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Pretty Tony on Freestyle Music: "I Came Up With a Whole Genre"

Pretty Tony in the studio
Pretty Tony in the studio

"Pretty" Tony Butler's Music Specialists Inc. may be Florida's first black-owned, million-record-selling independent record label.

With Butler's confidence in his ear for hits, he launched a studio in the heart of Liberty City and took on the recording industry. At its peak, the company owned its own pressing plant and ran it 24/7 to keep up with demand for its product.

In the past couple of years, Butler has continued his success, writing for Flo Rida, Sean Kingston, Juicy J, Pitbull, Will I Am and Tiësto. Here's what Pretty Tony had to say about his old Party Down DJs crew, working with songwriters, and his newest act, the Nex Generation (TNG).

New Times: Freestyle became this huge genre in Florida, New York, California, Texas, and now around the world, but you actually invented the name and style in Miami, right?

Pretty Tony: Yeah, that's right. I had to come up with a name for this group I formed and the unique sound I had for it. Freestyle is what I came up with, and after that, it became a whole genre of music.

I did all the stuff. I wrote it, I played it, I changed the members of the group. It was the same concept as the group Menudo.

You had different writers and stuff too, right?

I was the writer or the co-writer on everything, and I did all the music. But I had two guys writing lyrics sometimes, Garfield Baker and Byron Smith. They wasn't the first members of the group, though. I had the group three years before I met those dudes. Look up the song Summer Delight. That was like 1981, and I met them in 1984. They was young, so they knew all the street lingo the kids were using. So they did the lyrics, part of the lyrics. They were kids; I used to drop em off in the morning at school.

None of em' had a fuckin' hit since me. Garfield and Byron, to keep it 100, they came up with what they came up with, but c'mon, dawg. I been kept selling these millions of records, and they haven't had a hit since working with me, so if it was so much them, what happened?

They wasn't really writers, but they knew what was hot in the streets. I put it in song form.

They were going out on tour and getting money. I said, "You need to learn how to do something. Learn how to play keyboards, be useful in the studio, not just go out and get bread."

That's why I never did a whole album on them. I'm givin' it to you blood raw. They wanna do an interview with you saying they sold all these drugs and all that? Dawg, y'all was in 11th grade.

I used to drop em' off at school. That's what they was doing. Everybody wanna be a drug dealer. I'm still all right with them, ya know, but I did everything. And all these platinum records later, I still do. I ain't mad at em'.

Freestyle was a real crossover success story.

Pop always been my thing, but I didn't have the distribution like the majors. So that's why I mixed the R&B beats and the pop melodies to come up with freestyle. I was the first black person with their own label to have a song on Y-100. Every year when Calle Ocho came, I had the Y-100 stage, and I had the Power 96 stage at the same time with my acts. Every year.

Back then the station would only play a record from one label at a time. So I formed three or four labels and put one artist at a time on each of them. I had a label for each act. That way I had three records on the top ten at the same time.

That's an old Henry Stone move...

Yeah, that is an old Henry Stone move. You learn the tricks. Remember, I started off being a DJ. First a street DJ, and then with my friends as a guest DJ on Saturday morning radio.

Where'd you DJ at?

Back then, the Superstars Skating Rink on 79th Street and Miami Ave. It's a storage place now. There was this guy Willie Teller who owned five Burger Kings that got with his partner Nat Moore and this dude Larry Little to start that up. And they wanted the hottest street DJ to be like the house DJ there, and they picked me.

My crowds were always mixed. I was always into that mixed crowd. We was open seven days a week with 800 people coming in Monday through Thursday and 2,000 on the weekends. We was killin' 'em the whole time until eventually the partners wanted to do other things.

What was your DJ crew called?

The Party Down DJs.

How'd you go from DJ to producer?

I was a DJ because I just liked music and I knew what people wanted to hear. I was good at that. I'd put the needle on the record and talk over it. It's just what I did.

How I transitioned into making the records was through the record pools. All the DJs would go to one place and all the different labels would give them records to play and feedback sheets to fill out so they could see what the people were reacting to, and every song that I said was gonna be a hit ended up a hit.

That's when Atlantic Records was down here signing everybody. Erotic Exotic and all them. But I was putting out records that was bigger than all those majors. They all opened for my groups. I wasn't interested in getting a million-dollar advance when I was selling 3 [million] or 4 million records myself.

Why would I want to do a 14-song album for somebody when I could do $4 million selling singles by myself?

We had all the pressing plants in Miami running all the time just to press up all the records I was selling. We had Gabor, Caribbean, Miami Tape, JFL, all of them pressing up all that vinyl.

So I bought a pressing plant. And I had that going 24/7 because that's the only way to keep up with the demand on a record. If you got four hits at once and you're doing national distribution, that's a lot of records.

My distribution was through the one-stops. They fed all the record shops in all the states, so I didn't have to send all those shipments to all those individual shops.

How has freestyle music influenced other artists?

Shit, man, have you seen the video of Janet Jackson doin' "Lookout Weekend?"

What are you working on now?

I just did an album with 2 Live Crew, with Fresh Kid Ice, and Brother Marquis. Man you gotta hear the single, "Take It Off," it's hot as hell. That's comin' out on Lil Joe Records.

My next project is the biggest thing I ever done. It's called the Nex Generation, TNG for short. They're a pop boy band like One Direction. That's my whole thing right there. I'm talking to Sony, Universal, and Interscope about them. I got a whole album on them already, gettin' ready to choose the single, put out the video, and do the publicity. But yeah, they're the main thing right now.

I met them about a year ago. I kinda did like a Simon Cowell and formed the group myself. They play instruments and sing. The girls gonna love em'. It's real catchy pop stuff. A lot of the older boy bands gettin' to be like 20 something. These guys are like 15, 16, 17. They're still in high school. That's gon' close the show down. You gon' see. That's gonna be a wrap.

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