In the early 90s, Rowdy Records was a hot new label that promised to be the “future sound of Atlanta.” Founded by hitmaking producers Dallas Austin and L.A. Reid, Rowdy found multiplatinum success in under five years, when then 14-year-old R&B darling Monica exploded onto the music scene with her debut album, Miss Thang. From there, other acts such as Illegal, Fishbone, Caron Wheeler, For Real and Y’all So Stupid helped the label to present itself to the alternative to the gangsta, jiggy and “bling-bling” sounds from other regions.
Fast-forward to this week, as we are all doing our best to flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic, and Austin is re-launching his imprint with a new roster, including music from himself. Encouraged by the Instagram Live he did with Jermaine Dupri, Austin’s versatility, imagination, and creativity was showcased in then-real time, and made his return to record label chief a welcomed surprise. “We were going to launch with four to five new acts,” Austin shared with Billboard, discussing his pre-coronavirus intentions. “Everything was geared up and ready to go from content and videos to memes.”
Friends working in streaming stressed how opportune today’s climate is for Austin to “get some undivided attention,” and with that Rowdy Records hit the ground rolling. “Having artists signed like Fishbone to Monica showed a wide variance of what Rowdy stood for creatively,” Austin tells ESSENCE exclusively via email. “I feel like [now] is a time to reinforce that difference in music and the culture again. There is still an alternative to the mainstream that exists and I want to bring it back to the forefront.”
Austin plans to draw some of that attention this Friday (May 1) with the label’s first single release, “Shut the F$%# Up!” from newly signed artist Johnny Apollo. “I want the people to keep an ear out for the guitar lick and the urgency of how the song sounds,” he says about what should excite listeners about The Lover Rager. “My first impression of Johnny was, ‘Wow, he is exactly what Rowdy needs!’ He is the perfect combination of what I have [always] been about. He’s from the SWATS, which is where Outkast, Ceelo, Goodie Mob, and myself have come from. I knew that Johnny would be the difference and a tipping point.”
Also signed to Rowdy is Shac From Da 3 whose “50 Dance Challenge” has been making the rounds at TikTok.
“We’re looking for artists with unique differences,” Austin said of Rowdy in that same Billboard piece. “That being said, they still have to represent what the brand stands for: ‘creatively aggressive.'”
Atlanta has been the center of everything popular for over two decades now, which would be an obstacle for any newfound label to overcome. But, according to the Grammy Award-winning talent, these are challenges that he looks forward to tackling as one of the iconic architects behind Atlanta’s dominance. “I’m looking forward to applying the energy that came from a non-digital generation into this because we have a lot more spirit, know-how, and gut feelings at a time when the music industry didn’t have algorithms. Combining the two is what the Rowdy brand will feel like,” he shares.
Aside from reshaping the sound of the A, Austin will deliver other media like lyric videos, dance challenge videos, and artist-driven content that will change the narrative inside the music industry. “We used the promo money that we used for flights and hotels and put it towards promoting challenges on TikTok and Instagram instead,” Austin says. “It’s a fun way to get people involved and engaged with Rowdy and promote the brand at the same time. Pandemic or not, you have to lay the digital footprint while building a fanbase.”
Austin, who also created Dallas Austin Distribution (DAD) for newcomer artists, also has plans to release his own label sometime this year.