TDE president Punch looks in the mirror and finds new souls

Still, most would say his A-Team would be the collective of MCs he helped grow over the past decade with TDE stars Jay-Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolBoy Q and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar. Not to mention the work Punch shaped the R&B hit siren sounds in SZA, his track record for knowing a good talent is scorching. However, TDE has taken the spotlight with its marquee names lately. With Tennessee’s Isaiah Rashad going mainstream and Los Angeles native Reason warming up, TDE’s future is solid. Corn Punch has a thirst for more that most wouldn’t notice because of his laid back attitude. He is a wise soul who only moves when he feels compelled to do so, neither before nor after. Damn, we’ve been waiting for his solo album for almost a decade now. The random acquaintance verses and jazz-like flows have piqued the musical executive’s fan interest in his own project as he has graced his Black Hippy pals’ albums for many years.

Laetitia Rumford
Laetitia Rumford

This ultimate force that pushes Punch exercising his vice verbal led him to that night three months before the impending pandemic and ensuing global shutdown. He casually gathered some of his talented group of eight, titled A Room Full of Mirrors, to finish a few tracks and lay some new ones. It’s a slight coincidence that some of hip-hop’s most beloved journalists are in the room, from VIBE and Genius.com, to hear offerings from young vet Nick Grant, visionary lyricist Lyric Michelle, legend battle rap Daylyt (absent: Jrias Law, Ichiban Don, Billymarre, Earlee Riser), who monitored reaction to sounds. “We’ve got something working, if you feel like it, we’ll get more along the way,” Daylyt whispers as the heavy bassline track thumps.

What this night has shown is that Punch‘s intuition was right, as always. That a few of his most notable friends from different sectors of the musical game could create an album full of firelines, themes and visuals under his guidance, but their creativity. The album is finally on the way, but first the 8-track short film/visual EP “Money Bags”, was due out on December 3, 2021 alongside the 8-track EP of the same name.

Two years later, in December 2021, Punch walks through a sprawling LA warehouse where music industry elite, TDE employees, the media and close family are in attendance to watch the visual EP, directed by Arfom member Lyric. The space is rugged but digitally top notch with multiple video screens from 20ft high to 40ft wide to make the Reservoir Dogs movie-inspired scenes feel larger than life. The various members of the collective enjoy the festivities with their family and friends. Punch makes its rounds and now watches the action from a landing above the crowd to monitor functionality and reactions through the dark venue. He’s proud, even through the technical difficulties that interrupt the presentation, because he’s used to things going as planned and always expecting the unexpected…as if this special group meeting was unexpected.

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What’s it like to go from backstage to the level of artist you’ve always wanted to be? You’ve been teasing being an artist for years now…

I don’t know, I never really wanted to be an artist. I love creating art, but I never wanted to follow industry rules. I just wanted to create what I wanted to create on my terms. So it’s not really a difference for me. Because I kind of did the same thing behind the scenes. I never really followed any real industry rules. We just did what we saw fit and that’s the same thing I’m doing now. This time it’s just another medium.

As musical director, how does it feel to rap with artists that you also prepare? With Kendrick and them, you were training them. Now you are actually playing in the game.

If you dig deep, I used to jump on records with them all the time. It’s kind of the same thing. It’s different now because of all the experience I’ve had in the music business and the success we’ve had. I bring that to this new batch of artists with whom I create. That’s the only difference. Before, it was just us in the studio, trying to figure it out. Now that I understand what it is, it’s a little easier.

Do you apply the same methods with this new collective as before? Like before, you were all trying to build the [TDE] label, you should now live up to the TDE name.

No, I don’t feel like that… like I have to live up to anything. I feel like we’re just creating. I know what other people expect, but I don’t usually fall under that pressure. As I said earlier, we do what we want to do, do what we feel. But the similarities are… the goal is to make honest music that people can relate to. Like it was always going to be consistent no matter who I work with.

Punch looking away

Laetitia Rumford

What are your projects for this new collective of artists? You have them all in a band right now, but do you plan to push them as solo artists?

That’s the thing, it’s not a band, it’s a collective. The collective is a group of individual artists. All were and are solo artists. We came together to create this particular project. The Room Full of Mirrors thing is like a platform of individuals that will spread out and do their own thing.

Are they signed to TDE or are they independent, doing their own thing?

It’s independent, that’s for sure, but I’m part of the collective and also President of TDE. It’s TDE by top affiliate. As for the business itself, we can discuss that at another time.

What’s going on with TDE right now. We saw Top Dawg show off the construction of a new studio…

Just more growth. As you mentioned we have a new facility where we can record, shoot videos and do more creative things. Just constant movement. Moving on to the next phase of what TDE is and can be.

It’s difficult, but who is your favorite of the collective? Have you a?

I can’t say a favorite, but I can say one depending on the circumstances. If it’s a certain type of thing, it will fluctuate as to who is the favorite. [Based on the beat and theme], it can be concept-based, based on if we’re shooting a movie. It’s a bunch of different ways, everyone adds something to the pot, everyone has their own superpowers. And not everyone needs to use their superpowers every time, either. It can therefore fluctuate.

How did you find everyone in the collective? Did you already know them, were you looking for them?

Everything came together super organic. I knew everyone separately and when I finished my album, everyone came to the studio. After a while, we just decided to do a song. Everyone got to know each other a bit. So we made a record and it got crazy. So we did another one and it turned into a short film, an EP and an album. We continued because the chemistry was so good between all the individuals.

The EP is composed of 8 tracks, but how many did you do together in total? Like those who didn’t make the album, what happens to them?

We have a few to come. The EP was based on the short film. All the songs that were in the short are what’s on the EP.

So there is a real album to come?

Absoutely.

Have you reduced the tracks?

For the majority. Around today, you can work until the day it comes out. So we’re going to keep recording, keep building. But if I have to release it tomorrow, we can do that too.

Are you also ready when it comes to the visuals?

Yeah, we did a lot of stuff. Oh, we were working. The pandemic, as bad as it is, I mean, it’s…it’s given us an opportunity to really focus and get a lot done. We took this downtime to really create something special.

Can you name each artist in the collective and give them a word that describes them?

Agreed.

Law Jrias: Passion

Earlee Riser: Voice

Michelle lyric: artist

Nick Grant: Lyricist

Daylyt: Extraterrestrial

Ichiban Don: Producer. – I have to say more about him, apart from a word, because he is literally a producer and MC. I say producer because he knows how to produce the whole song, top to bottom.

Hari: Architect

Billymarre: the future

That’s everyone, right? But it’s so much more to reduce them to one thing. Everyone is so talented at more than one thing. If you look at Lyric, she directed the short and edited it. Then, Daylyt is director of photography. He shoots, has all the camera gear. He also edits. We talked about Ichi’ as a producer and MC. Early Riser does graphic design. He designs the covers. Everyone does so much. That’s why it’s a dope collective and not limited to music.

Standing punch

Laetitia Rumford