“'Mo' Love' Is Corporate Queen of Rap”

Martin Kihn
New York Times
24 August 1992
The San Francisco Chronicle

In a windowless office at Time Warner's hip-hop embassy in Yorkville, beneath a collage titled "Ambitious With Attitude," you can find Monica (Mo' Love) Lynch, president of Tommy Boy Records, the rap and street-fashion label.

 

"I don't like daylight," she says. "It always made me mad."

 

With straight, bottle-copper hair held down by a purple Colorado Rockies baseball cap, she is the high priestess of hip-hop, the milieu that surrounds rap music. She joined Tommy Boy as its first employee in the fat-gold-chain era a decade ago, and along the way signed some of rap's most progressive acts, including De La Soul, Queen Latifah and Naughty by Nature.

 

WILD CONTRASTS

 

A woman of wild contrasts -- a former stripper, now a Time Warner vice-president -- Lynch, a 36-year-old white woman, thrives in a business built around 17-year-old black men.

 

This summer, Tommy Boy has come under fire because a photograph of an Uzi-wielding man waiting in ambush for George Bush was leaked to the press. It was said to be a cover of a fall release by San Francisco rapper Paris, a Tommy Boy artist.

 

Robert J. Morgado, head of music at Time Warner, immediately issued a statement saying that he had not and would not approve such a cover.

 

Lynch has not commented publicly on the controversy.

 

So goes rap time. A sociological as much as a musical force, hip-hop is a net of fashion, dance, rhythmic and lyrical styles that become obsolete before they leave the Bronx.

 

Few people would care except that in one decade, rap exploded into a $1 billion business. The only $1 billion business nobody seems to understand. Except Monica Lynch.

 

As someone who has followed this world since its inception, she has a better idea than most of the peculiar chemistry of hip-hop.

 

Take the Carhardt jacket, a rugged brown canvas item worn for decades by Midwestern farmers. Lynch and her young right-hand man, Albee Ragusa, began seeing it on hip-hop kids, slapped the Tommy Boy logo on it and revolutionized the record business' tour wardrobe.

 

Thus began Tommy Boy's fashion line. Now, hardy work clothes are a hip-hop staple.

 

"She treats music like fashion," says Tom Silverman, Tommy Boy's founder and chairman. "The kind of music this is, it's just like hemlines. It comes and it goes. She knows -- she's out there on the streets with the kids, with the people who buy the records."

 

`NARROW MINDS'

 

Mo' Love Lynch grew up in Oak Park, Ill., a Chicago suburb that Hemingway called the "land of wide lawns and narrow minds." She used to help her father empty quarters from the washers and dryers in his small laundromat chain. Like other rebels, she wrote graffiti on her Catholic-girls'-school saddle shoes.

 

Excelling only in French, she left home and high school after graduating. She hit Chicago, as she says, to "explore the social horizon." Which she did. "There was absolutely no plan whatsoever."

 

A runway modeling gig for a Chicago designer brought her to New York in April 1978. She never left. She started working for an outfit called the Go-Go Agency, dancing topless by day and partying at night. "It was the type of experience that can sort of make or break a person," she said.

 

After two years and other odd jobs, she talked herself into a job at Tommy Boy after seeing an ad in The Village Voice.

 

ELECTRO HIP-HOP

 

Four months after Lynch signed on, Afrika Bambaataa's "Planet Rock" went into orbit, ushering in the genre known as electro hip-hop. With acts like Soul Sonic Force and the Jonzun Crew, Tommy Boy was its epicenter.

 

It was also then that Lynch acquired the nickname Mo' Love from the legendary rap deejay Mista Magick.

 

"In the mid-1980s Tommy Boy went through a cold period," said Lynch, who became the label's president in 1985. "But I think that was good for us. It forced us to rethink how we were doing business." Elsewhere there was a rapquake. "From being a very unsophisticated, ground-level business for so long," Lynch said, "suddenly the stakes got a lot higher."

 

And whiter.

 

SUBURBAN AUDIENCE

 

The show "Yo! MTV Raps" introduced the form to a suburban audience, now thought to comprise at least half of rap listeners. Big money swallowed little money.

 

After losing Def Jam to Sony, Time Warner bought Tommy Boy in 1989 for what Silverman, who owned the label, called an "embarrassingly small" amount of money; he would not say how much.

 

By 1989, Tommy Boy was ready for its second spontaneous combustion. Lynch was alerted to a demo song called "Plug Tunin' " by a group of teen-age neo-hippie rappers, De La Soul.

 

"It was the weirdest, most dusted-out type of song," she said, but she found its flowery, soft-edged spirit a welcome antidote to big fists and mouths.

 

NATIVE TONGUES

 

A less aggressive rap era, the native tongues movement, had begun. It eventually would include the platinum-selling Digital Underground and Queen Latifah on Tommy Boy, as well as A Tribe Called Quest and the Jungle Brothers on other labels.

 

Contrary to its thuggish image, Lynch said, rap has been good to women: "It's an industry where a lot of women have been given opportunities to get in on the ground level and grow. That didn't happen in the rock industry or the radio industry."

 

Even the much-hyped misogyny of some rap lyrics doesn't bother her: "It's not the message so much as who's saying it that disturbs people. Rap gets a bad rap -- so to speak -- because it's a black music form."

 

PHOTO (2); Caption: (1) Monica (Mo' Love) Lynch started as a topless dancer and is now president of the rap label, Tommy Boy Records, (2) An alleged album cover for local rapper Paris was at the center of a recent Tommy Boy controversy