Talk about best-laid plans. Grammy-winning songwriter-producer Dallas Austin was all set to formally relaunch his early ‘90s label Rowdy Records during this year’s SXSW festival in March. Then the novel coronavirus outbreak took over center stage.
“We were going to launch with four to five new acts,” Austin tells Billboard exclusively from his base in Atlanta. “Everything was geared up and ready to go from content and videos to memes.”
But after speaking with industry friends working in streaming and other areas, Austin decided to push forward in the midst of the pandemic. “They said people are home. So if you have content, you should go for it,” he adds. “It’s actually a great time for us to launch and get some undivided attention.”
Rowdy plans to begin drawing some of that attention this Friday (May 1) with its first single release, “Shut the F$%# Up!” The song is from newly signed Rowdy artist Johnny Apollo, an Atlanta MC whose musical style Austin pegs as “Hip Rock.” Also signed to Rowdy is Shac From Da 3 whose “50 Dance Challenge” has been making the rounds at Tik Tok.
“We’re looking for artists with unique differences,” says Austin of Rowdy. “That being said, they still have to represent what the brand stands for: ‘creatively aggressive.’”
Austin helms the label as CEO and creative director. Veteran major label marketing executive Suzanne Taylor (Def Jam) oversees digital marketing and product management. Rowdy is distributed through Symphonic Distribution.
“When the deal was brought to me by indie A&R Keith “Wok” Watts it was a no-brainer,” says Hixon, head of Symphonic’s black music division. “Having the chance to work with this legendary hitmaker on the rebirth of his classic label is an honor.”
Originally established in 1992, Rowdy was co-founded by Austin and Antonio “L.A.” Reid. The label’s best-known act was Monica, whose 1995 debut album Miss Thang went triple-platinum on the strength of top-charting R&B hits such as “Don’t Take It Personal (Just One of Dem Days)” and “Before You Walk Out of My Life.”
Austin, whose track record of production and/or songwriting credits includes Brandy & Monica’s “The Boy Is Mine,” TLC’s “Creep” and “Ain’t 2 Proud 2 Beg,” P!nk’s “Don’t Let Me Get Me” and Gwen Stefani’s “Cool,” was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame last June.
Planning to release his own album as well, Austin actually teased his and Rowdy’s return last weekend (April 24) when he played his up-tempo pop single “Moneyango” featuring Junior Sanchez and Naz Tokio on I Wrote That Song, his IG Live series with fellow Grammy-winning songwriter-producer Jermaine Dupri. In fact, the non-competitive show-and-tell series is part of the pair’s new JDA music venture. Plans are for the series’ next episode to focus on the craft of songwriting from the female perspective with tunesmiths like Kandi Burruss and Ester Dean.
“Rather than battle each other, Jermaine and I want to do something else for the community in this new normal,” says Austin, who has also created Dallas Austin Distribution (DAD) for newcomer artists. “He has So So Def, I have Rowdy and we’re looking for strong R&B talent. Rap is covered. But where is the next generation of R&B/pop like a TLC, Usher or Toni Braxton? It’s time to change the narrative.”