This interview originally appeared on EARSTYLE June 09, 2011
Many people may know Fonzworth Bentley as the Sean Comb’s umbrella toting assistant, but there’s more to the man behind the style. Mr. Bentley is a man of many wise words and he possesses an interesting and unique appreciation of the arts. EarStyle had a chance to speak with multi-talented artist Fonzworth Bentley about his project, “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” Check out what he had to say about his project, G.O.O.D. Music, and more!
EARSTYLE: First of all, we would like to congratulate you on the release of your latest project, “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” How does it feel to finally be able to share your vision?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: I can’t even put it into words. If you look at the artwork it looks as if there’s a lot of stress in my face. It’s been a difficult journey to deliver it. To finally have it out is the closest I had to deal with delivery pains.
EARSTYLE: Speaking of the delayed release, what were some of the reason behind the delay? Was it creativity issues or label politics?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Label politics are always there and will always be a variable. Right before Sony Urban dissolved the president met with Kanye and told him it was about to go down so she allowed him to get his artists out of there before everything happened. That slowed a whole bunch of stuff up. At that time I had “Venice Beaches”, a version of “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.”, and I had “Everybody”. From what happened after that, most of the artists that were apart of G.O.O.D. jumped into a deal and in most circumstance it makes sense. You just don’t want to be sitting around. I just saw the industry changing so quickly and it was like every 6 months. I didn’t want to jump into another long-term situation with a company knowing that the tapestry changes so often. What I ended up doing was shooting “Everybody” myself and I put it on Kanye’s blog and iTunes. I did that to kind of bridge the gap between what was going on to let people know that this is what it is and this is what you should expect. A lot of people were hungry and thirsty right after that, but music takes time. Also, finding the right situation takes time. I’m not one of these guys that are going to kind of microwave music out there. I have a point of view and from the get go I have to make sure I give a full spectrum of colors so people can understand what the point of view is. They also have to understand the spirit from which I am coming. I want it to be very clear and that takes time. There are a lot of personal obstacles that an artist goes through. Sometimes they can over think and it’s a lot of different things. I finally just set a date for myself and I stuck to it and I’m just happy to finally get it out.
EARSTYLE: Who are some of the people that inspired the project?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: As far as inspiration I would definitely say Earth Wind & Fire, huge influences. I’d say the Baroque period in general. I love Classical music and the Baroque period is very aggressive. I think a lot of folks when they heard the music they didn’t expect some of the harder stuff that was on there for whatever reason. Also, I would definitely say that a lot of the luminaries before me as far as Hip-Hop, I think of X Clan, I think of Big Daddy Kane, A Tribe Called Quest, they were all huge influences for the project. A lot of it comes straight from me and straight from my heart.
EARSTYLE: Did you expect the response that you received once you dropped the first offering, “Everybody”? I was a member of Hampton University’s Marching Band and we played the track our freshman year.
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Wow! That’s good to know. I knew that it was a special piece of art. I knew that getting those two together (Kanye West & Andre 3000) for the first time was also special. The way to go about it is interesting and you have to be clever. I think that for me, one of the things that really bother me more than anything is seeing really cool collaborations happen and then either the beat isn’t good, or the concept is wack, or with the video they miss the bar a bit. I wanted to make sure for such a special collaboration such as that, that it was cool, fresh, and new. We definitely did that. I sold 120 videos on iTunes and 90,000 singles in the first 6 months. It’s gone to sell more than that, but in the first six months those are the numbers I did completely independent as if you were to put it on iTunes.
EARSTYLE: During your recording sessions you previewed some of the material on Ustream and we were able to catch you in the studio with Teyana Taylor. The song was crazy are there any plans for that song?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Yeah, that was right before she was about to go to press for “Madea’s Big Happy Family” which came out at the same time as I was releasing the project. She hit me like last week like, “Yo we gotta finish that. That thing is still in my head”. A lot of folks have been hitting me up on twitter asking what’s up with that. I just got back to Los Angeles on Sunday. That’s definitely an urgent one to get done. The next project will be the “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” album. I don’t know if that particular song will be able to wait that long. I might have to let folks have that one for the summer just to bridge in the gap. There has been an overwhelming response. She really has her whole social networking situation down packed. Of course people show up to these sessions and not only are they her fans, but there are also tastemakers like yourself that show up. We are definitely going to knock that out. The dance that goes with it is so crazy. That’s why I’m like we have to get that done. She dances and I like to work with people who can actually move. It’s kind of funny, because artists don’t even really move that much any more. I’m talking about really moving on stage and giving you a show. Teyana and I will really have a lot of fun making that happen.
EARSTYLE: I noticed you mentioned a “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” album and I guess there is confusion with the Mixtape/EP that was just released. You’re also working on a full-length album under the same name?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Yeah. No doubt. A lot of people didn’t really get the “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” mixtape, but that came before Kanye’s “Graduation” album. “Can’t Tell Me Nothing” was a very significant record for Kanye West’s career, because that really got him in the hood. That was the first song that really connected to the hood in a big way. You build off of that brand, but that came before his album came. “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” is what it is. It’s an EP; it’s 8 songs on the EP which is on iTunes. There are 7 extra songs that I put with it. You know with the times we are in, people stripped it and put it together and it’s coming off like a Mixtape. An EP is almost like a Mixtape. You figure, “So Far Gone” was a Mixtape, but “So Far Gone” was then sold as an EP. At the end of the day it’s all about the content. Because of the way the music was put together, the sequencing, the interludes, the care, and because it’s original music it also came off as an album. The only freestyle I did was the freestyle I did to “Black Ice” which is an ode to Organized Noize. That’s why people took it as an album, because the quality is that of an album.
EARSTYLE: G.O.O.D. Music is making a lot of noise right now. Are you surprised that the group has been such an evolving force over the years?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Not at all. If you think about Sean Combs who was fired and then within a couple of weeks, his mentor Andre Harrell was helping him negotiate a deal with Clive Davis for Bad Boy Records and all he had was Craig Mack and Biggie. His Promotion/Marketing was this thing where he made a carton that looked like the carton that a Big Mac came in and it was double sided and it said “Big Mac”. That’s all he had. That’s what he started his label off of. I still give Sean Combs a lot of credit where a lot of these labels have completely dissolved, but you can still get a Bad Boy Imprint on a record. It’s something that could be said for that and it evolved over the years. It’s just happens for a reason. First of all, whenever you have a label that is run by an artist it is different. An artist continues to gather information and inspiration from different places and based on that he’ll gravitate to certain sounds or aesthetics based on that. The time sometimes can dictate. Sometimes you can have a whole bunch of lyricists and you would want your camp to ramp in that respect. The eclectic type thing seems to be the thing you’re really driving for. I can see it starting to move in that direction. It’s kind of the way it is. One of the things I’ll never forget that a couple of my mentors in the business told me is that whenever you sign to a label that is ran by an artist know that you are signed to a label that is run by an artist. It makes things interesting and makes things exciting. It’s not like his artists are wack. It’s different if you are signed to an artist who starts to get a little wack juice on them. That can make things more compromising for the other acts. Ye don’t have much wack juice on him.
EARSTYLE: What do you think separates G.O.O.D. Music from the other labels and Music Groups that are ran by other artists?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: That’s an excellent question. For one thing, Kanye West is one of the biggest artists in the world. That makes it different, because at the same time he’s making sure and maintaining that he continues at the level that he’s been providing art. To continue to stay at that level it takes a lot of resources and time spent on your own projects. For a collective like G.O.O.D. Music, you want to sign artists that can get out and create their own movements and be able to go from start to finish and deliver a product. You look at the success of Big Sean. Kanye is giving him a platform, but that is Big Sean. Pusha obviously already had a huge foundation and a whole bunch of fans so it’s not like he’s a new act. He’s a new solo act, but that’s a different type of situation. I have a whole bunch of fans, but fans as far as music, that is a completely new genre for me. That’s an interesting space. The music has to speak for itself first. Forget the marketing. The music has to speak for itself. If the music is not good you can market all you want, but it has to start with the music. I think that because my point of view has been very established and people understand the things that are my core values. When they go to listen to my music those things are still there. Not only does it make sense, but also it’s cool and reinforces all of the things that I have been doing thus far in my career.
EARSTYLE: Speaking of Ye, everyone is anticipating this “Watch The Throne” album. Have you heard it yet?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: I’ve heard some of it. I think I heard like 4 or 5 joints.
EARSTYLE: So is that something that we should be looking forward to coming soon?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: It doesn’t really matter what I say to that question. Is it coming soon? Who knows? Hopefully. I’m just keeping it real. Hopefully, but you know how that goes. One thing about Ye is that you never know about Kanye’s record until you actually hear it on the CD. He changes it so many times. There’s one particular song that I heard, but I already know that there’s been another artist that has been added to it. When I heard the song I personally couldn’t see where another artist could fit, but who knows where that record is now. You know what I’m saying? That’s why even from me who has ultimate access to that product, I like to remain a fan and I never want to hear all of the records before it comes out. I want to listen to it and appreciate it with everybody else and I can call Ye and give him my opinion the same as if you would call him and give him your opinion. It’s an honest and it’s a fair opinion. With all of the albums, I made it a point not to hear every record. Michael Jackson was a fan that’s why he was able to still perform at that level. Beyonce is a fan; she is a fan of the culture and a fan of the music. That’s why she’s able to perform at the level that she does. That’s just my opinion.
EARSTYLE: Outside of music, you have done everything from writing etiquette books to hosting reality shows, what is your next move?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Music is something I am extremely focused on delivering and having people understand live. Live is where I can really showcase my talents and gifts. I’m always working on different projects though. The projects always fit to me. Not all projects match my brand. When building a brand, it’s not what you say yes to it’s really what you say no to. It also depends on your core values. I’m not motivated by money. There are a lot of shows that are lucrative that I could be apart of. I’d make a lot of money and I’d be very popular, but if they don’t fit my core brand then it is not what I need to do. That’s how I make sure I am always doing something that I am happy with doing. I’m always going to have joy, but I need to make sure I am happy. Many people we watch on TV or that are in this industry are not happy. They have a lot of money; they got a couple of toys, but are they happy? There’s a web series in the works wrapped around “C.O.L.O.U.R.S.” that’ll be explaining a lot more of the philosophy. The C being blue, the O being yellow, all of that is for a reason. It wasn’t like I just shuffled a deck of colors. There’s a lot of philosophy that goes into it. The web series will explain a lot of that and hopefully get people to express their feelings and change their uniqueness so other people can appreciate it as well. That’s the point of this whole project. It’s for people to become confident in their uniqueness and make them know that’s what makes them cool.
EARSTYLE: What do you think is the biggest misconception of Fonzworth Bentley?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: The biggest misconception? It depends on whom you are talking to. I’ll say the biggest misconception would be that I was actually a butler. I think that folks that really pay attention to the culture and pay attention to me know that I was a personal assistant to one of the best that ever done it just like he was the personal assistant to the president and CEO of Uptown Records. Just like he learned and gone on to create his empire, at the same time I had that job and I created a brand. That’s sort of a new thing. What I was doing was so new and framed different because of the collective I worked with. I think the next biggest misconception is that I’m from New York. People have no idea where I’m from. I was born and raised in Atlanta, Georgia. I went to public school; I went to Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia. Right after that I moved to New York City in 1998 and within 9 months I knew my first goal was to bring class to hip-hop. That was my first goal. Slowly, but surely, I believe it happened.
EARSTYLE: Speaking of Atlanta, Georgia, one of your fans wanted to know if it was true that you grew up with Andre 3000?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Middle School…yeah, that’s when we met. I have an interesting picture actually of me escorting the 7th grade queen and him escorting the 6th grade queen and both of us were shorter than the girls. Usually the women mature faster. I hit my growth spurt in like 8th grade summer I think. My nickname was, “Shrimp”. It’s kind of funny looking at us walking behind each other escorting the ladies and both of us were shorter than the women.
EARSTYLE: What advice do you have for anyone who is looking into stepping foot into the entertainment industry and building his or her own brand?
FONZWORTH BENTLEY: Excellent question. The answer to that is a simple answer. The answer to that is “Trust into the Lord with all your heart and lean not on understanding. In all ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path straight.” I think that a lot of times we get humbled twisted. The humble is walking straight upright with your chest out and your head up with a smile on your face knowing that God is going to provide everything that your heart desires and that you feel. You have to trust in his promises in knowing that he loves you and he’s going to not forsake you and allow you to do the things that you see yourself doing. I think that when we try to do it ourselves and do it the way that we think we can do it and not take the time to start our day centering ourselves talking to the person that made us so that he can really give us our schedule for the day, that’s when we’re lost. I would really encourage everyone to A. do that and B. take these three words out of your vocabulary. Those three words are “can’t”, “try”, and “but”. But is a do in way to an excuse, Can’t don’t have anything to do with anything. How can you “can’t” when you can do all things? Try is the difficult one, because it so cliché-ly gets in our vocabulary. “Man I’m working hard I’m just trying…” Well guess what that is what you will be doing you will be “trying”. I think that one of the biggest lies ever told is that sticks & stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me. That’s a lie, because words will hurt you. Life and death is in the tongue. Don’t say you’re “trying”. You can take try out of that same sentence and now what you said is moving forward with much more propensity, because every time you open your mouth you speak in faith. Faith is not a religious concept; faith is a law just like gravity.