Unfortunately, they make the same five mistakes that everybody else does.
What are the five mistakes? One, give their music up on all the streaming services for free. Two, Facebook. Three, Instagram. Four, SoundCloud. Five, YouTube and with zero money and budgets behind them to push them. What ends up happening? The core group of friends listen to it, and they get the prospect of making one extra fan who will tune in to it, and then the track dies. There are also these massive artists out there, scoping the internet, looking for interesting ways of flipping their music. And what do they use? All these kids' ideas and concepts? How do I know? Because I saw it happening right in front of my eyes. In front of some major studios where the elite goes. I think I got a handle on it pretty well.
B.K: I imagine many of them see themselves as the next Drake or the next Weeknd. But when you look at Drake, I don't think there's anybody that's sold as much music. I think I was reading today Drake has about 160 tracks on Spotify stream over a hundred million streams each.
C.L: He's the only one. The only one. When you look back at Drake, it's pretty easy to understand how he got there. I mentor a lot of these kids, so I say to them, "well, how do you think Drake got to where he got to?" Everybody talks, and then one kid said to me, "well, how do you know, this is not even your music genre?" I go, well, not my music genre, but it's pretty easy. I knew who he was, and I knew who Aubrey was before Aubrey was Drake. "Yeah. Why?" Cause we went to the same school. We grew up in the same neighborhood. I knew who he was, but so did the world and they were like, "what are you talking about?"
You guys are static. I do research. Did you know DeGrassi was licensed to 32 countries around the world? Every kid and every little girl and everyone his age knew who he was before he was Drake. And that's the reason Michael Jackson had the most recognizable face at nine years old and became a worldwide phenomenon. If Michael Jackson were growing up in our time, he would still be the all-time greatest Artist in the world. Remember, the internet changed global phenomena. How? Before, you used to take a photo, the only way for people to see those photos was on the news or in a magazine. So that means that there was a purchase. You would see it on newsstands and purchased it. It was in a magazine like Teen Beat and that. That was our Instagram. Today. You have a cell phone. Instagram comes to you immediately.
B.K: You can look back at music placement in a series as far back as the Jeffersons or Allin the Family or Good Times. And how Ray Charles played The Night-Time Is the Right Time, and the cast danced to it, and it was part of the script. Thousands of records were sold the next day. So someone like Drake, with that much television experience, understands the power of licensing music. It’s also about mailing lists of fans, subscribers. Drake is at 25,000,000.
C.L: Streaming is the new buying. So a lot of kids don't understand that. In my mentorship programs, I teach them the industry, how a record is serviced today, and how it was serviced yesterday. Yesterday it was a piece of physical property that had to go through a factory and an assembly line to get to you. It had to be made. Profits are much larger now because nothing is made. The record industry is 20 times bigger than it was in the year 1980. So the average human used to maybe buy one to two albums a year at the $15 an album, $30 in total. I'm not talking about the D.J.s or other collectors, and now those people spend $30 in less than three months via subscriptions through the big platforms.
I made them understand how the money flows and why it's important to have a structure behind them. They've got to stop putting their music up for free for download. You're going into the studio, work your ass off just to give away your music, but is it enough to say, Hey, I have a record out. You're an idiot.
B.K: Charles, what's your background?
C.L: Canadian Bajan. My parents grew up in St. Thomas and Christ Church Parish in Barbados. And then we moved from there all over the place. Then England. My family lives in four countries. England, Barbados, Canada, and America. I grew up in Toronto and New York. London, Brighton Beach. I still have a lot of family in Brighton and I have family in Notting Hill. Yeah. Well, the British, I, you know, it's the British that take all these things in and do something different with it, you know, hip-hop, reggae, whatever, you know.
B.K: The Brits assimilated so much of the world's music and rhythms and reshaped into their own image. The Rolling Stones embraced American blues. The Specials ska.
C.L: If you look at it, all of that is a tribute to ska and reggae. Listen to the Police first album, to the Clash, listen to DRI or Phil Collins. These people grew up in that era. Duran Duran came out of that entire area. Sheffield, like crazy. All of that music was attributed to reggae. Look what they did. They basically commercialized reggae by slowing it down, getting a champion like Bob Marley. There's no words. He's the man who made me who I am. He's the first man I ever idolized in my entire life and I didn't even know that's what it was called.
B.K: How did you get yourself involved with music?
C.L: Working in a record store when I was 10, 11, 12, 13 in Toronto.
B.K: Where was this?
C.L: It's called George the Record Man, Monica's Beauty Salon & Cosmetic Supply, on 1553 Eglinton Avenue, Little Jamaica. My cousins owned it, so I would be there every weekend and it's like my family.
Growing up in a record store, all I would do is read the back of the album jackets. I knew who the producer was. I knew who played tambourine on the record, who was the bass guitarist. So that's how I developed the whole music thing. But before that I had a cousin of mine, Raymond Ford, and Raymond was like, incredible. He was like a Renaissance man. You know what I mean? He, he played guitar and sang and he used to do all the Marley numbers. And that's why I fell in love with Bob Marley. He was the one who basically opened up my eyes to music. So the minute I knew I could go to the record store was the story of my weekend.
I met so many people in that record store. I met Yellowman. I met, uh, Katia Rankins. I met like every single Jamaican artist that came up from Jamaica. I mean, their first outlet was Toronto. A lot of people have no idea how massive the Toronto Jamaican connection is. You know what I mean? We have the largest settlement of Jamaicans outside Jamaica. I met Barrington Levy. I met Shabba Ranks. I met Katia Rankins. I met Buju who used to live in Toronto. And you know, that was the fascination right there.
A lot of people don't know the role that little Jamaica played. I can honestly say hip-hop started on Eglinton Avenue in that record store because those guys were the pioneers. They used to have the biggest record selection. Derek used to go to New York every week, buy records, shop the records, and send them back to Toronto. Like it was crazy. And a lot of people don't know that history. A lot of people always talk about Ron Nelson and all those guys, but those guys were the second wave. The first wave started on Eglinton Avenue. It was the only record store that you could go to purchase all those records. They were the first two guys who brought Run-DMC here. They brought Whodini. I met the Fresh Prince there. They were the first persons to bring Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince here, Roxanne Shante all that. This record store was where it was available. That's the reason why everyone started doing that stuff.
Bill: After that?
C.L: So I'm this kid working at a record store and all of a sudden, all these people know my name. I don't even know these people, but they know my name, and I become a popular kid. So I throw a party, and it's all ages, and the party is sold out. So then I started throwing all these all ages parties, me and my friends, you know? I was the D.J. because I was working at a record store. I knew how to play, not how to mix. I knew how to scratch. I knew how to do all that stuff. And then I started doing these parties. The next thing you know, I'm standing on the Masonic Temple stage. I'm like not even 15, 16 years old. I'm the D.J. and Masonic Temple is hot. So my cousins Derek and Junior start booking all these parties and all the sudden I'm DJing. They start throwing parties in the basement downstairs their record store. So now my parents are super mad because I'm 15 years old. I'm out late nights and telling her I'm sleeping at my friend's house then they find out that I'm playing these parties. You know, that didn't go over nice. That's how the whole thing started.
B.K: How did you get into management?
As I got older, I started working at these nightclubs and we would book these D.J.s and I would go pick them up from the airport, take them to the hotel, take them to the soundcheck, take them back to the hotel, to get ready, bring them to the event, then perform. Take them to the after party. After the after party, take them from the after party, back to the hotel, take them from the hotel back to the airport. This became a constant—artist hospitality. Artists would pick up the phone. Yo, when you get to Toronto, make sure you talk to Charles. He's the guy who takes care of all this. The reputation of hospitality turns into tour management. I take care of them so well they want me to be on tour with them, basically. I didn't even know what it was called, dude. It was just a hospitality thing—me just being me. Now it's Vertical Group Inc.
96SOUL is a singer, rapper, and songwriter. His love for music has always been apparent in his life, while participating in musicals throughout elementary school, singing in the choir and competing in singing competitions throughout high school. Brought up on country and rock & roll roots, his love for R&B and Hip-hop came in grade 7 when he discovered artists such as Drake, Kanye West, Chris Brown, Lil Wayne, and Eminem.
96SOUL began writing at the age of 15; he would then continue to write and record 3projects of music, including a Hip-hop album entitled The Transition in 2016; and gradually moving into two complete R&B projects, one entitled Pay Attention in 2017 which was a collaborative project with producer BLVCK MASS and the other entitled SOUL which was released in early 2018. He began to gain more recognition after the release of his more popular songs Masterpiece, Roll Through, and Ambition. Performing in famous venues such as SOBs in New York City and having radio spins on the infamous Hot97, 96SOUL focuses on pushing the limits with his artistry while creating more of an impact to dominate the industry in years to come.
"TURN MUZIK INC, (TMI) is Canada's newest Record Label, Music and Entertainment Company. TMI is a boutique–concept, positive music industry footprint, Entertainment Media Company specializing in the recognition, development and creation of Artist-driven music content. We are about creating longevity and lasting careers in the music industry of diverse origins and genres, not simply "one-hit" wonders.
Our partnership is about creating real business opportunities for both TMI and the Artist. We are smartly positioned to leverage our various marketing tools and business strategies to better highlight the artists' merits and subsequent music product offerings. This includes, but is not limited to, pairing Artists with established music producers, content creators and streamlined delivery methods. With a renowned ability to attract both national and international exposure; this will, in-turn, develop a strong marketplace presence for the Artist and awareness for the music buying public."