Nick Cannon chops it up with GFM

Grown Folks Music had the chance to talk to Nick Cannon last month on his new job as the head of Nickelodeon’s new teen network TEENick, his musical influences, and the role of new media in the entertainment industry.   He told us about everything from him and wife Mariah Carey dancing to “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” at a Morris Day and the Time concert to his take on grown folks music.

Audio is below and the transcript is after the jump.  Many thanks to Nick, Michelle, and NCredible Entertainment for the interview.


From his official bio:

Cited by People Magazine as one of the ‘Top Ten most successful young people in Hollywood’ and featured on the Cover of Black Enterprises’ 40 Under 40, Nick Cannon, 28 years old is a successful, multi-faceted entertainer: film star, comedian, musician, writer and executive producer of his very own hit TV shows . . .

In 2008, Nick hosted the Teen Choice Awards for FBC, and most recently was the host/DJ for ABC’s highly successful Presidential Inaugural Neighborhood Ball. NBC also recently announced that Nick would serve as the host for the new season of their hit show, “America’s Got Talent” in 2009.

Cannon’s other film credits include Sundance Film Festival featured films “Weapons,” “American Son,” and his most recent role in the psychological thriller, “The Killing Room.” He now has his own multi-media company called NCredible Entertainment, which has several TV shows and films in development.”

Make sure to check out Nick’s blog at and follow him on twitter @NickCannon.  You can catch Nick on NBC’s “America’s Got Talent” this summer or his recent film HBO’s “American Son” as Mike “a young Marine, fresh from Camp Pendleton, who is forced to confront the complexities of adulthood and a volatile home life during a four-day Thanksgiving leave.”

You are basically a modern day renaissance man.  You’re a musician, you DJ, you direct, you act, you’re a comedian, you’re an activist, and now you’re an “execustar” at TEENick.  How do you remain successful in so many areas, from the business side to the creative side? How do you approach these roles differently – as say a performer in a film, to the writer, to the producer, etc.

It’s all entertainment to me.  I don’t really separate it like “Oh OK I’m doing music right now or I’m doing comedy right now or I’m acting.”  It’s all just entertainment and I think if you take it back to the days of like Frank Sinatra or Sammy Davis, Jr. or Harry Bellefonte.  These people were just entertainers and when you think about the stage in New York, you’ve got to be able to sing, dance, act, play instruments – that’s what an entertainer is.  I think that’s what it’s all about, and I think in this day and age we got really focused on just doing one thing and the whole keep it real mentality and “I’m true to this” rather than just embracing entertainment and expressing yourself through art.

Nick on being a performer

You’ve been a performer your whole life; you started out on Nickelodeon with All That and are now returning as the chairman of the new Teen network.  Do you feel like you’ve come full circle?

Yeah, definitely, one circle in my life.  I appreciate it for what it is.  I always say Nickelodeon was not only a playground but a training ground for me.  They gave me every opportunity to start off as a writer on their network and to hone my writing skills.  I went from a writer to actually being on camera to actually producing and directing, and now they’re giving me my opportunity in the corporate world.  So I’m grateful for them to always to have that vision and foresight to allow me to break my tooth on whatever it is.  If we look at the past for them to allow me to be the first to do this or do that, I’ve always taken full advantage of it and done it to the best of my ability.

You’re not even 30 and you’ve already achieved more than most seasoned professionals.   How has your perception of the industry changed since you started out?  Where do you think you’ll be in 20 or 30 years?

My perception has definitely changed.  I was a kid when I first started, so it was all about cashing checks and making sure my parents’ rent was paid and the fun of just being able to be on television.  Now, it’s so not about that.  Now I kind of approach it from as a business as more of a structured thing.  And at the same time, it’s not solely about making money, it’s about affecting people’s lives.

And do you think you see it more of how you’re affecting everyone and not just “this is my career, my vision”?

Right.  To me, it’s about affecting culture and giving other people opportunities.  I went from being trying to be the biggest star in the world – which is cool – but more how can you affect culture, what can you do to make this place a better place, and trying to follow careers like Quincy Jones or even a Russell Simmons who truly affected culture rather than trying to be the biggest star they could possibly be.

Over the past couple years, the entertainment industry, especially music, has changed dramatically.   You’ve recently launched your own blog – why do you think it is so important to use the Internet to get your message out?  What do you think are the most important new tools for an artist or entertainer to use in this new media environment?

I think that you to move and be fluid with what’s going on.  I believe every aspect of media is extremely powerful and none are greater than the other.   No matter if you’re on TV where you’re used to a million people watching or if you’re just starting a website and getting just a few hits, media is media and the word travels, and giving a public the voice.  To me, that’s what’s so cool about the Internet and makes it so cutting edge.  It’s taken the reins from these big corporations saying “This is what’s hot” or “This is what we call entertainment” and gives people the opportunity to say “No, this is what we think is hot” and by doing that, it kind of levels the playing field out and gives everyone the opportunity to voice their opinions and to set trends, and I think that’s the way it should originally be.

Especially in music and radio.

Right, cause if you’re a big enough company or got enough money, you can get a radio station to play the same 10 records for a month straight, and the audience may not even be feeling it but it’s kind of embedded into their skull so much, they gotta roll with it.  But now with the internet, they’ve got their favorite records or favorite playlists without the same 10 records playing.

Nick the DJ and his favorite concert experiences

What are some of your favorite records to spin when you’re DJing?

My favorite records definitely are grown folks music.  My favorite three records to play in the clubs are Luther Vandross “Never Too Much.”  Maze featuring Frankie Beverly “Before I Let Go” and then probably Guy’s “I Like”

Tell us about one of your favorite concert experiences — either one of your own or someone you’ve seen.  Why was it so special?

My favorite experience is probably Morris Day and the Time, and just their showmen, their entertainers.  They don’t just get up there and play music, they’re funny, they’re well-dressed, they interact with each other, it’s a hot show.  I’ve been a fan of theirs since I was like….3 years old.  It’s one of those experiences I don’t get up and be dancing too much at converts, but at a Morris Day and the Time concert, I’m going there!  Every step, every word, all of that!

Do you have one in particular you love?

Actually, the last one I went to, I got to share the experience with my wife and she was laughing at me the whole time and singing “Gigolos Get Lonely Too” so it was fun.  Prince was in the audience – it was surreal to look over to see everyone enjoying it as much as me.

Nick on GFM and music discovery

What is grown folks music to you?

To me, grown folks music is music your parents would put on or cook-out music or music that makes you feel good.  It’s not necessarily music that’s played in the clubs, but it’s still feel-good music.  Grown folks music that your mama would put on when it’s time to clean up the house.

Where do you go to discover music?

It’s a bunch of different places.  I go to a few different people and ask what they’re listening to.  I am going to people like Quincy Jones and Wyclef and just a different assortment of individuals, I want to know what they’re checking on.  The radio is always going to be a certain type of music and the same thing on the Internet, but if you go and try to understand people’s playlists that you admire, they’re going to turn you on to something else.

Tell us about a song or new musician you’ve recently discovered you think more people need to know about.

I don’t know who turned me on to it, but someone turned me onto the Cars, which is kind of crazy, like a rock band, but I play the guitar too, but the Cars is like my new thing and I’m feeling their old school vibe.  That’s the newest music which is kind of ironic, I’d never play their songs in the clubs or nothing like that but I respect their groove.

Old School vs. New School vs. Bridging the Gap

Our mantra at Grown Folks Music is “bridging the gap.” On one hand, it’s bridging the gap between the “old school” and the “new school” by paying tribute to the rich, diverse legacies in music as well as the new artists who are carrying the torch for the future.  Secondly, it’s  about providing education for artists, fans, and tastemakers to experience grown folks music as well as prosper in this new music economy. What sort of advice would you offer a) a young person who is just starting out and b) a seasoned professional looking to navigate this new environment?

Stay true to who they are and to their art. That’s what it’s all about.  Regardless of what happens, if you can say you enjoyed it and appreciated it for yourself, and that’s all that really matters.  Trying to navigate through this business, there is always ups and downs, there are new ideas that don’t  work and old ideas that work well and find your niche and stick with it.  If you’ve got 10 people that are in love with your stuff, I believe that’s better than a million mediocre about your stuff.

At GFM, we believe in educating young people about how to succeed in this industry beyond the very visible gigs – such as rapping and producing – and how they can have successful and rewarding careers in so many areas of artistry.  Obviously, you’re on the same page and have done a lot of great working in empowering our youth.  How do you get them to see all these different opportunities and the hundreds of possibilities out there that they may not even know about?  What sort of advice do you offer them in terms of education and personal development?

I would say think outside the box.  Don’t just think that rapping and all that stuff is the only way to make it.  To be quite frank, being a rapper isn’t the highest salary on the totem pole.  It’s a bunch of things in this industry that will allow you to be far more creative, far more in control than just rhyming.  If that’s your art and that’s your passion, I would definitely say stick with it, but explore more ideas and perfect your craft.  If rapping is your thing, pick up a Langston Hughes book and figure out a new art form of what all of this goes into and from that you’ll create new ideas and new environments to the point you won’t have to go find opportunities, opportunities will come to you because you’re so well seasoned.

A lot of young people are getting back to their roots and exploring older, grown folks music.  In fact, last year, vinyl record sales were at an all-time high and increased in sales while CD sales dropped further.  Why do you think the younger generation is starting to appreciate the classics more in this era of new media?

I think it’s going back to what I said – people are starting to appreciate the art form.  People are starting to allow it to be a part of their of their lives and not just a product or just something a consumer is forced into.  Now I have the ability go and find what I like, and what I appreciate, and what it means to my life instead of it being forced upon me.

TEENick and what does his future hold?

What are you looking forward to the most this summer with your new gig as host of America’s Got Talent?

I’m looking forward to seeing some new, remarkable talent and people just getting the chance to recognize and follow their dreams.  Cause that’s what it’s all about at the end of the day, to see people achieve what they really want to achieve out of life.

How have you adjusted to your new role at TEENick?  What has surprised you most about your new job?

No, I love every aspect of it.  I love running a corporate office and I’ve kind of embraced conference calls and meetings all day and at the same time, I’m still doing everything else I’ve been doing it.  It’s a balance and implemented a strong structure in my business because before it was just me always all over the place and not really a set schedule, but now that I have an office to function and a corporation, it’s given me the structure and healthy balance that I’ve needed.

Has this structure helped you in other ways?

Yeah, it’s given me more time.  People probably think “wow you must be busy beyond belief,” but because that structure has been set in place, I can’t just lollygag anymore, it makes every moment of my day count.  It puts it in a place where before I was like “oh maybe I’ll get to this” now it’s set to a schedule.

Lastly, what do you think is currently missing in the music industry?

People just having fun.  That’s where I’m going with my record that’s coming out at the end of the summer. I think people just forgot how to have fun.  It’s so serious and everything and I think we’re in a time where everyone’s looking for escapism.  Everyone’s looking for something to escape into something to take their minds off of either the economy or the world as we know it.   If you think of times like the Great Depression, entertainment was a way for people to take their minds off things.  I believe we need to need implement fun in entertainment.

And you said you have an album coming out this summer?

It’s a comedy album.  It’ll still have music and everything, but it’s just stepping into that side of my career.

Great.   Thank you very much, we really appreciate it.  We look forward to checking that out and seeing you on basically every media channel for the rest of the year.

Exactly, it’s gonna be hard to miss me!

We really appreciate you being on, and thank you!

No doubt, thank you.