Hip-Hoppin’ to a Side Career
By Nicole Pensiero
“I have alway had an entrepreneurial spirit and a lot of energy,” the 51-year-old Voorhees resident explains. “And I’ve always been open to trying new things.” And new things have been happening.
Doner, who practices law with his business partner – and now-fellow entertainment producer – attorney Kevin Castro.
Doner, a 1976 graduate of Cherry Hill High School West, says he’s long been down for being able to “keep his fingers in a lot of pies.” Becoming a de-facto hip-hop/rap record producer/promoter is no different. But the story of how it all happened is, he admits, a bit unusual.
A few years ago, a then-Somerdale resident Rha-Sun Tapp – who happens to be the owner of a North Jersey based rap label, Blakglobe Records was a client of Doner & Castro’s law firm. Rha-Sun Allah, as he is know professionally, had a day-job laying cable, running his fledgling rap/hip-hop from his home. Rha-Sun ended up getting injured on the job and had a workers’ comp claim through Castro and Doner’s Berlin-based law firm.
One day while meeting with the two attorneys, Allah mentioned one of the up-and-coming musicians on his label, a talented and musically versatile young artist named Brandon “Bizz” Stokes. Stokes had been on the verge of becoming an all-star basketball guard in high school, when his future path took a turn.
Basketball runs in Bizz’s family; he’s the brother of six-foot-four Villanova shooting guard Corey Stokes. But after several serious injuries ended his sports career, Bizz turned to music full-time, teaming with the small Blakglobe Records in 2005, while still a teen. He quickly became the standout artist on the label’s roster after his first sing, “Drop It Down” became a club hit.
In 2006, Blakglobe Records released a compilation album, Blacktrilogy,which prominently featured the now-23-year-old Bizz, who’s often compared to 50 Cent and Method Man. That inclusion upped his profile even more.
Bizz’s music was sold throughout the Northeast in record stores and via websites. HIs mix of melody, witty word play and originality, started bringing him, and Blakglobe Records, to a wider audience. But Rha-Sun needed a business partner to take Bizz to the next level.
“I was reluctant at first to take this on, because I knew nothing about the music industry or hip-hop,” Doner recalls. “But on the other hand, I was very open to all kinds of music and once I heard this kid, I knew it made sense for us to start working with him.”
Doner said his sons – Matthew, now 24, and Ryan, 22 – were supportive of the idea and strongly encouraged creating a business partnership. In fact, Doner says, his sons are now unpaid interns in the marketing side of Tri-Net Entertainment Group, the company that Doner and Castro established to fund Blakglobe Records.
“We have learned so much about the music industry,” Doner says. “It’s been a pretty incredible experience that happened by living and learning and spending some money to make it happen.”
Doner says he would never “taken this plunge” were it not for being so impressed with Bizz – both as a musician and as a person.
And while his music can occasionally veer into the risque, Bizz is hardly a “gansta-thug,” Doner says. “He’s a hard-working kid and his music has very relevant, positive lyrics. And live, he’s a dynamite performer.”
Bizz has already made a major stir in the music world, Doner notes; “His song, ‘Nova Nation,’ exploded during the 2008-2009 playoffs. It was being played in the locker room, courtside, and on the radio. It really put him on the map.” In addition the New Jersey Nets used part of Bizz’s “Jersey Swagger” as a pre-game warm-up track.
But that was just the beginning, Doner predicts: “Bizz is our number-one project. He’s the real deal. This kid is going places. The public loves his stuff. Everyone who hears it, loves it. We’re not worried about getting a return on our investment.”
While learning the ropes of the music industry has been tremendously time-consuming, Doner says he’s “very much enjoying” his new side business.
“I’ve got a lot of energy,” the 51-year-old Doner says. “From 1985 to 1998 I ran the region’s largest men’s intra-mural football and basket leagues, called ‘Over The Hill Sports.’ For the past eight years, I’ve been on the board of directors of Durand Academy, a non-profit organization that supports special needs children and adults from throughout South Jersey. Now I’m a partner in an entertainment group that was created primarily to fund, produce, promote and publish Bizz’s music.”
Bizz’s debut album, Prince of Jersey, was released last month through Blakglobe REcords/E-1 Entertainment. The lead single, “Ringtone,” features well-known Rocafellow Records recording artist Freeway – a coup for an up-and-comer.
Produced by 4th Disciple with featured artists including Q-Dash Parker, Bunnie Sigler, Ho2fa, Cashmere and Freeway, all well-know players in the hip-hop/rap world – Prince of Jersey is the record Doner is confident will elevate Bizz to international fame.
“This is the prime time for Bizz to make his mark,” Doner says. “I’m pretty keen on being part of helping make that happen.”
Interestingly enough, Doner also says that his side-work in the music industry has “given me a better appreciation for the law.
“And my background as an attorney has come in very handy in getting this endeavor up and running,” he says. “It’s been quite an interesting journey.”
And a journey that has Doner – who grew up listening to the Rolling Stones, The Beatles and Peter Frampton – now listening to rap/hip-hop on a daily basis, primarily as a way to “size up the competition” as he puts it.
“I’ve learned a lot about the players and the trends,” Doner says. “I need to know who’s in the game.”