Key Songs In The Life Of… Max Lousada

MBW’s Key Songs In The Life Of… is a series in which we ask influential music industry figures about the tracks that have – so far – defined their journey and their existence. This time, we hand our turntable over to Max Lousada, Global CEO of Recorded Music at Warner Music Group. The Key Songs In The Life Of… series is supported by Sony Music Publishing.

Max Lousada’s gambles are paying off.

Warner Music Group’s Global CEO of Recorded Music has laid down some ballsy bets over the past half-decade – not least his ongoing faith in the leadership of Los Angeles-based Warner Records, and his deep personal involvement in a megabucks partnership deal with 10K Projects and Elliot Grainge.

Well… Warner Records is currently red hot, with a run of credible artists storming to the top of charts around the world – Zach Bryan, Benson Boone, Teddy Swims, and, of course, the return of Dua Lipa.

Meanwhile, 10K Projects, following on from its culture-moving success with Ice Spice, is marshaling another global viral hit artist, this time in tandem with WMG/ADA: Artemas’ I Like The Way You Kiss Me has raced to half a billion Spotify streams. Industry prognosticators are whispering the words “breakthrough star”.

And following Warner’s $400 million acquisition of 300 Entertainment in 2021 (a deal in which Lousada played an instrumental role), the Kevin Liles-led label this week landed straight in at No.2 on the Billboard 200 with Gunna’s One Of Wun.

Speaking with MBW, Lousada bats away plaudits for his role in these accomplishments. And as well he might; officially speaking, he’s not here to talk about music business matters.

This is purely an interview about how music – remember, that old thing? – has soundtracked and enhanced Lousada’s 50 years on this planet.

Those of you who’ve read our Key Songs… features before will know the drill: Lousada must pick seven(ish) tracks that have defined various stopovers in his life to date, and explain why they mean so much to him.

In Lousada’s case, said songs soundtrack everything from his childhood in London to the cultural melting pot of mid-’90s Brighton, his first entrepreneurial success in music — launching the distribution company In A Silent Way — to his escapades in NYC as part of Rawkus Records.

In fact, Lousada’s playlist brings us all the way up to today, where he stands as one of the most influential figures in the modern global music business.

Fresh off the plane from Jazz Fest in New Orleans, Lousada guides MBW on a personal and musical odyssey throughout his life, starting – at 10 years old – in the “smoky pubs” of South London…

1) Miles Davis, In A Silent Way (1969)

My dad was a big jazz enthusiast. I grew up in Tooting Bec, South London, and our regular Sunday would be going to the back of a pub – they don’t really do this so much anymore – and listening to jazz bands, surrounded by all these great war stories of what happened at Ronnie Scotts etc.

It’s interesting when you do an exercise like this [Key Songs] and realize how influential those early years of your musical tapestry were. At this point, I would have been between the ages of 9 and 13, listening to these bands in smoky pubs with lots of pints everywhere and people smoking Gauloises. I’d get a packet of crisps, and I’d either be listening or out playing in the pub garden.

My dad’s record collection gave me a connection with him; Donald Byrd, Blood Sweat & Tears, Miles, Thelonious Monk. He’d been a social worker in his early 20s in New York for gangs in NYC, so he’d seen more of the world than most people. He was from a very artistic family; my grandmother and other relatives were all in film and theater, stage designers and other roles. That creativity and appreciation of culture influenced my dad’s family and, therefore, influenced him.

“I would have been between the ages of 9 and 13, listening to these bands in smoky pubs with lots of pints everywhere and people smoking Gauloises.”

In A Silent Way, both the album and the song, stuck with me because it was Miles at his best – quite controversial, challenging the conventions of jazz and rock. Mavericks resonate with me, people who push boundaries, and thanks to records like In A Silent Way that started at a very early age.

This record was so significant that my first company was called In A Silent Way [a UK-based distribution company that Lousada co-founded in 1994, which imported records from the likes of DJ Shadow and Delicious Vinyl].

I still turn to Miles Davis when I want to be challenged musically, with artistic bravery. When you look at what he did with hip-hop, with experimental rock, with dance… he was so ahead of his time. People often see him as a boxed-off ‘jazz’ artist, but he’s much more expansive than that.

2. London Posse, How’s Life In London (1993)

I grew up immersed in DJ club culture, combined with early hip-hop culture. I used to go to this infamous nightclub called Dance Wicked In Vauxhall; the best hip-hop, soul, reggae, ‘hip-house’ – showing my age! – was all there.

I had to give recognition to London Posse here, who mashed up hip-hop and ragamuffin, and could go toe-to-toe with the best. Back then, if you dropped How’s Life… alongside an EPMD or a KRS-ONE record, it would hold its own. But really this is me paying homage to so many interesting and important [UK hip-hop] artists from that era who have been a bit overlooked: Monie Love, She Rockers, Cookie Crew, Demon Boyz, Overlord X.

“really this is me paying homage to so many interesting and important UK hip-hop artists from that era who have been a bit overlooked: Monie Love, She Rockers, Cookie Crew, Demon Boyz, Overlord X…”

That scene was huge in independent record stores and South London clubs – many of those artists went to my school, or lived around the area. I would have been around 17 years old, I’d started to run club nights, and South London just felt like a thrilling place to be.

I then moved on to Brighton Polytechnic, studying Humanities, which I didn’t finish. Music just overtook everything; promoting clubs, buying vinyl, until In A Silent Way happened.

I lived in Brighton for four years and it had an incredible music scene. I saw both Gil Scott-Heron and Robert Plant live. And there was such a vinyl-collecting culture, driven by independents and curators like Gilles Peterson, James Lavelle, Skint Records, Ninja Tune, and Rawkus Records [for whom Lousada would later lead operations outside of the US].

It was a time of independent explosion, taking influences from everywhere, mashing them together, and making UK sounds.

3. A Tribe Called Quest, Check The Rhime (1991) / Mobb Deep, Shook Ones Pt II (1995) / Mos Def, UMI Says (1999)

After we’d started our distributor [in the mid-’90s], I’d started hanging out in New York, and especially at Rawkus [a client of Lousada’s distribution company before he joined the label].

If you cut everyone open at Rawkus, A Tribe Called Quest would be in their DNA. The founders of Rawkus, Jarred [Myer] and Brian [Brater], were originally doing drum’n’bass and hip-hop, but that was very quickly distilled into this alternative hip-hop sound.

I vividly remember going to The Tunnel in New York, and when they played Shook Ones by Mobb Deep… as a British kid, seeing the energy and explosion of this music that I loved, and knowing we were starting a label in the middle of it all. While we didn’t work with either ATCQ or Mobb Deep, we were aspiring to have records that had that kind of impact…

…which brings me to Mos Def. By the late ‘90s at Rawkus, we were releasing brilliant songs and having hits from amazing artists like Pharoahe Monch, Talib Kweli, and Company Flow. You felt like the epicenter of something that was changing. We’d built a merch company, we were learning and making mistakes. And then Blacker On Both Sides happened.

UMI Says wasn’t Mos’s biggest record from that album – that was Ms. Fat Booty. But it’s my pick, partly because it’s over such an amazing Fela Kuti beat.

Being involved with a successful and well-funded label at this time in Rawkus gave me the chance to launch my own independent label [Ultimate Dilemma, which Lousada started in London in partnership with Mushroom].

4) Zero 7, Destiny (2001)

I first heard Zero 7 when they remixed Radiohead’s Climbing Up The Walls. It blew me away, so I found Sam [Hardaker] and Henry [Binns] and signed them to Ultimate Dilemma. It was my first million-selling album; doing that on an independent label was a big deal. It changed my life.

There was a lot going on, a lot of uncertainty in the world, we’d recently had 9/11. Zero 7’s [Simple Things] album became the soundtrack to a lot of escapism from that.

Working with Zero 7 was the first time I toured the world: I went to the Montreal Jazz Festival for the first time, The Troubadour, The Hollywood Bowl. Then Sam and Henry brought Jose Gonzalez into the band.

Sam and Henry had such talent, and an amazing manager in Carol Crabtree. I chose Destiny for my track here because I wanted to pay tribute to Sam and Henry’s partnership, but especially because it was such a great platform for Sia’s vocals.

5) Shuggie Otis, Inspiration Information (1974) / Terry Callier, I’d Rather Be With You (1972)

Shuggie Otis is probably my favorite artist in the world. His music can be played to basically every audience, whether you’re a dance-head, a hip-hop head, or a rock head. Yet, strangely, he’s still one of the most undiscovered artists. I can play him in [musically-educated] rooms, and people are like, ‘Who’s this?’

The first dance at my wedding was his Strawberry Letter 23. His whole catalog is utterly stunning; it was a real challenge to choose just one of his songs here. As a songwriter, producer, vocalist… he’s one of one. He deserves to be heralded by anyone who’s passionate about music in any genre.

“A misnomer in today’s record business is that suddenly everyone needs to turn up with a hit. Actually, the trick is just identifying brilliant people; the truly great artists figure it out from there.”

I also wanted to include Terry Callier here because he’s been a big influence on me musically; you can draw a straight line from him to my musical taste and, I guess, my philosophy of believing in talent. A misnomer in today’s record business is that suddenly everyone needs to turn up with a hit. Actually, the trick is just identifying brilliant people; the truly great artists figure it out from there.

I’d Rather Be With You is from an LP called What Color Is Love? – the whole album is incredible.

Gilles Peterson, a dear friend and a big influence on me, introduced me to Terry Callier. Later in [Callier’s] life, Gilles signed him and put out a record on Talking Loud, a label I loved.

6) Fleetwood Mac, The Chain (1977) / The Beatles, Come Together (1969)

Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours is like Carole King’s Tapestry — there are just no fillers in these records.

Rumours is full of swagger, character, and timeless songwriting, especially the Stevie and Christine tracks. Fleetwood Mac is what I put on when my kids were born, so it has a very special place in my heart. Then again, I guess you can’t really play Mobb Deep’s Shook Ones in the maternity ward!

When you listen to Come Together, you just think: How is it possible for music to stay so vital for so long?

People often discuss the idea of ‘disposable music’ today, so I guess I really wanted to include two songs here that directly counter that. These two records are equally important today as they’ve ever been — if not more important.

Also… Rumours was Fleetwood Mac’s sixth album. It reminds us of the need to allow artists to live, breathe, and experience. For me, focusing on record-making and touring over everything else in an artist’s life leads, in experience terms, to a little bit too much ‘push’ and not enough ‘pull’.

We have to remind ourselves that these are incredible artistic creatures that need space to create worlds. They shouldn’t be running towards the light – the light should come to them.

7) Steely Dan, Black Cow (1977) / Minnie Riperton, Les Fleurs (1969)

These tracks represent summer and winter to me.

I play Black Cow at the start of every summer – it signifies the start of the season for me. That drives my family a bit mad… but it’s a ritual now, and in my defense, it’s a fucking feel-good record!

Black Cow, in terms of its place as a sample in hip-hop history, speaks for itself. I came to artists like Tom Petty, Steely Dan, and Bob Dylan relatively late – in my 20s – because it wasn’t really my musical ‘school’. But when I started spending more time on the West Coast, the experience of listening to music in LA heat and Laurel Canyon, drew me to [Steely Dan album] Aja.

Steely Dan definitely aren’t ‘uncool’ by any means, but I also really like the fact they’re comfortable in their own skin.

If Black Cow is my summer solace, Minnie Riperton is my winter solace: She’s got me through a lot of traveling back and forth on planes in bleak weather.

Les Fleurs has this ‘70s, French R&B thing going on. I first heard this when I was in my early 20s and I just thought: ‘Who is this?!’ She’s the most melodic, sensual, dope singer. She’s got three classic albums and I don’t think anyone’s ever touched her at what she does.

8) Lisa Lisa & Cult Jam, I Wonder If I Take You Home (1985)

I couldn’t live without this, so I’m demanding it as my bonus track! It’s my guilty pleasure.

I should warn people: This is not a great song; it’s not a great vocal; it’s not bad production, but it isn’t the best. Yet the sum is somehow greater than the parts.

All of the other artists I’ve mentioned here are genre-defining and exceptional. This is my dance single of the mix. It was nearly Goldie’s Timeless; it was nearly a Photek record. But this was a record I’d always play when I briefly DJ’d and it would always hold the crowd.

It’s not a classic in conventional terms – but it’s a classic to me.

Key Songs In The Life Of... is supported by Sony Music Publishing. SMP represents classic catalogs including The Beatles, Queen, Motown, Carole King, Paul Simon, Bruce Springsteen, AC/DC, Leiber & Stoller, Leonard Cohen, Stevie Wonder, Michael Jackson and The Rolling Stones, as well as beloved contemporary songwriters such as Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Olivia Rodrigo, Calvin Harris, Daddy Yankee, Gabby Barrett, Jay-Z, Ye, Luke Bryan, Maluma, Marc Anthony, Miranda Lambert, Pharrell Williams, Rihanna, Sara Bareilles, Sean "Love" Combs, Travis Scott and many more.Music Business Worldwide

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