In the last decade, 1501 Certified Entertainment has grown from another obscure independent outfit into one of the most talked about record labels in today’s Hip Hop with former baseball star-turned-founder and CEO Carl Crawford at the center of everything. And while the label has weathered a rollercoaster of controversy, the call-up of several of the label’s top stars to the majors, new high-powered partnerships, and several shake-ups in the ranks, Crawford’s mission has always remained the same – to be the Houston’s Barry Gordy with his own Motown Records.
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It’s mid-July 2022, seven years since Crawford, 41, created 1501 Certified – the label that produced two of today’s biggest female Hip Hop stars in the platinum-selling Erica Banks (“Buss It”) and the Grammy-nominated Megan Thee Stallion (“Savage”). He’s in Los Angeles, California, eager to embark on a journey with the announcement of his son, Justin Crawford, following in his footsteps by being drafted to Major League Baseball’s Philadelphia Phillies. News of the historic father-and-son moment flooded newsfeeds nationwide, and the positive coverage was a change in headlines for the four-time All-Star that he hasn’t seen very little of since his baseball days.
In the last few years, Crawford has been making headlines for disputes involving either his artists, or major labels. Now, with all the dark clouds almost behind him, he’s ready to pivot his label’s return to the hit factory glory days it’s known for. Proof of Crawford’s transition comes in the newfound success of the viral dance track, titled “Where The Freaks,” in which Crawford made his executive producer debut, by Dallas, Texas natives 1AMBabyJoker of the popular Click 4Ulla Starz, Unique Musik, and 1501-Warner signee Erica Banks.
Today, he sits down with The Source’s Bryson “Boom” Paul via Zoom to discuss the future of 1501 Certified, learning his past mistakes, embracing TikTok, and so much more. The full interview is below.
First and foremost, congratulations to your son, Justin Crawford, on being drafted by the Philadephia Phillies. How does it feel being a father-son duo making it into the pros?
It feels great – It definitely feels great to be a part of history. I don’t know if you know, but we’re the first father-son duo to be a part of this “group” that our sons were drafted in the first round. We made history with that. Definitely, to be watching him as a kid, growing up, playing – to be able to go through this moment with him – it’s a proud father moment.
Not only that (father-son drafted), it’s very important to Black culture in general, especially with baseball. Being that it is so few of us that are in the sport. Obviously, it is a major accolade that is inspiring to a lot of future generations. So how does that feel to you knowing you are trailblazing a path that will have people following in your footsteps later on?
Yeah, we always want to make a path for other Blacks to come and play the sport. Obviously, the numbers was going down with “Black” players coming into the game. And that was always one of my things to always try to encourage other “Black” players to play– me being a Black player myself – than have my son come along and he’s actually succeeded everything I’ve did so far. Hopefully, that just lets other Black players understand that the game is open for them too as well. The contract shit, the C.A., somebody just turned down almost 500 million dollars the other day, you know what I’m sayin’… people need to know.
You got your son getting into the pros, he’s just starting out. How is that going to help or Is that going to be a distraction for you as far as in the music or is that going to be able to balance both out?
Not going to be a distraction because we have teams put in place. Everybody has their own team … I just tell them what’s what or what direction we need to go in or what not. But I’m looking to my son playing, and can’t wait until he get to Philly. You gotta understand that’s four at bat, they get to walk-up to the plate with music playing in front of 30-40,000 people. So, he definitely going to have 1501 music going up, walking to the plate [laughs].
Now, let’s jump into the music. 1501 Certified. After the first of half of 2022, where do you see 1501 going the rest of the year?
Well, you know we was putting out a couple of artists that we developed. Smoody. We still doing our thing with Erica Banks, putting out new music with her – got new content all the time. Right now, we got this one single that we thinks going to be a smash. It’s called “Where The Freaks,” it’s by a guy name Joker (1AMBabyJoker) – but they have a group called “Click 4Ulla Starz” down in Dallas. The song had been buzzing down there and I liked it. Went down there, put that together, put Erica on it, and it seems like it’s getting a lot of good reviews from all the DJs. I think that’s going to be our song of the summer, where the freaks at, you know what I’m sayin’?
Now you’re “Executive Producer” of the track, and that’s a first for you. How does it feel jumping into that chair?
It’s cool. That’s what I wanted to be, an executive in the business. I been learning as we go. I jumped in face first in the music scene, so everything has been learning on the fly. With my little time I’ve been in here so far, I’ve been able to learn how to put things together. I try to develop as many relationships as I can, and use my resources.
During putting all those things together, I came up with this (“Where The Freaks”). I’ve been courting those kids (Click 4Ulla Starz) for a minute, and really wanted to get into the TikTok lane. I had a party for’em one day, and everybody was making fun of me on Instagram. Saying how I was hanging with kids: “Oh he want to hang with kids and youngsters.” And I’m like … well you know, I guess it will make sense later. And here we are, we got a “TikTok” song and it was all because I wanted to try something different.
If it don’t make dollars, it don’t make sense and it’s definitely making dollars. How does it feel to you with people chiming in on you being the “elder” person on these social media platforms and making it happen?
It’s crazy because at the big companies it’s some old person running it, you know what I’m sayin. So it’s like it’s the same thing. I guess… I’m so hands-on, but that’s the only way you learn by being hands-on. I really didn’t understand the TikTok world. Didn’t know about the dances, how they make the videos… Know they set the little lights up, stations, rotate, and do all that stuff they do. Had I not brought that stuff to my house, I still wouldn’t have known what it was about. So I’m glad I did it. And I can just take the little “oh he’s hanging with the kids at the moment” thing [chuckles].
But why is it only in Hip Hop that we don’t want to see people “learn” and “evolve.” Like how you did, where you embraced TikTok, and what not?
For with me, I think its because of my situation with baseball, you know. I played baseball and I’ve had success over there, so it’s like, why you don’t do that and stay in that lane. Why you come over here? You’ve already been successful over there but you want to come over here and do this. It’s always that type of thing going on, and then… who knows really. But, at the end of the day, I found something that I like, and if I’m passionate about, I like it, and it sticks to me, I’m going to do it. I’m not going to listen to what people say.
You were big in baseball and that’s what people remember you for but when you try to do music, people want you to do other things. Does it frustrate you that people only want to see you have “limited success”?
Yeah it’s frustrating because you don’t want to put yourself in a box on what you can do and limit yourself. Like I heard all the time: “Oh, he wants to be famous,” “he wants to do this,” “he played baseball already, he already made his millions of dollars, why he want to come over here.” But nobody says that to the other people in the music business and want to come over and be a “baseball agent” or do stuff like that, and just expand their portfolios. Some reason – with me – people want to put a limit on what you can and can’t do … and I don’t like being boxed-in no type of way. I don’t like to feel like I’m caged in, no type of way.
But you’ve already made so many people from your label successful like it’s so many artists already from your label that you’ve turned into success. Doesn’t that add frustration to you – what more do you want me to prove that I belong here?
At this point, I just figured this the way it’s going to be for me all the time. I kinda got use to going against the grain and just not listening to what people say about me, you know, as long as I can work hard and continue to help others reach their dreams. That’s why I came over here (music business), my goal was to come over here and help people reach something that they want to do in life. Just like how someone helped me when I was coming up. As long as I’m still helping others and pushing the agenda forward as what we are trying to do as a culture. I’m gon’ keep doing what I’m trying to do. I’m not going to let the naysayers make me think otherwise.
Let’s educate some people. You are the owner and founder of 1501 Certified Entertainment. But you’re also the Executive Producer of the 1AMBabyJoker, Unique Musik, and Erica Banks hit, “Where The Freaks.” So breakdown the difference of you being the owner of the label and being the executive producer of the song?
Well, as the owner of the label I oversee everything – we’re an independent label – so you’re pretty much involved in everything.
In this case with the Joker and Click 4Ulla Starz, they came down to one of my … I was having these “local talent” mic nights in my house because we have a stage there. And they came, they performed, they did the song, and I instantly fell in love with the song, so I start letting them come back, hang in Houston and do all that type of stuff. Slowly, but surely, we just started gaining a relationship and I thought it be a cool idea to put Erica Banks on the song because they already had their little thing going on and it was live.
I’m the type of person that I love entertainment. If you movin’ and getting the crowd, and the crowd is reacting to you. I love that action-type stuff. It was just one of those things, where I was like: “oh let’s put this together, let’s do this.“ And this could be my way to get into that world and see what else they’ve had done. That’s more of the executive side, it’s about putting the pieces like that.
Being this was your first-time executive producing a track. What made you decide to take a chance with Joker and the gang – who isn’t signed to you? Whereas you could’ve kept it all in-house?
[Exhales] I decided to take a chance with them (Click 4Ulla Starz) because I “actually” like the song. And on top of that, they love performing the song. That has a lot to do with it, as far as content-wise. Getting the song out there, I knew it wouldn’t be a problem because anytime I want to promote the video or we standing anywhere and the song comes on. Those guys automatically, they gonna post a lot, they gonna turn up as soon as they hear the song – it’s like second nature to them. And all I have to do is my behind-the-scenes work that I naturally always do. You put those things together and you get what we got bubbling right now.
With this song invading TikTok the way it is. It leads to a potential project, surely, so break down the compilation project you have in the works?
Well, the thing is, with Click 4Ulla Starz, I purchased the song from those guys. I haven’t signed any of them yet, I guess little labels going to try and get them [laughs]. But, just like I said, to gain some trust and relationship-wise, I said I’m move slow with these guys, so I got involved with the song, first. Hopefully I can get everybody signed because I would like to put out project with’em. I’ve told people about them, but just like how I didn’t understand and realize the TikTok world, a lot of them don’t understand what I’m trying to present to them, so they have to wait and see. I hope to get it to a point where they come through me and then I can show everybody what I was talking about and what I saw. Hopefully, I would like to put a project out with Unique and Joker.
For 1501 Certified, all the ups and downs the label has went through is public knowledge. Why are you still excited to scout artists?
It’s just something I like to do. It’s just like playing sports, I have a passion for it, you know. You can go through things in sports – especially in baseball – where you have to learn how to accept failure. You’re only going to be great 33-out-10 at-bats. That’s 30% at a time, so 70% of the time, you miserable. Coming over here (music business), it’s the same thing. You know stuff going to happen. You just gotta brush yourself off and get ready. Long as you have a passion for it, you wake up every day, you want to work harder than everybody still. You want to see results. Long as that is in me, I can look pass everything that’s happened knowing I’m getting to another destination that’s going to elevate me to a position where I want to be.
With the growth of 1501 Certified, it’s seen so many great things happen along with many controversial things that’ve happen.How do you plan move pass the past and learn from your mistakes as well as your artist’s mistakes, and grow into something that is revered heading into 2023?
The way to get by the past is to just keep working like I’ve been doing. Put things behind me. I’ve learned a lot. I always say, “God gave me my lessons in the hardest way for them.” That’s the only way you gon’ learn fast. It’s like going through that first serious break-up when your like 18-19-years-old. By the time you get to 20-22, you know what to do a little better.
In this case, I’m thankful for my hardships that I went through because I feel like we’re going to be around still. I know what to do in the future, I handle my artists differently. I know how to take different types of approaches and I just know to keep going – that’s the main thing. Like I say, if I’m able to still move an inch in this business, I’m keep going because I have a passion for it. And I feel like I can really help others and that’s what I came to do. When I signed up for this, the goal was to help as many people out of Houston as I could. And, you know, I think I did my part so far.
You started 1501 Certified in 2015 but – in a previous interview – you mentioned before you didn’t really see it start growing until 2018. Just you personally, how’ve you handled the growth in yourself while growing this label?
You could say it’s growth though. You could say it just me realizing certain things, but it changed my mentality a lot because, coming from baseball – and even being up here with my son. Just coming back around baseball for a week, seeing how everything is easy-going, nice, and you know everybody is cool. And then, you come to the Hip Hop community, it’s like the person that reach out to shake your hand, you gotta look at his hands and his eyes, just see what he up to, and it’s like that with everybody. And I hate that I’m like that now because I always want to look at you and see the goodness in everybody first but, unfortunately, the Rap game made me look at everybody sideways.
As far as personal growth. Have you come to terms with your mistakes in the music business?
Yes, I’ve come to terms with everything. I’ve come to terms with everything that’s happened to me. I think I have to be able to grow, elevate, – I can’t be upset about nothing. I took my lick, and I kept on tickin’. Which, you can call it a “lick,” but it wasn’t necessarily my mistake, I just trusted the wrong people. So I’ve learned from that. It is what it is, it was my initiation into the music business, is what I was told [laughs].
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Smoody, Erica Banks, Megan Thee Stallion, 1501 Certified is definitely trying to make a statement in Hip Hop with a roster of great artists already, but we want to know, what kind of statement are you trying to make with the upcoming compilation album?
I’m just trying to put my artists out there. I’m an independent label, in which we’re just trying to get our artists known. We got some dope artists that I think you guys will like. I’m in the development stage with them, and we’ve come to learn that we specialize in developing an artist. Once we get them developed, we want the labels and get them going. But definitely, we got some good music coming out of East Texas with Smoody. We got D-Raww that’s coming up, and, of course, Erica Banks doing her thing. We rolling on all cylinders right now. This song with Click 4Ulla Starz – Joker and Unique. We excited for what’s coming up.
Can you give us any idea on a release date for the compilation album?
Nah. We don’t have a release date on that (album) yet. We’re still working right now. But we definitely focusing on this one song, “Where The Freaks.” We just released a single with Smoody called “HBCU,” and that’s got the drumline sample in it. And people like that one too, it just a summertime hit. We like to make fun, party music around here.
You’ve always been tied in with female artists in the past. You’ve signed a few, you’ve lost a few. You obviously have Erica Banks doing her thing, you’ve been instrumental in Megan’s success. But I want to ask you, throughout all the ups and downs, do you still have plans to scout female talents to 1501 Certified?
Yeah of course. I’m kinda like the guy that can do the girl artists, you know. But, I’m gon’ just take my time this next time. Take my time and search for the right one – the right fit. The one who’s really… the next one is really “the one.” So that’s where I’m at with that situation.
Lastly, I want to ask you, you’ve been through it all in these last few years with 1501 Certified. How do you maintain positive mental health as a successful Black man in this music business?
Man to be honest with you, and I never like to get too religious or nothing like that, but you just have to have a relationship with God. Pray at night, I do a lot of praying, talking to myself. I believe in a higher power. And I believe that when you live a certain way, and you live right – you know when you did something right, you know when you did wrong. You have to be honest with yourself all the time. And just know that things going to be better, you just have to know things going to be better. Things change. At some point, things will change for the better. Like right now… I’m seeing that sun come from behind the cloud, and it feels good to have the sun shine.