Andre Torres is a vinyl and hip-hop head, who’s also a veteran of music journalism. With over two decades in the trenches, Torres, who founded Wax Poetics magazine and was also executive editor at the lyrics site Genius, is now vice president of the urban catalog at Universal Music Enterprises. And in his new role, he’s launched Universal Music’s latest imprint, Urban Legends.
Urban Legends can be described as a repository or catalog of all things hip-hop from Universal Music. The site will celebrate anniversaries of some hip-hop classics, as well as provide its audience with new and inventive ways to interact with the music and its artists. In an interview with The Root, Torres discusses his goals for the site, as well as his own vinyl loves.
The Root: How did the Urban Legends imprint concept come about?
Andre Torres: I come from media, having run my own magazine and running Genius. When I got this position, I was looking at how things were being marketed and how hip-hop was dominating on music streaming services, but obviously there’s no liner notes there, or some of the things I grew up with.
I also knew younger people are now into collecting vinyl and obsessing over stuff. I figured it was good to start with one central location where we can bring everything together—whether it’s content, exclusive-material drops or all of our releases—and act as a hub for Universal Music Group. It’s urban music, going back decades. I think a lot of what people are listening to, catalogwise, there’s a way to tie all of that together, and Urban Legends is the perfect destination for that.
The Root: How has the site been received so far?
AT: It’s been great. We had a soft launch before the holidays and did a redesign a couple of weeks ago. We’ve been getting a good response. I’ve brought in Lauren Nostro, who I knew at Genius, and Tyrine Howard, who was at Fake Shore Drive, who’s running social. We come from the music-media world, and I don’t see us as competition from other music sites; they’re our “homies.” We’re going to them saying, “Yo, you love this record, why don’t you come here and write about it?” It’s really a spot for fans. We’re finding our niche and what works well for us, and discovering what is possible out here.
TR: With your own background within music, how has the landscape changed since you started in music journalism?
AT: It’s like night and day. Being in print media in the early 2000s, it was a much different game. The label system was stronger, there was a lot of indie labels. This was preweb. Once the internet became a huge part of music culture, its effect on the way people consumed music, it had a drastic effect on what content was being made around music and how people’s attention spans were shifting.
Labels, much like media companies who were focused in music, have been scrambling and trying to figure out what works. It’s a process, because what worked two years ago doesn’t even now. The Facebook algorithm switches so quickly, you have no other choice but to take it day by day. People are hungry for content, context and discovery, and whether you’re talking about preinternet and now, a lot of that hasn’t changed. There’s a lot of freedom artists have now, and kids are free to express themselves in ways we haven’t seen.
TR: With Universal, who’s had everyone from Tupac to Dr. Dre, what do you think their legacy is when it comes to hip-hop music?
AT: Looking at Universal with all of its tentacles globally, it’s the biggest record label in the world. When I was looking into what this position means, and the material I’d have my hands on, it was hard to argue with, because you’re talking everything from Pac to Dre. From Def Jam to Motown. There’s huge catalogs. There’s a wealth of material at Universal.
Over the years, we’ve been there from the beginning of hip-hop, and this company has been committed to urban music from its inception. And them bringing me over proves how much more of a commitment the company has, and understands the importance of urban music.
TR: Everyone who knows you knows you’re a vinyl head. As a vinyl head, what’s your favorite record?
AT: I own thousands and thousands of records. That’s one of the hardest questions that you could ask me. One record that always pops up in my head is—and it’s revolutionary for me—is 3 Feet High and Rising, De La Soul. Also, James Brown’s The Popcorn record is revolutionary for me. It’s difficult to name just one.
TR: What do you think people are missing from not having a vinyl experience?
AT: I think there’s always been a sort of tactile part of music listening. It’s always been that physical element. This younger generation is kind of the first that doesn’t have that. But even with streaming music becoming a No. 1 genre, vinyl sales are still up year after year. And the No. 1 vinyl retailer is Urban Outfitters.
Younger people are now looking for that tactile moment. Even though people have everything on their phone, people still want to be able to have something to show people what they love. And vinyl allows that. Kids are luckier nowadays because they have many more options and have the best of both worlds.
TR: Where do you see Urban Legends in a year?
AT: I want to build a strong community of super-hardcore fans of urban music. I want people to experience the catalog and making of these records with anniversaries of music. And how younger artists are influenced by our history of music, as well as physical products we’ll be releasing this year. It’ll put Urban Legends in a different light.
I’m not trying to do what has been traditionally done in a catalog space. We have great anniversaries this year, from Black Star to Slick Rick’s Great Adventures. This year will be big on the content and product side. As we keep the momentum going, people will clearly understand that the site is where it’s at. Hip-hop’s catalog is dominating, and Urban Legends is positioned to do that better than everyone else.
To learn more about Urban Legends, visit its site.