By JR Valrey, the Minister of Information
When I was in the 7th grade, my mother moved our family to Fremont, California, which is 30 mins away from the areas that I was most familiar with at the time, Oakland and Alameda. I enrolled at Walter’s Middle School, and I did not have a hard time making friends because there were only a small number of Black people in the whole school, and for the most part we all hung together. This lack of Black people contrasted with what I was used to. One of the coolest people that I met and hung out with daily, was Dj Walt, who was a year older than me; and he already was djing school dances and parties, with his own equipment. He was the first person that I knew that put himself in the music business. I was inspired then, and also a decade later when I ran back into Walt, when he was working with Mystic, Planet Asia, and Zion I. Years after that, when I ran into Walt, he was doing some managing work, helping clients with contracts, publishing, and royalties. He also went on to work regularly, with my younger cousin R&B singer Sir Yuro, who became good friends with Walt, outside of my influence
Much like the crew of artists that he picks to work with, Walt is a very uplifting person who always has something positive or funny to say. His intellect has always put him head and shoulders above the rest, and now that he is working with Tyler Perry’s Studios soundscaping and scoring for the BET+ show, “All the Queens Men”, his talent is being heard on an even bigger stage than before; on cable television.
Check out this legendary pillar of northern California Hip Hop, as he talks about his work, music publishing, and the mysterious death and possible murder of his friend, the rapper Zumbi of the internationally known Hip Hop group Zion I, inside of Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, a couple of months ago.
JR Valrey: I remember you DJing in the early 90’s in middle school, how did you get into that back then?
Walt Liquor: Yep, I started in 89 that’s how it started. You know, I happened to grow up in an area with a lot of Filipino brothers and sisters, and if you’re from the Bay Area, and you grew up in the 90s, Filipinos kind of ran that DJ thing out there. So I was surrounded by it, honestly growing up, and my first dream was to be like Jam Master Jay or Kid Capri, and those guys. I was always fascinated with the DJs so, you know, I was lucky enough to get some hand me down 1200s (turntables). Bro, that’s what happened. Some of my homies’ big brothers were DJs, so we used to go to their gigs, and they let us get on the turntables. Then, when they got older and got out of the game, and got into cars and all that, they handed down the equipment to the little homies, and that’s kind of how I got started. And you remember where we was at, out in Fremont there was a record store called “Stop, Look and Listen” that wasn’t that far from my junior high school. So I used to just skip lunch, not eat, and go buy a vinyl every day. That’s how I built my vinyl collection. Soon I was DJing my own dances, and getting paid by the schools I was at, to entertain.
JR Valrey: When and what made you start getting into artists management? Who are some of the artists that you have managed?
Walt Liquor: I got into artist management in the mid to late 90s. The first person that asked me to get into it was Planet Asia. He asked me because I had already been doing a lot for him at the time. I recorded all this early music. I had a 24 track studio, and was already doing lots of shows, and working with a lot of people in the bay area hip hop scene, and putting stuff together on my own for myself. I was really organized, and I was working at the largest record distributor on the West Coast at the time, TRC Distribution and Nu Groove Alliance; selling records and all of that around the globe. Asia was the first person to say to me, “Hey, you should be my manager.” I had never thought about that until that point.
But it kind of made sense, and a light bulb went off in my head. He was my first client. I started cutting my teeth on him. We went around the world together.
After him Mystic, of The Digital Underground from Oakland, came to me for her Grammy nominated run. I worked with Zion I. RIP to the good brother Zumbi. I worked with a whole lot of acts in the Bay and around the world. You know I brought producer Jake One to the game. I worked with Super Dave West, who produced a lot of De La Soul’s material. I had a management company down in LA, where I work with the likes of Maroon Five, Styles of Beyond, and a whole lot of other talented artists and executives. We had a whole lot going on, down in LA as well, so you know I just kind of came together, all off of Asia’s recommendation. After that, I was around so many people making moves, things and people just came to me.
JR Valrey: What is music publishing? When and what made you get into music publishing?
Walt Liquor: Music publishing, in short, is what people refer to as the ownership of a song. It can get really complicated. I have an online master class that I put together with The Zoo Labs, right now that breaks down Music Business Administration, which is the bigger picture. You can find that at Learn.ZooLabs.org.
But music publishing usually refers to shares of a song. If you think of it like 100% of a pie, everybody that created it, gets a slice of the pie. The songwriters that created the song, will get a slice of the pie; those slices are called publishing splits, because you’re splitting up the publishing or the ownership of the song. That’s probably the simplest way to put it. I mean it gets a lot deeper, and a lot more complicated, but that’s important because when every dollar comes in, we know how the dollar should get split. So if you and I split a song 50/50, and one dollar comes in, we both get 50 cents.
It gets more complicated than that, but that’s the basics of it. So that’s why publishing is extremely important. If you don’t have that deal structure in place, you won’t be able to break down the money properly when it comes in. You have a lot of people that aren’t getting paid their property royalties and all that kind of stuff, because they don’t even take the basic time to get their publishing splits together.
I got into it, because I actually took a class with my mentor and attorney, Michael Aczon, back in the late 90s, about music publishing, over at San Francisco State. I was 18 or so. I learned there what music publishing was, how it worked, and why it is so important. That kind of gave me an advantage, as I was moving through the music business, because that’s a major building block to the music business. Unfortunately a lot of artists just start making music, and never really get the business part of it. So me being the manager, I had to definitely deal with that. I also dealt with clearing songs for licensing. And if I didn’t have that information together, I wouldn’t have been able to close those deals, or make the money I made for me and my artists. So music publishing is extremely important. If you want to learn more, go to Fairviewmba.com.
JR Valrey: What kinds of music publishing services do you offer?
Walt Liquor: Well my company Fairview MBA, which stands for Fairview Music Business Affairs, offers a wide array of label services for artists, labels, and music executives. Everybody that’s releasing music commercially needs their metadata organized, so they can properly administer and register all of their copyrights. You know, really take ownership and do the right things with your copyrights and your songs. So my company Fairview MBA works with anyone, who needs the help to do anything from just organizing the data, to actually doing all the registrations. I can also do royalty collections and royalty payouts for labels, that have artists that are looking for statements and royalties, and things like that. There’s a whole lot that we do, in terms of sample clearances, and music clearances for TV shows. I’m also a music supervisor with Tyler Perry Studios, so I do music supervision and clearances. I do things like that, all day.
JR Valrey: Can you talk about some of the work that you have recently done with Tyler Perry?
Walt Liquor: I was the music supervisor and composer on a new show called, “All the Queen’s Men” starring Eva Marcille. It’s on BET+ and just came out September 9, 2021.
It’s a great show, man. It’s about a bad ass female boss lady, who takes no prisoners, down in Atlanta. She runs a male strip review with an iron fist. And from there, you can just imagine it goes. She’s hard body. It is really about her and her relationship with all the dancers, and the people that run the club with her. And it’s a woman-led organization. The ladies love the show.
I was responsible for all the music that went into the show; from the songs that were chosen, the background beats, and even all of the score. I worked on the score with my partner Larry Jazz. We did all of the emotional cues and movements, and everything that helped the show move. When they sent me the show, it was just picture and dialogue; I was responsible for the soundscape from there. It was a “hail mary” shot in the dark, because it was during the pandemic. During the lockdown, they were damn near the only team in production, and everything was done remotely. I was throwing in long range bombs, and they liked it!
Tyler Perry became a billionaire, because he’s got his hands all over everything. But this is the first time he let a crew do something like that at his studio, that he didn’t have his hands all over. He let these Black women, from Pitch Black Development run it, and they came up with this show. It has been doing really well. I got my fingers crossed, and have my mailbox open, to be ready for season two, and more shows to go from there.
JR Valrey: What have you been credited for on screen?
Walt Liquor: I was credited as a music supervisor and composer for that show. And that’s my first big show as a music supervisor and a composer. I’ve worked with many music supervisors and many composers over the years, but I was never in charge or in the seat that I’m in today. There’s a lot that goes along with it. It is a lot more than just choosing songs to put in the show. There’s a lot of business administration and clearances that go along with it. It’s cool to find a cool song, but can you actually clear all the rights to put it in the show? That is the real question, because if you can’t clear it, they don’t need it. We don’t even want to hear it.
JR Valrey: Is this new path in life taking you away from your music, or how do you see it working together?
Walt Liquor: Yeah it does a little bit, because it takes so much time to work on a tv series like that. But I’ve been working on a lot of projects in between. I have a project with Mystic that should be dropping next year. You’ll be hearing about that information soon. I produced the entire album. So you’ll get a chance to hear my music there.
I’m also working on a new project with an artist named Lxrd Rossi from Atlanta. We got a project called Birth of a Revolution or BOAR. And that’s a real dope project. We got this record called Melanin, everybody’s gonna love that. You gotta love it, I know you’re gonna love it JR, my brother, wait till you hear it.
You know I got a project with Frank Stickemz, called the Black Jim Morrison project which is dope, and years ahead of its time. But to tell you the truth, this gig has exposed me to a lot more music, a lot more artists, a lot more producers, and collaborators. I’m kind of like that Quincy Jones type of producer. I like to put shit together, to make these records. I’m having a blast man. It’s bringing me around a lot of great creatives. I’m staying in the studio working on these shows. I worked for damn near a year straight on the last one, but in the meantime and between time, there will be more music coming. I’m working with my label Fresh Yard Records to put out a lot of music. I’m not necessarily producing that stuff, but I am the A&R. We just dropped a dope project with Fashawn and Sir Veterano called “All Hail The King” that features Aloe Blacc, Elzhi, Planet Asia, and DJ Revolution. We’re also working on a Mitchy Slick album and a few other goodies. So definitely a lot more music is coming.
JR Valrey: In the genre of music and entertainment, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Walt Liquor: You’re gonna get a Walt tsunami of material that I’ve been working on over the last couple of years, and a few new things, you know. I’m definitely more into TV and film work.
I will definitely be working with more new artists, and established artists, in terms of production and executive help. But in five years, you know, I’ll be doing more music productions, more television, and maybe even a development deal hopefully. Actually that’s my five year goal; getting a development deal somewhere where I can start bringing more stories to the forefront. I got some great stories, and know a lot of people that have great stories that don’t always get the shine.
So now that I got a little toe in the door, you know that’s where I’m angling, but I’m really gonna put my foot down on this music supervisor composer thing, and just create soundscapes for these shows, and these films, that get us all really recognized.
JR Valrey: What do you think about Zumbi of Zion I dying, a few weeks ago, after having an altercation with medical security staff at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley? I understand that he was supposed to be recording with Planet Asia, your client, on that fatal night?
Walt Liquor: Planet Asia is the one that called me and told me about Zumbi passing. And he told me that they had just talked. This one fucked me up, because it is so close. I worked with the brothers from Zion I a lot, in the early days. I love them. I recorded and mixed their first album, “Mind Over Matter”, at my grandma’s house in the closet. You know the brother Zumbi, just as well as I do. He was such a powerful guy. I tell people all the time man, he was one of the best that ever did it. He’s absolutely one of the greats, and deserves every bit of accolades and respect that he gets. I wish he had more while he was here, but the contributions he left for everyone, I honestly cry at times when I listen to a couple of those records, man. There’s a couple of them that really speak to me, when I hear him now. You know I’m getting chills thinking about it, right now. I feel it’s fucked up because I’ve heard a lot of different stories, and I’ve talked to a few different people close to the situation, and I’ve heard a couple of different things but for the most part, it’s pretty quiet.
I’m hoping that’s all for the right reasons, at the end of the day. I really feel like if the word got out that something foul happened, people would be in the streets, over what happened. I hope it doesn’t get lost in the sauce of whatever’s going on, but I would definitely like to know what happened. And I would definitely like to know for whatever foul play that’s happening, justice is brought for my brother, because it’s extremely sad to see his light go; especially for his boys, you know. I hurt for his boys, more than anything, those young lions, you know, he was the one that was supposed to teach them.
It’s real sad man, and I hope that we find out soon what happened. We need real justice, in whatever form that is, that is brought to bear, because it just is not cool.
JR Valrey: What do you think about the details of his death still being on the hush after a month and a half after his death? Do you believe that the friends and family, beyond the inner circle, deserve to know what happened to him?
Walt Liquor: You know, I was told to keep quiet, and I respected their wishes. What the exact moves are, I don’t really know. They say those that know don’t talk, and those that talk don’t know. That’s all I know at the moment, bro. I’ve heard all kinds of theories and stories and things like that, that you know I can’t go into, in this interview. But you know I just pray for my brother. And hope we do find out something soon. Because if something bad happened, we need to know, we need to rise up in our brother’s defense.
JR Valrey: How can people stay tuned to your movement online?
Walt Liquor: IG – TW – FB: @waltliquor
That’s what’s up. I appreciate you JR. You know you my brother. I’ve always rocked with you. Holla at me anytime. You know what it is.