Music Industry Vet Jimmy Spice Curry Talks to UB About the Highs and Lows of the Entertainment Biz
Jimmy Spice Curry is an entertainment industry veteran, with extensive experience in every category from music production and songwriting to screenwriting and directing. He’s worked alongside international celebrities and knows the highs and lows of the business. In addition to being a multi-hyphenate talent, he’s a dedicated husband and father of four, and lifelong devotee to continuing his education. He's even begun sponsoring events in new categories, including chess and martial arts. I had the chance to speak with him about his career highlights and struggles, his commitment to diversity in his work, and his forthcoming projects.
[This interview has been lightly edited for readability.]
1. How did you get started and what drew you to the business?
Whether it was one project or several, I've had the good fortune to do one of several of the following executive responsibilities, director, writer, editor, or producer, for this partial list of celebrities: Love Bug Starski, Teddy Riley, and Lenny Kravitz. I've also directed independent videos featuring athletes, like Iran Barkley (Boxing champion), Tico Wells (The Five Heartbeats. Universal Soldier, The Relic), Jesse D (of the Grammy-nominated group Force MDs), Wayne & Charlie, Mike C, Reggie Reg, Shubee, and Yoda of the Crash Crew, Grandmaster Ron Van Clief, and Olympic Gold medalist Debbie Ferguson.
Several factors led to my pursuit of an entertainment career. First, several of my relatives were professional musicians, actors and visual artists. Additionally, at an early age, I was motivated by the music of Little Richard, Bob Marley, Earth, Wind & Fire, KRS-One, Crash Crew, Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, Nina Simone. King Errisson, T Connection. From a movie/TV perspective, I was inspired by the Roots series, Shaft, and directors Alfred Hitchcock, Oscar Micheaux, Danny Glover, Forest Whitaker, Gordon Parks. My interest in social causes coincided with many of the movies and music that I found motivational at an early age.
Like many young people, I experienced some sexual, and later physical, abuse as a child. It led to me questioning the reason for life, the reason that people abuse children, what role societal pressures, culture, skin color, theology played. These factors led to me writing down my thoughts (mostly sad ones). But the aforementioned music and movies kept me motivated and lifted my creative ideas to high heights. At about age 15, I started writing poems and this lead to the migration to lyrics and scripts. During this time, I saved my money and invested in music and video equipment. I eventually started to meet with various artists: Strafe, Grandmaster Flash (at his studio), Pumpkin (from Pumpkin and His All Stars), Tico Wells, Preston Vismale (Bill Cosby, Harlem Boys Choir, etc), Crash Crew, Love Bug Starski, etc. under my pen names, Master JC and also at different times as Commander Spice (and Paradise Patrol). I had other meetings with other artists who stole my lyrics, and/or beats (and group concepts and styles), and ended up releasing hit albums and singles but never paid me nor gave me credit. My friend, DJ Darryl C, heard my song “Teach Your Children”, which was my third record release, and he called Sylvia Robinson at Sugar Hill / Bon Ami / MCA Records. She told me to go to her immediately so she could talk business. That same week, Darryl C introduced me to Mr. Hamilton (Of World To World Records), and I met Rob Base, who had just signed to Mr. Hamilton. I decided to sign with Sugar Hill Records. Hamilton had a nice van but Sugar Hill had the fancy Mercedes, large office, million-dollar studio, and was the place that had signed many of my heroes.
2. At one point, you had a deal with Sugar Hill Records. And in other phases of your career, you worked behind the scenes in production. What did you learn from spending time in both roles? Is that something you’d recommend for today’s artists?
Sugar Hill was a very dynamic environment. As an artist I learned the importance of branding, and the critical role that the music producer and business team play. I also learned that even though some artists had issues being paid by Sugar Hill, I didn't have that problem, so I stayed.
From a business perspective, Big Joe was brilliant at negotiating national and international deals. He helped me to understand the role of performance rights organizations and the crucial role of “timing” in product releases, etc. Interestingly, during my time at Sugar Hill (I first lived at Sylvia's house, then I moved in with Blondie of the Sequence), I was offered other production deals by other companies, but I never took any of them. Unfortunately, he died not long after that without our ability to make the studio a reality, and the entire Sugar Hill Complex was burned to the ground in very sad circumstances, destroying the legacy, the history and the potential.
3. And speaking of today’s artists, the industry has changed dramatically due to the rise of streaming and rapid technological advancement. In your eyes, has this been a positive or negative development for the business? And how so?
The relationship between the entertainment industry's technological advances and the rights and creativity of the artist/independent firm is a paradoxical one. On the one hand, technology gives many smaller artists and firms the opportunity to compete. On the other hand, technology also takes away some jobs and markets, and saturates others with so many tracks by unqualified, unskilled writers, producers, firms that it's difficult for the cream to rise. Although I have often utilized the power of MIDI, for example, I think it has also taken some human jobs away. Whether in entertainment or other sectors, humans must be careful not to allow the use of technology to destroy business sectors, career paths, entire markets. They don't call some of these innovations “disruptive technologies” for no reason; the disruptions often lead to less jobs, etc. In my opinion, only firms and producers with a very low income should be allowed to incorporate certain technologies (job-crushing ones). In fact, I've argued that computer programs should be monitored and limited in their scope so that large corporations should not be able to create computer codes that lead to destruction of entire job markets, sectors, and virtual monopolies against small record, movie, production firms, etc. I am a very socially conscious entertainment producer, very pro making money but also very pro common sense approach to business, the environment, civil rights, employee rights, etc.
4. You’ve done some film production work. Was this always a passion of yours, or did you develop an interest after finding some success in music? How did you get started?
Film was not an original passion as a career. I loved being a fan. But as technology developed and I mastered the lyrics, and many aspects of the music production side, I sort of got bored. I'm very eclectic by nature so including video/film into my arsenal / portfolio was a natural by-product of my personality type (A) and the way my central nervous system is wired. From childhood to adulthood, my actual passions were: a) Challenging situations that require solving, b) Creating innovative ideas that motivate other people (and hopefully also generate cash for my family), c) Educating people via songs, videos, etc. to help eradicate racism, sexism, gender discrimination, war, ignorance, poverty, jingoism. My tools are songs, lyrics, scripts, videos, graphics.
5. If you could choose just one, and I know it’s difficult, what has been the most memorable moment of your career thus far?
When I first heard one of my songs on the radio, it was a mind-blowing experience. I'm still picking up pieces of my cerebrum. Lol. The fact that a person could envision a song idea, record it in a recording studio, market it on his own, then without paying under the table and without doing immoral sex acts, etc., get the song played and drive down the street and hear my song, wow, what a rush. It proves the great potential in us all if we keep pushing, learning but also adjusting to the challenges that are thrown in our way.
6. You’re a multi-hyphenate talent: artist, songwriter, screenwriter, producer, director, etc. How do you decide on projects? And how do you determine which role you’ll fill on those projects?
The decision-making process is complex. The first step is usually the kernel of the idea. What target market. What genre, sub-genre. Are there any legal complications (rights acquisition, public domain, etc., other intellectual property issues). What instruments do I need and do I own them, rent them, or do a mutually beneficial deal with another producer, studio, investor, non-profit, etc.
As things relate to my role, I often start off as the HNIC (Head Nut In Charge). But as people with additional portfolios enter, I give up certain titles, responsibilities. It's crucial for persons in any business to know when to step back and/or when to take the helm. I tend to only micro manage when the other worker, consultant, etc. has deficits in certain skills. I’d rather give my vision, script, lyrics, ideas, and allow the other parties to give their insights and fly (but if this will lead to legal complications, I may limit such creative input and integration.) In the end, the production, post-production, marketing, publicity, sales process is really about “making the consumer happy/ motivated/ inspired”, they don't care who, how, what, when, where; what they want is to escape their problems, find solutions to their complications, identify hope, see a future. I like to help people to fly. In a way, I'm a creative pilot helping fellow humans to find their destinations, and then they can leave my plane (song, lyric, book, movie) or they can enjoy the ride so much that we travel to another destination, maybe they fly me and I learn from them.
I really love the experience more than the money, so I've had to learn to push myself to get the money otherwise I'd not make any. Real artists love the art so much they often forget the cash, fiat currency, credit. We must either fix that inside us, or find a person/firm that we can trust and have them go for the money with a “Show me the money, baby” mindset. I tell colleagues: Why not leave a few billion dollars, yen, for your children, for homeless shelters, etc. instead of having a shark take it and waste it on cocaine and another 20 yachts? It wasn't until the past approximately 2 years that I started taking my income seriously. I lost tons of songs, movies, etc. In fact, you could say that I spent the first 34 years in the industry making other people rich and giving them credit for my work. Why haven't I sued a single person? Several reasons: a) Didn't want to be blacklisted. b) I had children and that kept me focused on family, chess, academics, health, etc. c) I knew that the ideas stolen, even though up to gross income of several hundred million U.S. Dollars (at present market value) globally were generated off my ideas. However, I honestly feel that these lost creations only scratch the surface of my ideas and so I keep creating, building, loving life and the creative process. Further, had I made the big money decades ago, I would have missed the opportunity to suffer more, be broke, empathize with the poor, I may have become a spoiled brat, etc. Maybe it's just my justification, or maybe my rationale is valid, either way, the cat’s out the bag, I had to get over the losses and make bigger and better ideas, and I feel I'm definitely on my way.
Also, one must consider the price you're willing to pay for success. In fact, what do you consider success? If a person thinks success is solely money, fame and chicks, sex, then you're trapped. To me, success was, and still mostly is, being able to positively impact the world by speaking truthfully about politics, love, racism, entertainment, etc. This has gotten me blocked by many sites, others just lower my view count, make my links hard to find. As amazing as it sounds, some of the billion-dollar websites are afraid of artists that speak critically about the system. In fact, a top educational site blocked my account after I politely and professionally critiqued some of the racism inherent in the site's history lessons. Probably the top site for researching articles banned me for two years after I corrected racist articles on their site, and they also removed the Wikipedia articles that mentioned my successes. Another site hides my Good Black news group (there are two groups, one I created) from many search results. The status quo/system works very hard to keep truth silent and they use very sneaky, immoral, often unethical and illegal tactics to make you feel, seem invisible, unloved, and make it difficult to reach your target market, especially using the electronic portals of the same system that you are critiquing vehemently.
7. Diversity is, and always has been, a hot topic in music and film. But right now, we’re seeing some considerable movement and visibility. How does your work factor into the diversity movement? Does the push for more diverse projects affect what you work on and who you market your work/talents to?
Regarding me and my [focus on] diversity, there are several factors I consider: a) Does my script require other ethnic groups? It's not illegal to write a script that is 100% featuring blacks, etc. Nor is it illegal to create songs that are always a certain style of music. What is immoral and unethical is stealing the music, dance, linguistics, humor, clothing styles, etc. of Africans, African-Americans, etc. and not giving them pay nor credit. But at this point in time, if we're intellectually immature to the point that we don't work together, have great distribution, production, legal, publicity, firms that we control, then we get what the capitalists dish out: pain, theft, beatdowns and no credit. Real talk.
I do my best to write a variety of projects, and I hire crews of any nationality, ethnicity (although I do my best to give ethnic black/brown crew members an opportunity) but most take advantage, come late, leave early, give attitude, and don't deliver. We have a real problem with “lack of professionalism” in our community, the same people that give me a hard time, jump and tap dance when they're working with non-black producers, writers, directors. It's a very strange occurrence I see replicated in various states and nations. Willie Lynch mindsets are rampant, combined with black crab syndrome. How do I deal with such drama? I fire most of my crew, cast when I have to, and start from scratch rather than waste time, money, energy. I've done it on several shoots, and things worked out fine. My mantra in such cases: “Don't start nuttin' won't be nuttin ' ”
8. For anyone who wants to get started in music or in film, what’s your advice? What steps should they take to get in the door?
My first suggestion is: Are you really cut out for these businesses, sectors? Or are you simply a lover of songs, movies that assumes you'd love making them? Often fans transition due to the wrong hormonal imbalances, assumptions. Some people should become doctors, janitors, mechanics, lawyers, geneticists, etc. But for those that really have evaluated their lives, resources, skills, interests, desires, markets and determine that they want to be in the entertainment industry, the next question is: Do you have to be the star? Most people want to be the star, on the microphone as the feature, main actor, etc. Often that's the wrong approach. Firstly, you may have zero talent, and infusing your rent money to pay for classes won't make you a star if you aren't a star. Realize that there are literally hundreds of behind-the-scenes jobs in entertainment and you may be a better match for them, and many of them pay well, you get perks (free tickets, etc.), you get to hang with the stars, etc. Me personally, I don't have to be in front of the cameras or mic as a star. I am extremely happy behind the scenes, taking the train, in the grocery store, and no one knows I've worked with international stars. Now I'm not suggesting that if a person could be the next Stevie Wonder, 2pac, Patti LaBelle, Bob Marley, Denzel Washington, Dave Chapelle, Wesley Snipes, that said individual should not pursue that vision. My point is, know your lane and stick to it unless things change down the road, necessitating a switch. And don't expect large support if your message is one that isn't popular among the masses. Very often, you must be willing to give up the fast cash of the “shake your booty, twerk” songs/ movies and get much less cash, views, support in order to put out products that empower the mind, and usually won't reap fruits for many years. Plant the seeds for humanity's growth, the money will follow when needed.
9. What projects are you currently working on?
I've ventured into various entertainment, business areas. In the field of chess, my team is sponsoring several exciting chess competitions (and releasing a video regarding chess in the hood). On the music side, I have a pending music (and acting) competition for teens, plus several singles, EPs, albums, and remixes I'm producing (or having one of my co-producers handle). I'm re-releasing Poetry Classics To Funky Beats, Heat Beats, and producing the soundtrack for Gun Lordz and Filthy Rich Gangster as well as the soundtrack for a docudrama. I'm re-releasing Filthy Rich Gangster, finally releasing Gun Lordz, and releasing various PSAs regarding black empowerment. Plus, I have a magazine that is doing a TV show with me (as they migrate some of their business to the video side). My final message to the world: Love knowledge, love life, love yourself, love others and use your skills to the fullest to make a better world.
10. Where can we see your work?
(Below is a comprehensive of Curry’s work across the web.)
b. Commander Spice. Link: https://www.discogs.com/Commander-Spice-Teach-Your-Children/release/1489003
d. Filthy Rich Gangster (commercial). Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ue9ilv_lmek
e. GigaGroove 16,000+ followers. Link: https://twitter.com/gigagroove
f. Jimmy Spice Curry Facebook Page. Link. https://www.facebook.com/Jimmy-Spice-Curry-148350828570227/
g. Jimmy Spice Curry Twitter Link: https://twitter.com/JimmyCurry
h. Reading PSA. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gvk0sDBCIqw
i. Learn African History. Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=We3htR3oJss
j. Movie Medley (Pending release). Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JvpEK8m8gAg
k. Best Caribbean Loops. Link: https://www.tradebit.com/filedetail.php/142966044-best-caribbean-loops-mp3-format-zip
l. Poetry Classics To Funky Beats. Links: https://www.tradebit.com/filedetail.php/142966855-poetry-classics-to-funky-hit-beats-zip https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0H_cWQ07d2o
m. Heat Beats. Link: https://www.tradebit.com/filedetail.php/102131706-heat-beats-vol-1-royalty-free
n. Greatest Rasta Vocal Samples. Link: https://www.tradebit.com/filedetail.php/6854039-greatest-rasta-vocal-samples-vol-1-