While most music producers, as brilliant and innovative as they may be, often stay in the shadow of the artists that they help develop, there seems to be an exception in the hip-hop and rap industries. Successful producers such as Dr. Dre, Timbaland, or Sean Combs (P. Diddy), are also widely recognized for their personal background, edgy personalities, and presence in the public sphere. Michael Conner is no different. At age 22, the Los Angeles native went from traumatized gang member to rising music producer and manager, all the while giving back to the one organization that saved his life.
I know it’s a bit of a sensitive subject, but can you talk a little bit about your childhood and early teenage years?
Sure. When I was nine, I joined one of the most prominent gangs of Los Angeles and quickly became involved in the drug business. At the age of thirteen, I witnessed the murder of both my girlfriend and her brother, who happened to be my best friend. I was the one targeted during that shooting but ended up without a scratch… So then I decided to go to Homeboy Industries, on the verge of leaving this lovely planet, and they helped me out from there. They gave me the opportunity to be something other than a bad person.
What is Homeboy Industries and what exactly do they do?
Homeboy Industries is a nonprofit organization. It is basically a gang rehabilitation center in downtown Los Angeles run by Father Greg that helps former and current gang members with their issues if they need help with counseling, legal services, tattoo removals, job placement… all the things to put them back to be outstanding people in society.
What was your general state of mind when you came to Homeboy Industries as a teenager?
I didn’t want to do too much, but I obviously wanted to change. Music had always been my passion, so I spoke to Father Greg and told him that I wanted to work in the industry. During the course of the next few years, he managed to place me at different incredible labels such as Capitol, Avatar, and Universal. I did a little bit of everything, such as A&R (artist and repertoire), signing new talent, being director of video promotion, working on online broadcast stations, or doing street team promotion in major U.S. cities. Everything! It was great… I gained all the knowledge that I needed from those great internships and then eventually decided to do my own thing.
You didn’t want to work your way up in big record labels like Capitol Records?
No, I wanted to be my own boss. I decided that it would be amazing if I had my own company. I mean, over the years, I had helped bring in millions of dollars to these other record labels, so there were no reasons why I couldn’t do it myself…
That’s actually a good transition. Let’s talk about your company, MIH Entertainment Group. What is the idea behind it and when did you start it?
MIH is a relatively young label company with four divisions: management, services, publishing, and our label (MIH Music Group) and sub-label (Set-Up Shop Records). I am mostly responsible for the first two, where I manage two very talented artists: Doll-e Girl, signed with XXL/Universal, and Canadian singer Sarah Melody. We do their finances, take care of their touring, studio operations appearances… Like personal managers, basically. Our company also offers services to any artists who need to increase their online presence or launch a direct marketing campaign to the consumers. We currently have deals with Universal, the book company Icepan, and a bunch of artists.
Do you produce hip-hop music?
No. It’s actually out of my genre! I listen mainly to hip-hop and R&B, but the music we produce is mostly pop.
And you’re still working closely with Homeboy Industries, right?
Yes, and that’s completely independent from MIH. I’m the director of label operations for a subdivision I created called Homeboy Music Group. The basic idea is to provide the opportunity for former gang members at Homeboy to get the experience on producing, writing, and recording a whole album. Getting the whole studio knowledge as well as the sales aspect, just like I did when I was growing up.
Have you already recorded a full album for Homeboy Music Group?
We already have an EP called “Just Like That” and we are hard at work on an album called The Movement, which will be released in the winter of 2010. It’s all hip-hop, but the messages in the songs are very positive. All artists have some form of connection to Homeboy, and accepted to participate in a project where all funds go directly back to Homeboy Industries.
That’s amazing… You’ve obviously had a great ascension since your early teen years in a gang. Where do you see yourself in the future?
My goal in the next nine years is to retire. I want to retire when I’m thirty.
Wow. I was more expecting something like, “be the next P. Diddy!”
[laughs] Let me explain myself. I have a lot of friends who retire at twenty-five. Is it really “being retired”? No. But is it being financially stable and able to support and give back to my community? Yes. I work at Homeboy Industries free of charge, and I eventually want to be able to do it full time.
What do you need? How can Daily BR!NK readers contribute to your success?
I mean… Homeboy Industries has been in a big financial barrier that has been holding them back and they need some money! It’s a great organization for this community, and it really helps those in need. Do we want to spend money to help these people or do we want to spend money to take the paint off our wall from tagging our property? Do you want to help prevent that or take the pain off once the hurt is done? I’m a perfect example of what Homeboy Industry does. Who would’ve been there by my side if it weren’t for them?
But what do you personally need? For your company?
[hesitating] If there’s one thing the readers are going to remember, I’d rather have it be for Homeboy Industries. Helping the organization is the best way to help me. Without it, a lot of the people who have been brought back to society would’ve been in a penitentiary or dead. They would’ve been hurting innocent individuals. Father Greg can talk to a guy with a gun in his hand and tell him, “I love you, son.” By doing that, he’s not just helping that individual, he’s helping society as a whole.