Johnny Temple Interviews Marvis Johnson of Infamous Books
Marvis Johnson, a partner at Infamous, is the business manager of Albert “Prodigy” Johnson and co-manager of Mobb Deep, the renowned hip-hop duo made up by Prodigy and Havoc. Infamous has partnered with Akashic Books to create the Infamous Books imprint, which is launching with Prodigy’s novella H.N.I.C. Akashic publisher Johnny Temple asks Marvis about his background, how he and Prodigy came to work together, and about the current state of the music and book industries.
Johnny Temple: Where were you born and raised?
Marvis Johnson: I was born in Kingston, Jamaica and came to New York when I was four years old.
JT: Do you know anyone else named Marvis? I know one Marva (woman), and now I know one Marvis (you). Both of you are Jamaican, and both of you work with books. Coincidence?
MJ: My father is into boxing. I was named after Marvis Frazier, the son of former heavyweight champion Joe Frazier. At the time, he was a very popular boxer and was well-known in Jamaica. Other than Marvis Frazier and the Marvis Toothpaste, I have not heard the name anywhere else.
JT: Can you tell us about the range of responsibilities you have with Prodigy and his Infamous Books imprint?
MJ: The range varies, but includes identifying and securing new authors; coordinating publicity and marketing efforts with our publicist, Roberta Magrini; and communicating schedules.
JT: How did you and Prodigy originally meet?
MJ: My initial experience in the entertainment business was in music video production. We met to discuss a music video concept that I came up with for his group Mobb Deep. This was sometime in 2005 or earlier.
JT: Why did you and Prodigy bring Infamous Books to an indie press rather than a major publishing house?
MJ: We chose to forego a conventional deal with a big company for a strategic partnership with a smaller niche brand. We wanted to collaborate with a boutique brand that has a style and vibe that just meshes with Prodigy and Infamous.
The partnership between Infamous and Akashic will prove to be a remix of the relationship between the music industry and book publishing. JaQuavis Coleman, K’wan [Foye], and Miasha also shared in our vision. We are very excited to have them on the Infamous Books roster.
JT: You are a man of many hats. What would you say are the primary two or three hats you are wearing these days?
MJ: In addition to my duties with Infamous Books, I manage Prodigy as an artist; co-manage his group Mobb Deep; I am a partner at Infamous Records/Sony; and I also publish audiobooks. We have a number of ventures with regard to the Infamous Brand that are starting to be announced, including Infamous Clothing, Bikes, Jewelry. The brand is expanding . . .
JT: Can you say a few words about the process of recording the audiobook of Prodigy’s novella, H.N.I.C.? Was that an easy process? Also, when will the audio version be available to the public?
MJ: The process was great. Prodigy did the initial narration, then we had two amazing narrators, Cary Hite and Kim Johnson, do some of the character voices. The audiobook is full of sound effects and music. It will be a special experience for fans. The audiobook will be available everywhere audiobooks and music is sold on July 16th.
JT: Which business is in better shape in 2013: the book business or the music business?
MJ: The sales for physical product have gone down in recent years within the music industry. However, our business model at Infamous Records is not based on SoundScan or consumer sales; it’s closer to the book publisher model where revenue is concerned. The book industry has been fortunate to have not seen as much of the prolific illegal downloads and bootlegging as the music industry has. However, with the closing of major bookstores, the book business has had its share of challenges. Both industries have had to adapt to the times and stay ahead of the curve.
JT: Beyond working with Prodigy on his book imprint, do you see much crossover, in general, between music and books?
MJ: Music and books provide entertainment. Authors and musicians are similar in their ability to tell stories and paint pictures with vivid detail.
JT: What can books bring to the world of music and to music fans specifically?
MJ: Hip-hop has grown beyond the urban market. Its consumer base is more than 45 million consumers, 80 percent of whom are white. There is an affinity among young adults; they all gather from different backgrounds, races, and religions, and they all come together around music. It would be a good bet that the fanbase might also be interested in urban books. However, they would need to know these books and great stories exist, via marketing and publicity efforts. This is not something that has been done in the past by major publishers. Urban fiction is often criticized for violence and explicit language. Similarly, early hip-hop put off large corporations due to the violence and explicit lyrics that were associated with the music. Today, there is no difference between investing in a hip-hop artist for an endorsement and investing in Taylor Swift. Through our marketing efforts, which are similar to our music marketing models, we plan to connect these worlds and provide a platform for the very talented authors on the Infamous Books roster to tell their stories to the world.
Posted: Jul 2, 2013
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