DETROIT — A company backed by billionaire Dan Gilbert is bringing a new record label to Motown with a focus on equity and artist ownership.
The real estate developer is the lead investor and partner in a new music-based lifestyle, WRKSHP, which wants to help develop artistic talent in the Detroit metro area.
“Music is the compass that connects people on a collective path. Detroit, more than any city, validates this connection across many generations. Arts and culture are the catalysts that ignite renaissance cities,” Gilbert said in a press release.
Multi-platinum producer and songwriter Che Pope, who has spent 25 years in the industry working with stars like Lauryn Hill and Aretha Franklin, has been tapped by Gilbert to spearhead the new upcoming imprint in Detroit’s Capitol Park neighborhood. at Griswold Street and Grand River Avenue.
Pope, the former head of Kanye West’s GOOD Music label, said in an interview this week that he wants WRKSHP to be a progressive artist management company that gives to emerging artists of all genres, instead of profiting of them.
Pope acknowledged that record companies have a long history of engaging in predatory deals, as well as preventing artists from owning their master recordings.
“I didn’t spend three years of my life doing this to take artists or this and that. I’m trying to push the industry and help level the playing field,” Pope said. “The kind of relationships we want are partnerships, where the artists own their ideas.”
The music industry veteran described the company’s vision as artist-centric, saying he wanted to “associate” with artists, not “sign” them.
“Che is a renaissance man whose life’s work culminates in the bold vision of WRKSHP,” Gilbert said in a press release. “Detroit’s deep-rooted history of moving the world through global and multi-genre musical contributions makes it the natural fit for our headquarters.”
The headquarters resides in the same building that houses the Detroit Institute of Music Education and currently shares space with Woodward Original, a film company. Over the next few months, the agency plans to move into its own space, Pope said.
Pope first met Gilbert in 2018 at a dinner party in Santa Barbara, California. The two hit it off and stayed in touch before Gilbert offered Pope the opportunity to work with him on what became WRKSHP. When asked if he would run the new company’s headquarters in Detroit, Pope said it was a no-brainer.
Motown was huge growing up, Pope said. The 51-year-old producer owns all of Diana Ross’ solo albums on vinyl, adored Teena Marie and studied the songwriting of Smokey Robinson. One of Pope’s biggest musical inspirations, J Dilla, would show him records by Detroit artists before his death in 2006, he said.
Working with Big Sean while the rapper was signed to GOOD music helped Pope connect with Detroit’s arts community years ago, he said.
“Different cities have their moment and times when the spotlight is on them and venues have more access than others in terms of exposure. Detroit has had dope artists for a while so why is that people come and see what’s going on here and tap into it,” Pope said. “I’m one of those people too. I haven’t been here since 2006 when we did an Eminem album. 2016, I come back and see everything from the resurgence of music to the community of artists and entrepreneurship.
Pope shuttled between Los Angeles and Detroit in preparation for the launch of the new venture. He said he’s been impressed with places like Spot Lite Detroit, a bar that doubles as an artist gallery and record store on the east side of town.
The music industry veteran promised the company would be more than just a record label and use its resources to help local artists. WRKSHP will offer artists a suite of services including talent development, management, promotion, as well as content production. Che said he plans to use the brand to hold educational workshops, produce talent shows, concerts and festivals, officials said.
“The first official day was Monday, but you’ll start to see things really kick off in February.”
Pope said the label already had artist partners which the company would announce later. Other investors in the company include former Detroit Lions star Ndamukong Suh and StockX COO Greg Schwartz.
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