“What’s in a name”? An age old question that points to human’s fascination with history along with, “where are we from?” and “is there greater purpose” behind our existence. In response to these questions, ambitious rapper Rosswell Melow gives us a break down of who he is and what his pseudonym and artist alias ‘Paragon’ means to him.
Following the release of his mixtape, Breaking The Silence, Paragon chronicles his-story and HISTORY. Many would attest that being an “emcee” encompasses the ability to speak your truth in rhythm and in rhyme. Emceeing is about the art of storytelling, which is why rappers such as Slick Rick, KRS-1, Rakim, Nas and Big Daddy Kane have been renowned and highly revered as some of the best in this craft.
In this exclusive interview, Paragon gives Lavatory Records his take on the music industry, talks about his progression as an artist and his stable TitusTrack Entertainment and so much more…
Lavatory Records: Who is “Paragon” and where did it all start for you musically?
Paragon: When I was in Primary School, we got the standard question “what do you want to be when you grow up”? Everyone had their say and when it came to me I said “I’m going to be a rapper”. The funny thing is that at that time in my life I had never heard a rap song before, but for some reason that was the answer popped out of my mouth. So who is Paragon? Paragon is that very same kid (who wanted to be a rapper)! Only now I taught myself how to make beats as well.
Lavatory Records: Which artists and producers did you look up to while coming up musically?
Paragon: I have a long answer for this, but I’ll keep it short. Lyrically I’d have to say my biggest influences were Will Smith, Loon, Eminem and Uni-VERSE. In terms of production, most of my influences come from film composers like Bill Conti (Rocky) and Hans Zimmer (Inception, Man of Steel etc.). However, the hip-hop producers that I can say influenced me the most would be Erick Sermon, Just Blaze and my team at the time: Mark Montgomery and Maxwell ‘Uni-VERSE’ Melow. The constant competition of who’s going to make the next dope beat was always interesting and pushed you to grow… and of course we “stole” from each other.
But I think, like everyone who makes music, you like a little bit of everything and you have admiration for a lot of people doing things that you like, especially while you’re in the building phase.
Lavatory Records: Do you see forests or trees? Meaning, are you bigger-pictured focused or more detail orientated?
Paragon: I’m a guy who sees forests, and tends to like planting the trees himself.
Lavatory Records: Tell us about the synergy at TTE (TitusTrack Entertainment). How did your stable get formed?
Paragon: TTE is all love man. But to start from the top, it was formed by Uni-VERSE and I while walking to a friend’s house back in our school days. At the time I went by the name ‘Titus’ and Uni-VERSE by the name ‘Lord Track’ and we were looking for a name for our music production company. So we joked and combined our names TitusTrack, because the amalgamation sounded like “Tightest Track”. We laughed and said we’d find another name at later stage. Guess the joke was on us, because TitusTrack Productions stuck.
Fast-Forward a few years, throw Chron Burgundy into the mix (that’s a story on its own) and we changed from Productions to Entertainment as we decided to move from a beat-making company to an Indie Label. It made sense because people had been asking us to sign them for years, but we’d say “we’re not a label” and we felt that we were ready to take that step as a team, including Chron because as a collective we started acting more and more like a record label.
So as I said, it’s all love at TTE because we work together but there is a very strong sense of individuality and everyone has a role to play that contributes to a common goal. But what makes it special is that it doesn’t feel like we’re trying to be a team. We’re just like-minded individuals, who are very different and we support each other and the way forward.
Lavatory Records: Where do you see the direction of the music industry going, especially with the internet changing the dynamics within the game?
Paragon: It’s really tough to say, especially from a creative point of view. The Internet has changed the rate at which music is consumed and art has sadly become a disposable product (possibly why it also sounds so disposable).
But in my opinion full-on genre integration, which has been somewhat of a scapegoat for sales, is already nothing special anymore. I think it will most likely change over to platform integration in a much more aggressive manner. We’ve already seen big corporations going beyond endorsement deals and coupling devices and platforms with artists, like JayZ’s Samsung deal for example. I believe we will see better or broader variations of business being done like that, in the same way that the MP3 was the first variation that led to what the digital music market has become today.
Lavatory Records: Your new project titled “Breaking The Silence”. What is it all about, from a conceptual point of view?
Paragon: Well the title is very literal in a sense. We did our thing a few years back, killing three shows a day at times, handing out over 2000 disks, getting play-listed on YFM, getting to that #1 spot with multiple tracks on the “Hot 9 at 9” and then I just vanished. The team was still moving forward but I personally wasn’t really in the scene, for a number of reasons, but mainly because I had this big picture in my mind and I decided to do what it took to realise that vision. Of course my silence didn’t get the best reception and it became a talking point for certain individuals, which I found funny, so I titled the project Breaking the Silence.
From a conceptual point of view the reasoning behind the title is much broader so I’ll only touch on some of the main themes though. Sadly, as rappers we get put into boxes and that caused conflict for me because it’s almost as though if I don’t do what a small group of people want I’m not being heard, whether it be hard bars or “bubble-gum rap”. Eventually I kind of said “screw that” and broke the ‘silence’ – or the box, so that people could hear me the way I wanted to them to… so that I was actually speaking and not saying what was expected of me while using music I believed in as opposed to following patterns.
Also, there are a lot of things that rappers don’t talk about honestly in our circles and industry, a lot of social issues that get overlooked or undermined, misconceptions and silly beliefs that have huge grey areas but people choose to perceive as either black or white and I don’t just mean in terms of hip-hop.
A good line, from the project, that sums up a lot is in the last verse of the track ‘For You’ where I say “You can keep it real, I’ma keep it real life”.
Lavatory Records: In line with the face of the future of the music industry, we are seeing more “singles” orientation and EPs. What inspired you to release a full length album, with such poignant conviction and an underlying message, even under this non-conducive climate?
Paragon: As mentioned earlier, rate of consumption is the issue. Access to information is great but I don’t think we ever thought it would backfire to this degree. Also now we get heavy market saturation, so in order to remain relevant, even for big artists, you have to have a product to consume. So the rapid turnaround in releases and singles driven market we have is a more financially viable answer to a very fickle market. But also the blame goes to labels and artists because we dictate what is popular, whether people believe it or not.
With me, the funny part is that it’s not an album. It’s more of a mixtape, but because it’s all original tracks I can’t call it that, but it’s definitely not an album. To be dead honest, ‘Breaking the Silence’ is really more like stretching before the race… it was honestly just a warm up. So in terms of an album, it’s not at my standard for what my LP would sound like. But I’m very happy it’s gotten the reception it has and I’m excited for what my projects I will be putting up for sale will do.
Lavatory Records: Which artists or producers have you worked with or shared a stage with?
Paragon: I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of artists. Some ‘big name’ projects have fallen through and I won’t say who I’m working with on my new stuff, but it will include international artists. In the past, however, I’ve worked with and shared stages with many dope artists such as Ludus, Tha Cutt (DJ), Ivana Merckel (Opera Singer), Kagiso Molete (vocalist; violinist), Tujay, Ruby Gold, Hulleywood, the team at MARKed Music, Teboho Tapisi (New Creation), Wanda Mbatha (New Creation – Drummer), Ramon Sampson (Drummer), Chocolate (Jazz Band), Mpumi Dlamini (Musician), Truth, Rawtek, Protista, Scratch Beats Entertainment, Voice of Reason, Bonj Mpanza (TheCity) and most importantly my team at TTE ( I probably forgot some people, I’m a bad person).
Lavatory Records: Of any artist dead or alive, which artist would you like to most collaborate with?
Paragon: That’s a tough one! I would say the answer would change on a daily basis depending on my mood. Today I would say Marvin Gaye but yesterday it was Coldplay and tomorrow it could be Tech N9ne or Hans Zimmer. So it all depends where my head is at, I’m fickle like that (laughs).
Lavatory Records: What has your experience of the South African music industry been like in general? Give us the good and bad of the local industry.
Any industry is what you make it for yourself. I can say that previously, it has been a very jealous place from my perspective. “Cats” will pass on you or “diss” you just because you are better than them and they feel threatened. But now that I’m more mature I can also say it was very flawed and naïve of me thinking that everyone wants to help me just because ‘I’m good’.
But I’d say it’s a place of circles. You have to try and get into the right circles and interact with like-minded people, just like any other business industry. The cool part, however, is when you give everyone the finger and make your own circle and it starts growing. That’s when it gets interesting.
Lavatory Records: Lavatory Records is a “solutions-driven company” for artists’ organisation and not a record label in the traditional sense. Do you think there’s potential for such a business to thrive in the current music economy, particularity in regards to management solutions and revenue streaming for artists?
Paragon: I think so, yes. Entertainment industries aren’t really built by the talent, but rather by the structures that hold the talent up – also meaning that’s where the real money is. What’s interesting is that with our industry still being very young, it seems saturated but most establishments are very ’flash in the pan’ because sadly dudes are not going about things in a sustainable manner and have unrealistic expectations of growth and revenue for start-ups. There is, however, a lot of opportunity for the individuals who are willing to take the time to do things the right way.
Solutions based organisations are a very powerful tool and I think if Lavatory Records takes the time to plan and innovate in practical ways there is an opportunity to set the bar in the South African entertainment industry, especially because we are often using American and European models that weren’t designed specifically for our country.
Lavatory Records: Any special mentions you want to shout out?
Paragon: I’m coloured, of course I have people to shout out (laughs).
My brother Uni-VERSE for his undying support and faith in me. Chron Burgundy for always “pushing” with me and pushing for me. My super cool wife – a supportive person, for being part of the dream, helping in studio sessions and shoots, and always lending me ideas.
All of the vocalists and musicians on the project as well as those who came in for sessions but the songs weren’t released: Ivana Merckel, Kagiso Molete, Wanda Mbatha, Teboho Tapisi, Siphiwe Tapisi, Mark and Gabriel Montgomery, Gerard Swartz – you guys are magic. The featuring artists: Ludus, Truth, Randy Robertson, Cata-Lust, Rawtek – thanks for taking the time.
And for every platform or person that has showed TTE love by sharing, playing or working with us – Koolout, YFM, 5FM (especially Catherine Grenfell & DJ FRESH), Eldos FM, UJfm, UCTfm, Drop16, Pronoia, Hustler’s Den, Heavywords, LoveParty Radio, Lavatory Records and of course… YOU, the person reading this. I know I forgot someone, don’t hate me!
Lavatory Records appreciates the time taken by Paragon to do this candid exclusive. Get a copy of Breaking The Silence and follow Paragon on Twitter: @TheOnlyParagon, Facebook and Instagram: @paragon_insta for updates on performances, appearances and much more. You can also subscribe to Paragon’s YouTube Channel to keep up with his latest developments.