The reason why we should never underestimate the people behind the famous, and a story of gutter being raised to worldwide dreams
Who hasn’t ever dreamed of becoming a famous musician? The beauty of melodies, beats and words is for most of us perfectly intertwined with the great dream of fame, success and respect. There is a Rolling Stones, Michael Jackson or Eminem in all of us… But what most people don’t think of is that artists don’t just happen, they are made. Success does not just come, it needs to be crafted. And although often disappearing in the background, someone definitely contributing to that is the manager. We talked to one of them, and learned that there are not only impressive stories behind the artists – but also behind the people who dedicate their life to make them great.
“We have been very busy these days”, says Edward Crowe, and smiles widely. “We are in the middle of a film shoot in Mexico, and also the shows are coming back again.” Crowe is the manager of the US rapper Yelawolf who became famous both through his unique independent work and through collaborations with big names such as Eminem, Machine Gun Kelly or Gucci Mane. Crowe has been with Yelawolf for most of his career, but is also co-manager of the Tennessee newcomer Pretty Shy, and first and foremost, photographer.
“Me and Yelawolf have been friends since we were kids. We know each other since we are 13. But we have been working together professionally for about eleven years now”, says Crowe, respectfully known as Ounze Zilla in the world of music. “I actually wanted to become an artist myself all the years back, and started out with a studio in Nashville. But as I evolved, I realized there were so many artists there with me, and I started out coordinating and managing.” While some managers may have been trained to do the big business and learned their job as others learn maths, Ounze taught himself the game. “At that time, it wasn’t yet profitable at all. It was just me learning the game.” But, it seems, fortune favours the brave. “At some point, I just told Yelawolf that I wanted to work with him. I started just being around, doing simple things like watching the dogs or bringing out the trash. But then he went on tour and I helped out managing, selling merch…” Later on, Ounze began to manage other artists as well. “Yelawolf moved to Alabama, and I went to Delaware for a couple of years, and we lost contact. At that time I worked as manager for a photographer who accompanied tours such as Drake´s”, Crowe tells us. “One day he asked if I was interested to come along as he wanted to take photos of an artist called Yelawolf. The name didn’t tell me anything – when we were younger, Wolf and me had different nicknames. So I needed to google it, and realized this guy was my best friend!”, he explains and smiles amused. “That´s how we got back together. Some time later, I needed to do a photo shoot with an artist, and as I did not find anyone, I just did it myself. Before I hadn’t even known how to switch a camera on”, Ounze laughs. “But my mom had been a photographer as well. That´s how I found my passion.”
Having started out with nothing but his guts and creativity, Ounze now has an amazing line-up of artists to show off. “I have worked with lots of artists. I have portrayed Machine Gun Kelly, Ed Sheeran, DJ Paul, all of Three 6 Mafia…” Just to name a few. If he could choose, photography is his dearest task and greatest passion. “I love to portray people, and I like going to places I am not familiar with and take photos of regular people.” For him, it is less about the celebrity or the fame. “I want to catch a lifestyle in my pictures, the reality of the situation we are in”, he explains, and his enthusiasm is touchable. “Yelawolf was the one who put me in this position I am in. He just threw me out and wanted to see if I could swim back.”
But as far as that goes, Edward Crowe knows what struggle means, and has been through tough times to get where he is now. Having been born in Wilmington 20 kilometres outside of Philadelphia, him and his family moved to Nashville when he was ten years old. His father was, Crowe tells us, a country songwriter who also wrote for the famous country singer George Jones. “This is what gave me the idea of entering into the world of music.” But life has hit him hard as well. “When I was 16, I suffered from a syndrome that got me paralyzed entirely. I spent one month in ICU and had to learn to walk and talk again after all this.” But Ounze came back – with just as much sense for the risk of the game as ever. “I made my living with selling weed, but I got hooked up with the wrong people. One day some people came to my parents’ house looking for me.” But instead of him, they only found his parents. “They tied them up and shot my dad. We really thought he wouldn’t make it. I was holding his hand in the hospital. And when he came to, the first thing he said to me was, please quit.”
Ounze has become thoughtful. “Yelawolf was around all that time. He was responsible for believing that I could be someone else than that.” And that he did. Crowe started a painting company at first, to keep the promise he made to his father. “One day I had a big job painting a studio, and suddenly Wolf called and told me to come with him to Detroit. I told him I couldn’t, as I had to make a living with that paint job. But he said, quit it, you work for me now.” Since then, Ounze has developed to be the top-notch manager at Slumerican, the label Yelawolf founded, and success is coming in limitlessly. “When you have been selling weed or else, is always hard to quit. Neither of us would have thought I would one day be this manager.”
But it isn’t only Yelawolf that Ounze is managing. For about four years now, he is also co-manager for a young female newcomer from Tennessee by the name Pretty Shy. Just like the rest of his career, the way they got to cooperate is a story full of surprises. “When I was younger, I had been working with a rapper called Big Red, whose art I really appreciated. A few years back, I met him at a party after we hadn’t met for a long time. I told him to do a new album”, describes Ounze, and laughs. “The next day he called me and said he wouldn’t do it, but he got a young artist he wants me to support.” At first, Crowe did not like the idea of working with a 17 year old female artist. “But we arranged a meeting, and I got to know her and her family, who are really cool people. So we gave it a shot.” What may have looked like a risky shot into the blue proved to be just the right decision. “I have been working with so many artists, and yet, outside of Yelawolf, she is the hardest working artist I have ever been with. We once did an 13-hour shot and I had to stop her and make her eat something,” Ounze grins. “This is all what it is about for me. I don’t take any other work ever unless they are willing to work hard and match my work ethic. It just doesn’t work out to drag someone along.”
Unlike most people think, though, a manager does not just to the organization and calculation. “I am creative to a certain extent myself. The artists are fully responsible for their work, but I appreciate it if I can do my part.” Next to managing and photography, Crowe also does lots of the directing of music videos. “This is like a contract to build a house. Everything falls on you. I really enjoy that.”
For Ounze, managing is not only about time schedules, bank accounts and public relations. It is also about the passion for the music and the artist you support, and about the lifestyle you embrace. “Slumerican has a special meaning for me as well. We as human beings all know struggle, be it poverty or sickness or whatever. It is comforting to me that we are all united in that, and that everyone can relate.” Just like Yelawolf’s, all his life has been about hip hop, and the soul it embraces. “But for me managing is more about the persons than the music. Of course I want to like the music. But actually it comes down to the work ethic, that you stand behind the people, behind their messages. You have to believe in them and the decisions they have made.”
With that attitude, Yelawolf can be confident to always have someone to lean on – as an artist as well as a friend. Edward ‘Ounze Zilla’ Crowe’s story is tale of what hip hop stands for in its core: A sense for the beauty of art, a love for the strength of character, and the courage to always fight through the struggles you encounter, no matter how hard and how many. And while the past has been just as adventurous as it has been successful, the future can only be even brighter. “I want to continue what we are doing, create avalanche, and make Yelawolf and Pretty Shy as big as possible”, says Ounze with joy. “I see huge things in the future. We are just getting started.”
By Katharina Moser