- Hip-hop producer Lollipop looks to make waves with her new label.
For nearly 10 years, Lolita Swain shot, directed, and edited footage for a combat camera unit in the U.S. Navy. The skirmishes prepared her well for battles she now faces as a burgeoning producer and label owner in the hip-hop world, which is about as masculine as a groin pull.
"I've walked into studios and different situations, and it's like, 'Oh yeah, you're doing what? Okay, cool. So what are you doing for dinner?'" laments Swain, who goes by the stage name Lollipop. "Then it's turning the lights down low, and 'Let's talk about you.' It's like, 'No! That's not where I'm going with this.'"
It's easy to see why the fellas fawn over her. She has long black hair, smooth almond skin, and the confidence of a Pro Bowl running back.
Swain also has a résumé that demands that she be taken seriously. After studying sound and video production at the Art Institute of Pittsburgh, she toured with George Clinton and the P-Funk All Stars, and helped run sound and lights for Lenny Kravitz and the Eagles. In the early '90s, she managed local R&B vocal groups Trésure and the Men of Ecstasy. Her time in the service allowed her to see the world and acquaint herself with various music scenes from across the country, after which she taught herself how to make beats.
"When I was managing groups, we were having some trouble with getting production, a lot of trouble going into studios. I got tired of that," recalls the Cleveland Heights resident. "I bought an MPC-2000 in 1998 and just started banging away, learning different sounds and really working on the production side. I said, 'Wait a minute, Missy Elliott is a female hip-hop producer, but she leans more toward the R&B side, and Timbaland does most of her beats.' I knew I needed to find a niche, and I said, 'Okay, this is where I need to get in.' Night after night, day after day, I just worked on music."
With her background in management and production, Swain decided to launch her own label, Visible Lyrics Record Co. Though light on start-up funds, she figured she could greatly reduce her overhead by handling many of the tasks that labels traditionally outsource at great expense, from producing records and shooting videos to managing artists and running sound at live gigs. "The production, the manufacturing, all the different sides of the business that people have to turn to others for and pay them, I'm able to do on a shoestring budget," she says with pride.
Thanks to Swain's contacts in national music circles, Visible Lyrics has a leg up on the region's innumerable other upstart indies trying to make a name for themselves. The label's first artist, 19-year-old Akron MC Maffii, is a decorated rap-battle veteran whose debut EP, Get Beat, dropped last month. It's a six-song collection of barrel-chested thug anthems with woofer-savaging beats, and it's produced entirely by Swain. She plans another Maffii release this month, which she'll pass out free at clubs to build word-of-mouth for the label. (The album can be ordered at www.visiblelyrics.com.) For Swain, it's the culmination of a lifelong attempt at making her mark in the music business.
"When I was eight, nine years old, I was calling and writing record labels, calling TV stations asking for the promotions department. I was always interested in entertainment from when I was a little kid. I tried to start a couple of little groups in the neighborhood. My sister bought me a drum set, because I was banging on boxes throughout the house. Then I got a little keyboard and started playing keyboard. Because none of my group members seemed to want to get lessons for anything, I started trying to play all the instruments."
Swain's musical breadth helps explain her prowess behind the boards; her tracks are lyrical and diverse, ranging from booming Southern crunk to gritty East Coast strings and keys. Not lacking in bravado, she's dubbed herself the "Queen of the Beats."
"Nobody's taken that title, so I said I'm gonna take it," she says with a grin. "If females are out there producing, good, keep up the good work. But don't get mad because I've claimed that title."