Artist Capolow and manager Russell North rap the way forward
The Bay Area rap community has always been guided by entrepreneurial savviness and artist independence. Throughout our rap history, we’ve seen artists generate some noise regionally and begin to find success outside of California. While local rap fans speak fondly of memories of the ’80s and ’90s, when they could pull up on their favorite local rapper and buy their music or merchandise out of their trunk, the rap game has changed significantly since those golden years.
For millennials still in the Bay Area, we can probably go for days joking about our favorite local artists we discovered through MySpace, and all we did to stay up to date on their latest releases. With today’s new generation, and with the prevalence of social media, there are now many empowering ways for artists to be heard locally, nationally and globally.
More recently, talented Bay Area rap artists, with the support of equally astute managers, have made use of streaming metrics and professional connections to expand their reach as well. Case in point, East Oakland rapper Capolow, who emerged in 2013 as part of the rap group Trill Youngins. Consisting of neighborhood and childhood friends, the group initially started recording music at the Boys and Girls Club on High Street in Oakland. After some popular singles, and opening up for Kamaiyah in 2014, they began to receive national recognition after the release of their album Rich This Summer and their mixtape Upperclass Lifestyle.
Although the group has since branched off to releasing solo projects, they still consider themselves a brotherhood. Capolow, however, found that as the group began to generate buzz locally and nationally, he was confronted with a string of personal challenges, due to four different stints in jail.
Even throughout those personal struggles, though, he was still able to release successful solo singles and secure key slots at popular music festivals. In 2021, he had his own set at Rolling Loud in Los Angeles.
On June 16, Capolow released Nostalgia, his first full-length project in two years. The project is a signal of stability in the rap game for him, as well as an opportunity for him and his team to create a legitimate album rollout that generated anticipation. Thus far, his career has been defined by determination, triumph and artistic creativity. Part of that success has been grounded in his family. Another significant contributor to his success has been his manager, Russell North.
Russell North is the son of screenwriter Charlie L. Russell and nephew to NBA legend Bill Russell. Although originally from Richmond, North and his mom eventually moved to Marin County so that she could attend Dominican University and he could enroll in the local public schools.
While Marin certainly has a reputation for being a region of high wealth, for North and his mother, this wasn’t their reality.
“We were on Section 8, just me and her,” North said. “She wanted to make sure I went to good schools. My mom was born in San Francisco, raised in Marin City. So we were super tied into the Black community.”
Although his home life didn’t mirror the upper-income lifestyle many of his peers lived, North credits his upbringing for being able to authentically connect with rap artists and successfully navigate the business side of the rap game.
“It prepared me to be able to deal with people from every walk of life,” he said. “I’m not insecure when I talk to executives, wealthy people or investors. I’m not uncomfortable when I’m in the hood, dealing with our people, or just like street people. I’m comfortable talking to anybody.”
North entered into the hip-hop business by throwing events and hosting parties throughout the Bay Area. Eventually, he expanded into Los Angeles as well. It was at an event in Oakland, at New Karibbean City in 2019, where he first saw Capolow perform and noticed his star potential.
“The first time I heard ‘Drip,’ the first time I heard ‘Highway Robbery,’ I knew there was something special about those songs,” North said. “I knew there was something special about him. I’m an event planner, so I wanted to book him. And it was as simple as that for me.”
Just a year prior to that performance in 2018, Capolow had decided to place his full attention on rap. He cites his mom and two kids for being the inspiration for this change.
“I took music to another level because I had hardships,” he said. “I kept going to jail. I did a year in college but had to drop out because of jail. I felt things weren’t going my way so I was like, let me just take something serious and get money the right way.”
For people looking to get into the business of managing artists, one thing North stressed was the importance of getting to know the artist as well as their character. The pandemic also allowed the two to further flesh out Capolow’s vision as an artist and to map out plans for future solo music.
With North as his manager, Capolow was able to sign to Cinematic Records—which he has since left—a move he cites as a necessary step for him to become a legitimate artist.
“They polished me and also gave me some game on how videos get shot, how a budget works and how marketing works,” he said.
Looking to capitalize off the viral success he received in 2019 with “Drip” and “Outta Sight,” Capolow dropped two projects in 2020: his cinematic debut mixtape, Kid Next Door, and Oakland Nights, a collaborative album with Kamaiyah. The moves made during the recording and release of those projects helped propel him towards the sustainable career he has today.
Since meeting in 2019, North created and sent packs of Capolow’s work to DJs throughout the region to help increase buzz and name recognition. In addition to DJ relationships, forming connections with playlist curators proved successful as well.
“We’ve grown together,” North said. “He is the first artist that I’ve ever managed, so I had to tailor-make myself to fit him.”
More recently, Capolow released “From the Bottom,” the Goapele-inspired single from Nostalgia. Fans can expect the project to take them back to 2018, the influential year that catapulted Capolow to where he is today.
“Every song I make, you’re gonna bounce to it,” he said. “I’m trying to give people that good feeling back.”
Capolow certainly delivers on his promise of making an album that will nod our heads; this album also signals a progression forward in his song-making skills.
“Call Me Freestyle,” “Keep it Real” and “Good Hands” demonstrate Capolow’s growth when it comes to his ability to make songs that translate to a wider audience.
“As far as songwriting goes in Oakland,” said North, “he’s the GOAT.”