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Getting Big

Ex-Denver DJ Big Jon Platt on how to succeed in business by really, really trying.

He didn't go far. With a friend, Platt rented a ballroom at a Quality Inn on Colfax and threw a party of his own--and it was a smash. "We rolled the dice, because I had to see if it was really all about me," he says. "And just like that, I went from making $50 a night to making $900."

The next year or so proved just as profitable for Platt, but everything came crashing down in 1990, when a young man was murdered at a birthday bash being thrown for Platt. "I wasn't even there when it happened, but I still took it hard," he concedes. "That was the lowest point in my life, because a mother lost her child at a party that was given for me. He was a gang member and he was killed by a gang member, but that didn't make it any easier. I'd always run things with strong security, but this was at a recreation center where they said they couldn't discriminate against anyone, and they let these people in--and then this incident happened, and the media shredded me to smithereens."

At age 25, Platt was convinced that his time in the music biz was up. But he changed his mind after a pep talk from a young friend, Tremayne Anchrum. "He told me that I needed to do another party, and I said, 'I quit.' And he said, 'You can't quit--because if you quit now, you're letting them take you out on their terms.' Now, this was an eleventh-grader talking to me, but what he said rang in my head. I hung up the phone and cried and thought, 'He's 100 percent right.' And then I went to my room and started practicing on the turntables again.

"The first party I did after the killing, there were six people there," he continues. "It was just like starting over again. But I made a promise to myself right then. I said, 'I'm doing this for one reason, and it's not the music anymore. I'm doing it for me.' I said, 'They took my name away from me, and I need to get my name back to the level where it was before--and when I do, I'm out of town.'"

Over the course of the next three years, Platt dedicated himself to this mission, eventually becoming the biggest draw at another nightspot, Maximilian's. Afterward, he moved to Los Angeles and hooked up with Anchrum, who by then was on the hoops team at the University of Southern California. Anchrum introduced him to the performers behind Madukey Productions, a fledgling outfit looking for someone to serve as a conduit between it and the hip-hop industry. Platt, who by then had decided to concentrate on the management end of music, took on the challenge and through sheer persistence landed the crew a remix of the 2Pac single "Keep Ya Head Up." Before long, he had brokered a publishing deal with EMI for both Madukey and producer Kiyamma Griffin, thereby establishing a relationship between him and Steve Prudhomme, a creative manager at EMI. When Prudhomme jumped to Warner Bros. in 1995, he recommended Platt to take his place. Within six months Platt had scored his first coup by acquiring the publishing rights to "Waterfalls," a song by TLC that became one of the biggest crossover hits of the mid-Nineties. He rose to the firm's creative-director post the next year and was named vice president the year after that.

The person least surprised by this rapid climb is Platt, who doesn't want for self-confidence. "There are four types of people in this business," he says. "You've got people who know how to take care of business who don't know music; you've got people who know music but don't know how to take care of business; you've got people who don't know anything about either one; and you've got people who know both. And I'm one of the last types. I know how to take care of business, but music is what I love, and that gives me a huge advantage over someone who majored in business at college. Anyone I sign, I sign because I'm a fan of theirs first. And that makes it easy for me to help them, because I already know what fans want to hear."

That was certainly the case with Jay-Z, whom Platt sought out purely on the basis of his talent. "I heard his first solo album on Priority, Reasonable Doubt, back in '96, and I thought it was the most incredible album I'd ever heard. So I said, 'I've got to get into business with this guy.' I met him after that through a friend and approached him about his publishing situation, and his attorney and I worked it out."

Before long, according to Jay-Z, Platt became part of his inner circle. "I started seeing his work ethic and how he really went after things," Jay-Z says, "and now he's one of my people. When I was working on the new record, he was with me the whole way. He called me every day, telling me to watch the business things--because he knew that when I was creating, I was in the zone--and that this record was going to be really special. And he was right. I mean, while you're having the best success of your career, why let it go to waste? You've got to be on top of your business so at the end of the day you not only get shown on MTV and get fame, but you get some fortune, too."

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