Sidney Thomas, DC music examiner had the opportunity to interview entertainment mogul Malachai Johns. In the candid interview Malachai speaks on his new business ventures, parting ways with go-go band Mambo Sauce and how he began in the go-go circuit. Peep the full interview inside.
Malachai "Redds" Johns is an ambitious music promoter, graphic designer, talent consultant, and independent label boss. But more importantly, he has an established track record for successfully developing, marketing, and managing local artists.
Mr. Johns is credited with creating the go-go band Mambo Sauce - then aggressively promoting them to nationwide prominence. The video for their hit song "Welcome To DC" was in regular rotation on MTV Networks, and Mambo Sauce was the first go-go band to tour nationally in over 20 years. Mr. Johns has also worked with local singer David Correy, who was recently featured in XXL Magazine as the "Breakout Artist" of 2012.
"Redds", who sits on the DC Board of Governors for the Grammy Awards, is extremely busy, but he still managed to squeeze some time out of his schedule for an interview with The Examiner.
ST: For the people who don't know you, tell them who you are and what you do.
MJ: I do freelance graphic design with my company Redd Graphics and through my promotion company Malfunktions, I promote an event at The Whiskey in Annapolis (1803 West St.) on Wednesdays called Naptown Live “The Pocket Sessions”. I also started a new company called 7070 Group LLC. The first priority of this company is the band Lipstick & Congas, which is a continuation of the vision that I had for Mambo Sauce. I’ve also started working with bounce beat producer/artist Mr. Drew, and I do consulting for other artists.
ST: How (and at what age) did you become interested in music?
MJ: I started playing classical guitar when I was 6. When I was 11 I got an electric guitar and I played with some rock bands and funk bands in high school. And then in 10th grade I started playing in a go-go band. When I was in college my major for my first two years was Classical Guitar Performance. I also played in a hip-hop band that I tried to infuse with as much go-go into as possible.
ST: How did you become involved with the go-go circuit?
MJ: A guy that lived down the street from me wanted me to come try out for his band (Occupation Band). At this point, I had only heard recordings of go-go and I didn’t really understand it or like it, so I was a little reluctant. I tried out anyway and made it. When I played the first show and saw the hands in the air and the girls taking their clothes off! I was like, “sign me up now"! I never looked back, lol!
ST: You also played with the Northeast Groovers (NEG). How did you get down with them?
MJ: I took Occupation to record at Reo's and he and I kept in touch. I left Occupation to go to college and when I decided to move back he let me know that NEG was looking for a guitar player. My audition was at the Icebox in front of like a million people, lol! When I was getting on stage, Rapper asked me what my name was. I said, "Malachai", and he cocked his head to the side with a quizzical look and was like, "Can I just call you Redds"? Lol! I got the job, and they all called me Redds from then on.
ST: And then you went on to play for SOULO.
MJ: SOULO (I came up with that name incidentally) and NEG were actually exactly the same band at first. We were going to play some nights as SOULO at the "Grown & Sexy" clubs, and as NEG at the same clubs where we were already playing. General Lee was the lead rapper at the time because Rah had quit. The managers of SOULO didn't like the way he sounded for that band, but we were cool with how he sounded for NEG. Once he got cut from SOULO he didn't show up for NEG any more either, and that was the end of that. We got Chi Ali to talk for SOULO.
ST: Did you ever experience any discrimination in go-go because of your skin color?
MJ: When I tried out for the Occupation Band, one of the vocalists didn’t vote for me because he didn’t want a white guy in the band. He’s one of my best friends now, lol! Other than that, no one has ever said anything derogatory about my race to my face. I have noticed some hesitation over the years to give credibility to what I may say about go-go because I’m just a “white kid from Annapolis”, but nothing bothers me. I love the music. I don’t care what people say about me.
ST: How did you make the transition from musician to management?
MJ: I used to be a part of some of the promotion meetings for NEG and SOULO, but I was never in a position of leadership. I didn’t fully take that on until Mambo Sauce. While I was building Mambo Sauce, I was also managing my old band Occupation for a while. But listening to the white kid - that they brought into go-go in the first place - tell them what they should be doing, wasn't really in the cards. I guess I took it on because I’ve always been pretty organized. I’ve always been one of the more responsible ones. But the real reason is that I’m really passionate about this music, and I just feel like it could be so much more than it is, and I want to do something about it.
ST: You really broke new ground with the way Mambo Sauce was created and marketed. How did you come up with that whole concept?
MJ: It wasn’t really a new concept. It was just the way that national artists market themselves applied to a go-go band. Go-go bands have an entirely different objective than touring bands. A go-go band wants to get as many shows a week as possible, in the same venues every week, and make money as soon as they can. It’s amazing that this is even possible, because it’s impossible almost everywhere else (except Vegas, but that doesn’t count because they’re playing for different people every night. Go-go bands play for the same people).
ST: Why did you choose to work with a go-go band as opposed to a more conventional artist?
MJ: Go-go is my passion, so even when I want to say "screw the whole thing" (which is often), something keeps me coming back. When I was living in Los Angeles I realized that the market for go-go stretched well beyond the hoods of DC. I interviewed at Def Jam with the head of West Coast Promotions, who also happened to be Lyor Cohen’s brother. He took me out to lunch, and although I didn’t get the job, I had Northeast Groovers on my resume and he got super-excited because he loved go-go music. This was a middle-aged Jewish white guy from L.A. who loved go-go.
ST: The other important thing about Mambo Sauce is they played all original music instead of playing "cover songs" like most other go-go bands.
MJ: Yes, my good friend Dig-Dug from NEG/SOULO, and I used to always argue about whether SOULO should do original music (after all, the people in the band went on to write songs for Jennifer Lopez, Keyshia Cole, Mya, Ludacris & T.I, etc.), with me obviously being the one who thought we should. He called me when I was in L.A. to say that Roc Music was interested in NEG (they had gotten back together at the time), but someone in the band had messed the deal up, and he was pissed! LOL! That showed him that there really was an interest in go-go outside of DC, and he now understood what I was saying the whole time.
ST: What led to the break up of Mambo Sauce?
MJ: Blind trust and bad bookkeeping on my part. Ego and ignorance of how the (music) business works on theirs.
ST: Mambo Sauce has not had the same success they had when you were involved. Is there a scenario in which you would rejoin the band in any capacity?
ST: You were also instrumental in the development of David Correy. Are you still working with him?
MJ: No. We parted ways in 2009. He decided to go a musical direction that I was not interested in. I’m slightly more invested in the creative part of the artists I work with than most managers, and if I don’t believe in the music, I can’t represent it. We did just speak the other day about possibly working on some music together again in the future though.
ST: Many local artists complain about the lack of resources and opportunity in our area. But I just referred to two different situations where you took musicians from the DMV and brought them nationwide success, so obviously you have an eye for talent. What qualities are you looking for when you see a new artist for the first time?
MJ: An artist has to have the ability to control the room and perform at a high level of musicianship. They have to be doing something that no one else is. I have no interest in copycats. The most important things I look for are a strong work ethic and realistic expectations. A large number of people in this area think that they’re just supposed to make some music every now and again, and a manager will push a button and make them famous. It doesn’t work like that. People that are successful in this business bust their ass all day and all night with specific goals in mind.
ST: Do you still have contacts in the music industry from your time in Los Angeles?
ST: What artists are you currently working with that we will be hearing about in the future?
MJ: Lipstick & Congas and Mr. Drew. I also may be doing some consulting for a pop artist named Devin Kowl, and I’m going to always do whatever I can to unofficially help out my favorite local artist Levi Stephens.
ST: What other plans or projects do you have on tap for 2012?
MJ: I’m currently in pre-production of a go-go documentary with Cool Kids Forever Films. But my biggest project is my wedding in April, lol!
For more information about Redds check out his website at: http://www.malfunktionslive.com
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via Examiner.com Photo Credit: www.malfunktionslive.com
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