The name John Monopoly carries a lot of weight in Chicago hip hop circles, and if there were any doubts about the clout he carries, they were squashed during the recent Watch The Throne concert in Chicago when Kanye West shouted out his old friend and colleague on stage. West said Monopoly was the first person to believe in him, and the first to pass along his demo.
Not a bad piece of street cred to have when you're embarking on your own record label, which is Monopoly's latest venture, Lawless Inc., along with business partner Larry Wilson.
"I think Chicago is up next because there's a lot of talent in Chicago that goes elsewhere," Wilson says. "There's writers and producers that go somewhere else, and there's not a label in Chicago that offers that full service like we can."
Some may argue that in the world of digitization, starting a record label is a fool's errand, but the pair maintain that there's still a void to be filled.
"I believe that content is king, and if you produce quality content, people will buy it," Monopoly says. "People always say there's a digital hold in the universe and records aren't selling, but iTunes did $16.5 billion in billing just last year, so I think there's still money in the industry, and people are buying as long as you're producing quality content."
The label's first artist is King Louie, a South Side rapper whose single "Too Cool" is getting airplay on local urban radio stations.
But the label is employing strategies learned from Monopoly's years of experience in the business, ranging from managing Kanye up until 2008, promoting hip hop concerts and working in executive positions at labels such as Jive Records, Violator and as COO at G.O.O.D. Music.
"I've learned not to waste time, not to spend money on things that aren't going to turn one dollar into two and not to let the naysayers distract you," Monopoly says. " I remember early on getting a little frustrated with people not seeing the vision while you're shopping your demo, and shutting doors in your face, and I remember wanting to quit, but now I know you can't quit ever because of where you can get to."
"People know his success here in Chicago, so people look at a John Monopoly and say we know that guy did it, maybe he can do it for us," Wilson says.