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TDE’s President Punch Takes A Look In The Mirror And Finds New Souls

The music exec/rapper creates a collective that reflects what he finds most: talent. | Styling by Andrea Daughtry

It’s late December 2019 in Los Angeles and the President of Top Dawg Entertainment, Terrence “Punch” Henderson, is comfortable among his new crew. This same amalgamation of individuals is floating from wall to wall of the studio, bobbing their heads to the then-unreleased raps sliding out of the finely tuned speakers. Punch, sitting in his classic pose of crossed ankles (sans sneakers, just super low cut black Polo socks), white Polo T-shirt with arms stretched across the top of the couch, also bobbing to the beat looks around like a proud big bro. He’s seeing his plan come together like Hannibal from the ’80s TV show The A-Team.

Yet, most would say his A-Team would be the collective of MCs that he helped usher to greatness over the past decade-plus with TDE all-stars Jay-Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolBoy Q and Pulitzer Prize winner Kendrick Lamar. Let alone the work that Punch has put in shaping the sounds of R&B’s hit-making siren in SZA, his track record for knowing a good talent is blazing hot. However, TDE has been taking it light with their marquee names as of late. With Tennessee’s Isaiah Rashad rising to mainstream and L.A. native Reason heating up, TDE’s future is strong. But Punch has a hunger for more that most wouldn’t notice from his laid-back demeanor. He’s a sage soul that moves when only he feels moved to do so, not before and not after. Shit, we’ve been waiting on his solo album for close to a decade now. The random verses of knowledge and jazz-like flows have piqued the interest of the music executive’s fans about his own project since he has peppered the albums of his Black Hippy homies for many years.

Punch Walking
Laetitia Rumford Laetitia Rumford

This ultimate force that pushes Punch to exercise his verbal vice led him to this night three months before the impending pandemic and subsequent world shut down. He casually gathered some of his gifted group of eight titled A Room Full of Mirrors, to finish some tracks and lay new ones. It’s a mild coincidence that a few of Hip-Hop’s valued journalists are in the room, from VIBE and Genius.com, to hear the offerings of the young vet Nick Grant, visionary lyricist Lyric Michelle, battle rap legend Daylyt (not present: Jrias Law, Ichiban Don, Billymarre, Earlee Riser), who looked on for reaction to the sounds. “We have something working, if you are feeling this, we got more like it on the way,” Daylyt whispers while the bassline heavy track bumps.

What that night showcased was that Punch’s hunch was right as always. That a few of his standout friends, from different sectors of the music game, could make an album full of fire lines, themes, and visuals under his direction, but their creativity. The album is ultimately on the way, but first the short film/visual 8-track EP “Money Bags,” had to drop on December 3rd, 2021 alongside the 8-track EP of the same name.

Two years later, in December 2021, Punch is walking around a vast L.A. warehouse where music industry elite, TDE employees, media, and close family are in attendance to watch the visual EP, directed by Arfom member Lyric. The space is rugged but digitally high status with multiple 20 feet high-40 feet wide video screens to make the Reservoir Dogs’ movie-inspired scenes feel larger than life. The various collective members are enjoying the festivities with their family and friends. Punch makes his rounds and is now viewing the action from a landing high above the crowd to monitor the feature and the reactions through the darkened venue. He’s proud, even through the technical difficulties that pause the presentation, as he’s used to things going just as planned and always expects the unexpected…like bringing this special group together was unexpectedly expected.

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What’s it like moving from behind the scenes, to the artist level that you’ve always wanted to be? You’ve been teasing being an artist for years now…

I don’t know, I never really wanted to be an artist. I do enjoy creating art, but I never wanted to follow the rules of the industry. I just wanted to create whatever I wanted to create on my terms. So it’s not really a difference to me. Cause, I kinda did the same thing behind the scenes. I never really followed any real rules of the industry. We kinda just did what we seen fit and that’s the same thing I’m doing now. This time it’s just another medium.

As a music executive, how does it feel to rap with artists that you are also grooming? With Kendrick and them, you were coaching them. Now, you are actually playing in the game.

If you dig deep back, I used to hop on records with them all the time. It’s kind of the same thing. It’s different now because of all the experience I got in the music business and the success we had. I’m bringing that to this new batch of artists that I create with. That’s the only difference. Before it was just us in the studio, trying to figure it out. Now that I have a grip on what it is, it’s a bit easier.

Are you applying the same methods with this new collective as you did before? As before, y’all were trying to build up the [TDE] label, now you’re having to live up to the name TDE.

Nah, I don’t feel that way…like I have to live up to anything. I feel like we are just creating. I know what the expectations are from other people, but I usually don’t fall to that pressure. Like I said earlier, we do what we want to do, do what we feel. But the similarities are…the goal is to make honest music, that people can relate to. Like that’s always going to be consistent no matter who I work with.

Punch Looking Away
Laetitia Rumford

What are your plans for this new collective of artists? You have them all in a group right now, but do you plan on pushing them as solo artists?

That’s the thing, it’s not a group, it’s a collective. The collective is a bunch of individual artists. All of them were and are solo artists. We just came together to create this particular project. The Room Full of Mirrors thing is like a platform of individuals that’s gonna spread out and do their own thing.

Are they signed to TDE or are they independent, doing their own thing?

It’s independent, for sure, but I’m a part of the collective and also President of TDE. It’s TDE by affiliation off top. As far as the actual business, we can discuss that at a different time.

What’s happening with TDE right now. We saw Top Dawg showing off the building of a new studio…

Just more growth. Like you mentioned, we got a new facility where we can record, shoot videos and do more creative things. Just constant movement. Moving into the next phase of what TDE is and can be.

This is a tough one, but who is your favorite of the collective? Do you have one?

I can’t say a favorite, but I can say one based on whatever the circumstance is. If it’s a certain type of thing, it’ll fluctuate as to who the favorite is. [Based on the beat and theme], it can be based on the concept, based on if we are shooting a film. It’s a bunch of different ways, everybody adds something to the pot, everybody got their own superpowers. And everybody doesn’t need to use their superpowers every single time either. So it can fluctuate.

How did you come about finding everyone in the collective? Did you already know them, were you looking for them?

It all came together super organic. I knew everybody separately and when I was finishing my album, everybody was coming around to the studio. After a while, we just decided to make a song. Everybody got to know each other a little bit. So we made a record and it came out crazy. So we made another one and that turned into a short film and an EP and an album. We kept going cus the chemistry was so right between all of the individuals.

The EP is 8 tracks, but how many did you all do together in total? Like the ones that didn’t make the album, what’s happening to them?

We have some coming up. The EP was based off the short film. All of the songs that were in the short film are what’s on the EP.

So there is an actual album coming?

Absolutely.

Have you narrowed down the tracks?

For the most part. Pretty much today, you can work all the way up until the day it comes out. So we are going to keep recording, keep building. But if I need to put it out tomorrow, we can do that too.

Are you ready as far as visuals as well?

Yeah, we got a lot of stuff shot. Oh, we was working. The pandemic, as bad as it was, I mean is…it gave us an opportunity to really focus in and get a lot of stuff done. We took that downtime to really craft out something special.

Can you name each artist in the collective and give them one word that describes them?

Ok.

Jrias Law: Passion

Earlee Riser: Voice

Lyric Michelle: Artist

Nick Grant: Lyricist

Daylyt: Alien

Ichiban Don: Producer. – I have to expound on him more, outside of one word, because he’s literally a producer and MC. I say producer because he knows how to produce the whole song, top to bottom.

Hari: Architect

Billymarre: The Future

That’s everybody, right? But it’s so much more to narrow them down to one thing. Everybody is so talented at more than one thing. If you look at Lyric, she directed the short film and edited it. Then Daylyt is a cinematographer. He shoots, has all the camera equipment. He edits too. We spoke about Ichi’ being a producer and MC. Early Riser does graphic design. He designed the covers. Everybody just does so much. That’s why it’s a dope collective and not limited to just music.

Punch standing tall
Laetitia Rumford