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KETRINA “TAZ” ASKEW

Taz’s work is greatly appreciated by her peers. Sitting in her Art Club office in LA, she recalls randomly falling into a heap of compliments from music mogul Antonio "L.A." Reid just months ago. The current CEO of Epic Records had invited her to his Los Angeles office to chat and in the midst of the conversation, she played him music from her Grammy-nominated clients’ forthcoming 2017 projects.

First, she teased with fresh goods from sultry alt-R&B singer, Jhene Aiko. Then came new slappers from slick funk star Anderson .Paak. Askew wrapped with tunes from her new signee, a production wiz named Oshi. Reid was floored, so much so that the next day at the company’s holiday party, he gathered up his staff and said, “Taz played me better music in 30 minutes than I’ve heard all year. This is the first time I've felt culture since moving to Los Angeles." The message was clear: Askew stays on the pulse of what’s new and hot.

That’s been true since the ‘90s, when Taz coached groups she banded together to platinum records, in the early oughts when she produced blockbuster dance film You’ve Got Served, and in recent years as she’s been responsible for the assent of several stars.

In 2015 Taz helped Omarion regain pop stardom with his girl-nabbing jam “Post to Be,” which she and Omarion personally walked over Los Angeles radio station Power 106 and got played when most thought the singer had lost his touch. ““Everyone had kind of written him off,” she recalls. “I had something to prove.” It’s her belief that pushed its first 100,000 singles sold (it’s now a triple platinum single) without an initial record label push. It was O’ and Askew’s cash that funded its chic music video, which now boasts more than half a billion Youtube views. “Post to Be” even won a 2015 Soul Train Award for Best Collaboration.

Taz was also an early believer in Jhene Aiko. Back in 2011 when the singer-songwriter released her debut mixtape Sailing Souls, Askew was right by her side. “We had to get a bigger server because it was downloaded so many times,” she says. The critical acclaim Souls earned got Aiko a record deal with producer and Def Jam Executive Vice President Dion “No I.D.” Wilson. The result was her thoughtful debut EP, Sail Out. With Askew as Executive Producer, it went gold and had the biggest first-week sales for an EP in Def Jam history. Single “The Worst” went platinum. “I’m like her big sister and her parent,” Taz says of her relationship with Aiko. Clearly, she’s done a tremendous job guiding her.

Taz smiles when thinking back to how she first found Anderson Paak., who she refers to as her “little brother.” A filmmaker buddy recommended she listen to Anderson’s song, “Play Your Part.” This was back when he was going by Breezy Lovejoy. “His sound was so different,” Askew remembers of his soulful take on Hip-Hop. She always invites potential clients to her office to see if they really are who they’re selling themselves as. And in no time, there Paak. was— a toothy smile on his face and a dreadlocks-mohawk combo that would not be forgotten. He was, in fact, the real deal and she “just fell in love with him as a person.”

She took Anderson to Motown Records and then Def Jam to angle for potential suitors, but after they presented her with too many hoops to jump through, she decided, “We can do this on our own. We don’t need them.” So she, along with Kevin Morrow of SteelWool and Anderson's OBE, independently released his standout LP, Malibu, at the top of 2016. The effort won him two Grammy nominations and the appreciation of heavyweight peers. Paak. was an integral part of Dr. Dre’s comeback album, Compton. “We had no idea it would take off like this,” she says. “We just all believed in him and the uniqueness of him. Now everyone is like, ‘Oh, yeah! We knew it…’ That’s how it goes.” Paak. also was featured on another legendary act’s return: A Tribe Called Quest’s We got it from Here… Thank You 4 Your service. He performed “Movin’ Backwards” with them at the 2017 Grammys.

While at Grammy rehearsals, Askew again bumped into kind words from LA Reid. This time he was talking to Paak. and Tribe’s Q-Tip, gushing about how much of an impact she’s had on the music industry. Being appreciated so loudly by Reid gave her an indescribable feeling. “One of my idols is telling people that I killed it,” Taz says before asking, “How do you think I feel?”

As good as pats on the back may feel, Taz remains humble and continues to work diligently on creating. The studio junkie admits that she’s hands-on with her clients. “I’m definitely not a kick-back CEO. Even though I have a staff, it’s my brand that I’ve built over all of these years. So it has to represent me.”

And she won’t allow Art Club to be confused or pigeoned-holed as a company to go to for the new R&B. “It’s about the feeling,” Askew says. “I love all types of music. I freaking live on Soundcloud. I’m listening to the guys who are trying to get on. There’s something special about some of these guys.” Her most recent discovery and ACI signee is Oshi, an EDM teen from London who can count Halsey, Lorde and Skrillex as fans of his production skills.

“I really believe he is going to be the biggest thing,” she says. “He has an alter ego named Nostril who raps. He lives in the space with [pop producer] Calvin Harris. But he’s an artist as well. And he does a little singing, but it’s an atmospheric thing buried in the music. He’s tapped into something crazy.”

Many A&Rs, record execs and artists appreciate Taz’s ear. “I know music and everybody knows me for knowing music,” she says. “And not one specific lane of music.” The way she nurtures and recognizes talent is uniquely valued, but many outside of those circles aren’t familiar with her. Now Askew’s ready to speak up, a decision she made when she realized what she wanted her legacy to be.

“I want to be known for being responsible for what’s next,” she says. But Taz also takes much pride in sharing the information she’s learned throughout her time in the music industry with others. “You give away the knowledge to attain more knowledge,” she says. “So I’m not hoarding what I’ve got.” Askew’s future endeavors vary in the entertainment landscape. She’s producing a lavish real estate reality show for VH1, is fielding offers for joint ventures with major record labels, and is also considering making a splash in the music streaming world.

Askew is beefing up her staff and inching towards center stage. It’s time that people know who’s been helping power megawatt stars for so long. So despite her Zodiac sign, Taz is putting herself out there. A buddy once told Taz that “Your credit is your currency. Don’t allow people to steal your money.” She’s never been one to let that happen.

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