John Payne
In this interview Senior Vice President of the new Death Row records Mr. John Payne talks about the new Kurupt album and the future release of 2pac material, and DVDs worth of previously unreleased videos, concerts, etc. Mr. Payne also talks about the future of the label and the plan to bring new blood in to generate the public’s interest.
by Will Hernandez

WHO?MAG: Talk about the “new” Kurupt album?
John Payne: It’s an album that we’re very pleased with, and the part that we’re pleased with is because parts of the record had been released and bootlegged before. Now Kurupt, the producers, and writers are going to have a chance to get paid. I hate to go a little bit off in this interview, but I hate it with people who love and support the artists; but then they bootleg the record and the artist doesn’t get paid. The other good thing, it’s a really good record. There’s a lot of good people on it. I’ve been listening to it quite honestly for 2 months, I’ve enjoyed, hopefully you will too as the other people.

WHO?MAG: How did you get involved with Death Row records?
John Payne: When Death Row first started I was one of the original founding members. I was there when it was basically The D.O.C, [Dr.] Dre, and Suge [Knight] and at that time the only artist was Jewell, who sang on a lot of records. In a few months we had Snoop coming around. He signed Lady or Rage, we had Warren G hanging out, Kurupt came in and it grew from there. I was there from the very beginning. I stayed for a couple of years and left and did other things. I was actually working when the Death Row catalog went into bankruptcy. I was actually working with the trusties to verify and make sure everything was correct. Everyone that came in that was interested in the purchase, I got a chance to meet. I happened to click with the WideAwake family. We went back and forth about me joining the team and it seemed as if it was going to be good thing for both parties. We were both ready so that was how it came about. It’s been a good year. We’ve been cleaning up some things, getting our business together – a new company, especially buying the catalog out of bankruptcy. We’re at the point where we think it’ll be a better year than last year because we understand where things are; where the skeletons are. Now we’re going to put out some new music and work with some of the old artists as well as some of the new ones so it’s going to be kind of cool.

WHO?MAG: Have any of the artists reached out or vice versa?
John Payne: It would be nice if anybody would be involved. Here’s the thing, we’re putting out new material and it would be an investment to help promote it anyway because they’re going to be making the money; right now off the top. Next month we’re releasing a Danny Boy record, all unreleased material. He’s going to be helping promote that, he’s going to get a chance for people to see him. As things go on we’re going to be addressing a lot of people because I would like for whatever record we put out, for them to get involved with and it would be a good thing. Now that we understand were we stand with them legally, we are looking at the possibility if we can put out some old stuff with the new stuff. We reached the point where I think that some of the people trust us, but based on the history of the label, the label left some bad taste in some people’s mouths. It’s just proving to the people that we’re going to do the right thing and at least try by them.

WHO?MAG: This is the million dollar question that everyone wants to know. Will Death Row be putting any unreleased 2pac material?
John Payne: Yes there will be a 2pac album coming out close to the end of year. I want everyone to hear this, this is from my mouth. I give everybody my word; it will be UNMIXED. No remixes no adding anything. The way it was when 2pac finished it. The way he left it that’s how we’re going to put it out. I’ve heard a lot of the stuff and it’s really good. I don’t see no point of remixing it or adding somebody to it. It doesn’t need it, I think it would be wrong to do it. I’d like people to get the real 2pac they way they used to get them. To answer your question: yes, most definitely.

WHO?MAG: Will it include Johnny J production on it?
John Payne: Some of the tracks that we’re looking at there’s some Johnny J production on it, various other people. So you understand as part of our purchase we’re entitled to 13 songs out of the whole bank. We’re in the process of deciding, if you ask me in 2 months I can tell you which songs I want. I can tell you there are some Johnny J tracks in the pot.

WHO?MAG: Speaking of that, what are your thoughts on those remix projects of 2pac that have come out over the years?
John Payne: When I think that, quite honestly some weren’t so good. I think the market got saturated. One right after the other; you never got a chance to savor. I think people really didn’t take into consideration what 2pac did. People were trying to expand more so on what he did without really including the direction he was going in. I think people really need to handle delicately before you touch this stuff. I don’t think anybody should be able to just walk in and remix because he’s not in the studio, you don’t have his opinion anymore. That to me is a little dangerous. That’s why when we put out the 2pac album we’re going to put it out just the way he left it. Believe me you will really like it.

WHO?MAG: How about the Sam Sneed “Street Scholars” album that was supposed to come out on Death Row in the mid 90s?
John Payne: We do know they exist and will be talking to him. Right now we don’t have the whole album in our possession. It would be good to get that album out, everybody wants it. Some of the stuff I’ve heard that’s on MP3. It’s really good.

WHO?MAG: How about the Soopafly album? I heard he had stuff that was supposed to be an album that never came out?
John Payne: You can name everybody: Soopafly, OFTB, Crooked I, and we got some Nina who was Left Eye. All of the stuff is really banging. If they were on Death Row at anytime or recorded with the label it should be in our vaults.

WHO?MAG: How about footage I’ve seen over the years of unreleased videos; concert footage, etc?
John Payne: We’ve got a lot of that stuff. We’ve been in process for the past few month digitizing and log it all in so we can see what we have too. We got DVDs planned: concert footage, unreleased videos, as well as the original videos and alternative versions.

WHO?MAG: Does Death Row plan to sign any new acts or artists?
John Payne: I think that would be the plan. Give us six months to a year. I want us to address all the Death Row alumni first since we’re going to be putting out their product. Try to have some new people and mix them up with the old people as well. It makes the sound continue to evolve.

WHO?MAG: Do you think Death Row can regain its status in hip hop that it had in the 1990s?
John Payne: You know what? I hope so. That’s a hard challenge. Right now we don’t have that same nucleus, we don’t have [Dr.] Dre, Snoop, and 2pac. That’s a hard challenge because we don’t have that nucleus. There’s other people out there. I hope so. We can at least keep it alive so that it doesn’t die anyway. To turn it back into the powerhouse, that would be a real good thing.