Lorenzo Zenteno, also known as Fort Worth hip-hop artist Smoothvega, launched a concert promotion company, Premier Live Experience, in February. He sold out Trees right out of the gate, put together regional tours and formed some strong alliances. Zenteno has always wanted to be "the guy," but these days he is focusing on being the guy behind the guy. And after learning the ups and downs as a hip-hop artist for 15 years, he is keenly aware of artists’ needs.
“It’s easier for someone who has been in the trenches to identify the pain points of how the locals and openers get treated,” Zenteno says, sitting in the Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge. He is one of the few promoters to bring hip-hop to the venue. There is a list of sold-out shows on the wall and some of his events are on it. “You rarely see anybody with an extensive musical background, particularly in hip-hop, create a legitimate talent buying company. Whenever you have one of your own get into a higher position, they can identify the struggles.”
He has won awards and accomplished plenty as Smoothvega, but as he works on his next album this new career avenue is really starting to open up. “It’s a legitimate alternative to the region because it’s not like I’m just doing shows in Dallas-Fort Worth,” Zenteno says. “I’m also giving independents and locals opportunities that I never had and treatment they are not accustomed to having.”
As Zenteno sees it, local hip-hop artists opening shows don’t typically get the respect they deserve considering how much they contribute. For example, a headliner may draw 150 people to a show with three local openers bringing in another 30 or 40 each. “These guys are working their asses off to get maybe 10-minute sets, they don’t get introduced onstage or get billed on the flyer,” Zenteno says. And he definitely remembers not feeling like he was getting the pay or respect he deserved.
Zenteno sees a lot of opportunity to help local artists. He would rather encourage them to develop longer sets instead of cramming a bill with openers. He also understands the significance of artists performing regionally instead of sticking with one city. It was important for him to add four local artists to the four Texas shows he put together for Joe Budden’s tour. “None of those guys had been on a run like that before,” Zenteno says.
Zenteno has eschewed competitiveness by quickly making strong allies in order to expand. “I want to create a separate format that works for me,” Zenteno says. “But that doesn’t mean we can’t work collectively.” He is partnering with ScoreMore Shows, one of the biggest hip-hop promoters in the state, for three Texas shows with Royce Da 5’9” starting next week. After bringing Joe Budden and Scarface to Trees, the Deep Ellum venue’s marketing director, Gavin Mulloy, recognized Zenteno as organized and diligent.
“Lorenzo is booking talent he is intimately familiar with,” Mulloy says. “Coming from a good knowledge base is always key for good promotion. How do you sell something if you don’t know what it is? He has his designs ready for on-sale and all the acts on the same page.” Zenteno is working on more shows at Trees and has his eye on putting a show in The Bomb Factory within the next year.
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“I think being an artist does help a promoter’s point of view,” says Dallas hip-hop artist Alsace Carcione. “A lot of times, all they are concerned with is the money. But a lot of people don’t understand that artists first need the opportunity to have a platform that is shared with artists who have a strong fan base. I’m sure there were times when he wasn’t given opportunities because he wasn’t known. It can hurt if you think too much with your heart because you have to hold artists accountable. But I definitely think the pros outweigh the cons.”
Another advantage that Zenteno has with a background as an artist is that he knows people. “Typically an agency doesn’t respond to a talent buyer they are not familiar with because they don’t know what they are going to get,” he says. “It’s kind of a tough business to break into.” For example, Royce Da 5’9” just recently topped the Billboard hip-hop charts and Zenteno has known him for a decade.
And that brings us back to taking care of artists. Zenteno has seen local artists come up and knows he will again. Over the years, he put shows together before starting Premier Live Experience, even booking Leon Bridges and Snow Tha Product. “It’s very important to create a premier experience not only for the public, but also for the artists,” Zenteno says. “I am still an artist. But I am also creating other avenues for myself and other people, hopefully helping them expand.”
“Unless you can identify with the frontline you can’t understand it,” Zenteno continues. “I know exactly what it is to be there. I’ve played in shitty places before in front of nobody and treated like trash. I can identify with the frontline and that’s what is going to make this successful. When you build long-term, you build with likeminded people.”