Behind the Music
Tony Davis aka “T-Luv”
For 16 years, Tony Davis (aka “T-Luv”) has been the man behind the music—Nelly’s specifically—and he’s taken the amazing ride with the St. Louis-bred star to unthinkable success. But now the savvy music mogul is stepping out—and speaking up—about his early days with Nelly, changes in the biz and his latest business venture that’s sure to turn some heads.
ALIVE: How did you fi rst get into the
TONY DAVIS: I adopted the nickname “The Organizer” when I was 14 years old because I was always the guy everybody came to when they had a party or event. By the time I was 21, rap was starting to get pretty big in St. Louis. My friend Ali came home from college in Atlanta, talking about the hip-hop scene and how local people were making money off it and signing major record deals. So, we came up with the idea of starting our own rap label with St. Louis artists. Those artists turned out to be Nelly and the St. Lunatics.
ALIVE: What has it been like being with Nelly from the beginning and seeing him reach such phenomenal success?
TD: It’s been incredible—I couldn’t ask for a better person to work with. I certainly never thought in ’93 when we were in my basement, and my grandma was telling me to “turn that noise down” that it would turn into what it is today.
ALIVE: Despite having no formal management experience, you’ve pulled off several groundbreaking record deals that have brought
Nelly—and St. Louis—into the entertainment spotlight. What’s your secret to success in such a competitive industry?
TD: I’d have to say my patience. People are always saying that I don’t seem like I’m a music manager or the business type because I’m so laidback. Also being around Nelly and the guys for so long and being brought up in St. Louis—we just do it differently from the rest of the world. In the Midwest, we listen before we speak. This worked to our advantage, especially at first, because people assumed we were stupid and thought they could pull something on us, but they quickly found out they were wrong.
ALIVE: How do you think the business has changed since you first started?
TD: It’s changed a ton. I’m learning it all over again as we speak. Everything has just shifted with the Internet, downloads and the ability for people to access your life. When I first got into this business, your personal life was your personal life, and what you wanted people to know is what they knew. Now they can find anything they want to find with the touch of a button.
ALIVE: How have you adapted to that?
TD: I’m still adapting and still trying to navigate through and figure it all out—it’s really tricky. That’s part of the reason why I started this new company, Star Power Marketing, because I realized we needed to start approaching things from more of a branding standpoint.
ALIVE: What is Star Power Marketing all about?
TD: We’re trying to come in and do something that’s never been done before, and hopefully change some lives and help further some
careers with good marketing and management. It’ll be a balance between sports and entertainment clients to really go after the brands. Right now, the brands come to me and say, “This is what we want Nelly to do.” I want to reverse that and find out what the brands’ plans are, what they want to push, then we can help create the strategies and markets and suggest how it should be done because we live this every day. It’s different when you’re out there seeing what people are doing, what they’re listening to, etc., instead of sitting behind a desk deciding what people will like and respond to. We also want to help guide new talent. I mean, you take somebody who has nothing, and tomorrow he has a $10 million contract, there’s not a handbook or guide to tell him what to do and what not to do. We’ve been through it all, and it’s not to say I
have all the answers, but I do think we have an edge on it because we’ve lived our lives doing this since day one.
ALIVE: What do you look for in a new talent?
TD: Passion. I’m spoiled with Nelly. He’s never lost his desire to learn more and perfect his craft. A person who can never get enough information about what they do is the type of person I’m looking to work with.
In addition to the recent creation of a new Las Vegas variety TV show with Nelly, 37-year-old music mogul Tony Davis has launched St. Louis-based Star Power Marketing with sports industry partners Abe Givins, Jamal Clark and Jamaal Jackson.
Photo credit: Liz Reiff Sloan