Written by: Kymmi Cee Live
Shomi Patwary, I found out, is the jack-of-all-trades. Not only is he one talented director/videographer, but also an editor, producer, director, designer, consultant, A&R and manager. In his 30 years of reign, the Old Dominion University graduate went from being a Star Trak intern to creating his own multimedia design company, Illusive Media, to having managed Benny Haze and everything in between. Shomi is currently the Director/Content Producer at Karmaloop TV and if you ask me, he’s got one hell of a resume.
Shomi, alongside the rest of the Illusive Media team; Phil Ly (co-director), Abe Moran (Director), Robert Elliot Simmons (Special Effects), Tash Patwary (Producer), Charlie Feher (Videographer/Designer), and Jay McCord (Producer/Director/Actor) is credited for some of the greatest works we’ve seen in the past as well as today. He’s best known for his guerrilla style of directing and editing as well as releasing complete projects on the fly. Shomi and Illusive Media have directed videos for Lupe Fiasco, Asher Roth, David Banner & 9th Wonder, Stalley, Chad Hugo and many others. His most notable video is Lupe Fiasco’s “I’m Beamin,” which was listed as #4 on the 2011 MTV Movie Awards.
It’s safe to say that if you need a job done, whatever it is, Shomi is your guy!
Where would you consider your specialty to be among all these talents?
Directing and editing.
Has it always been that way?
No, I actually started out as a producer making beats and stuff and then once I did that I met Magoo from Timbaland Magoo and he was managing me. This is early, back in the day. I was in college. I got into production because of The Neptunes in Virginia and I’m from Virginia. I got into music because of all the VA cats doing it; Nottz, Bink, The Neptunes, Timbaland. I don’t know what it is about the area, but Virginia has mad producers. I mean even the new guys like Lex Luger and Ty Beats. At the time, I was in college – it was early 2000 – I felt like ‘mann, I wanna make music too.’
Very interesting. So, how did you begin producing?
I’ve always been into music in general because of my cousin, who was a DJ. So, he would put me onto all kinds of music; hip-hop, new wave music from the 80s – all that stuff so I started making beats on Fruity Loops. Magoo heard it and was like “Aww this shit is dope,” so he let Timberland hear it, then Missy heard it and I was very naïve. I didn’t know anything about the music business at the time.
How did you move out of producing and onto other things?
One day Magoo comes up to me like “Yo, who made your website?” and I’m like “I did.” He was impressed. At the time my company was called “Illusive Ent.” Magoo told me to change it to “Illusive Media.” He kind of taught me early on that if you wanted to make money in music, you had to be a service provider. You could still work around musicians, but you had to focus on the skills you had. I went to school for computer science so I already had a background in programming and stuff so I began working around the rappers I knew that I was giving beats to and started making their websites. So, I did a lot of websites for a lot of local dudes in VA and then eventually got an internship with Star Trak. So then I started doing media stuff for all of Pharrell’s artists. My first big mixtape cover was for The Clipse. I saw my work on XXL Magazine while I was still in college and it was kind of cool because I was interning for these guys [Star Trak] and I was so hyped on these guys. Pharrell was the only producer people knew at the time. He made it cool to be a producer I felt like. I mean so did Timberland, but Pharrell added that cool factor so to be under Star Trak as an intern, it felt like more than just being an intern. Pusha T would come to my house to pick up mp3s. At the time, none of those guys were computer savvy so they would come to me. There was a situation where Pharrell was in Brazil, I think about to perform with Snoop Dogg and they forgot their instrumentals so I had to send them over the e-mail just as he was about to go on stage with Snoop.
When was your breakthrough?
I remember being close to getting my first real big gig with N*E*R*D. I was working on the website for the “Fly or Die” album and I was so hype because Shay was coming over my crib. He was like “Yo, can you make this into this like 3D video game shit” and I went all out and did some crazy shit and then they saw it and were like “ehh, this is a little too ahead,” and so the site never came out and I was so heated at the time because I put so much energy in it. I didn’t see Shay for a while because he went back on tour and then when I got the gig with Pusha. I remember going to Pharrell’s house because, at the time, they were all roommates. I remember seeing Vashtie there and her asking me what I did. I said “I dunno man, I do whatever, whatever needs to get done” ya kno. I was designing this Pusha’s mixtape cover and remember explaining to Pharrell why he’s one of my biggest inspirations. I think he’s the illest and he’s one of the reasons I do this everyday. To see somebody else from Virginia do this on that level is crazy. It was so surreal. I was at his freaking house. It was crazy. I was just a kid in college showing them my artwork. Shay was at the house and was like “hey good seeing you” cause it didn’t work out with the N*E*R*D thing, but at least something came out of it all. It was patience so then I ended up doing all of marketing for Fam-lay and he’s the one that really got me working with Star Trak because he’s the one that always recommended me to all those guys and would be like “Stick with Shomi, stick with Shomi.”
And so they stuck with Shomi. Clearly, your connections were there, but what further steps did you take in order for your career to develop after that?
I finally graduated. My parents asked me what I was going to do and I told them to give me six months because I didn’t want to go into the work field and do a computer programming job just because my degree was in Computer Science. All the money I made from my mixtape cover designing days held me down. That was my first hustle really and doing party flyers, ya know. I did those and saved up enough money, just enough money to get an office with two other dudes, one of them being my childhood friend since the 6th grade, Phillip Ly. We studied the same shit, took the same courses together and were mad tight. We knew we couldn’t go into that world with a “9-5” so we were like we gotta make this work somehow. Us being this little company doing flyer designs and printing them out for people then started making t-shirt designs. The real money started coming in during the MySpace era. When MySpace came out, we were the first dudes to figure out how to have this crazy shit with flash layouts and stuff so one of my boys, Danjahandz, told me he was working on Justin Timberlake’s album at the time. I remember seeing Danja when I was still doing mixtape covers and he would come to my house. A year goes by, I get my studio, Danja shows up, fucking platinum album now signed to Timbaland. I told him I had to get him on MySpace. People needed to know he was behind this too. Of course, Timbaland put a lot of work in that album, but Danja was like his protégé that gave him the unique sound and people needed to know this was his discography so I made this crazy MySpace where in the header, you’d see an MPC and each button was an albums he’d worked on – from MIA to Justin Timberlake. So now every article he was in would link to his MySpace, which said “Designed by Illusive Media,” my company. I started getting mad work and doing all these celebrity MySpace pages for all these rappers coming out, which was cool because I was creating these things so I’d be on everyone’s Top 8 like PitBull, The Clipse [laughs]. I miss it. That’s where I made my money.
What’s the most you ever got paid for a MySpace layout?
At the time, the most expensive layout I did was Sean Paul’s for like $7,000 and that happened accidentally because his manager called me asking how much I charged. I said seven meaning $700 and he took it for $7,000. Next thing I know he was wiring over $7,000 and that was that.
At what point did you feel Illusive Media was headed in the right direction?
I was 23 with my own office. More kids started working under me. I’d pay $25 for a flyer and charge $75 or something like that. I was hands on with everything. I was the creative director of the company and my boy Phillip was more of the technical director of the company and when I really felt this was profitable was when Pharrell had a campaign with Pepsi and approached me about needing a website to be done in 5 days and without thinking twice I did it. They came to me and I was the only kid dumb enough to say yea, but I got it done. I mean I wasn’t dumb. It was a fully interactive website, but I was very naïve to take on a project that big. I didn’t even get the money upfront, but I did it because Pharrell wanted it done. I got it done and got wired $30,000 for 5 days of work. And then more corporate work started coming in because we made it kind of cool to do corporate and so our look was corporate, but we mixed in all the cool artists. We had all the hookups. We were tight with every producer to VA, which just introduced me to artists, so slowly I got into video because our websites were interactive. We had shot some simple videos of the artist telling people to check out their website (MySpace) and stuff like that.
Ahh, video production. Now we’re talking. Tell me more.
One day Skillz, from VA who to me is a legend, comes by our office initially to check out what we were doing. So he tells me he’s got this video with Freeway he wants me to shoot and at the time Roc-a-Fella was on top so I’m like “Hell yea, I’ll do this shit. ” It was a song called “Don’t Act Like” and I directed that video without even having a treatment really. It wasn’t my first, but my first big one. I shot it with an HD camera, the Panasonic HVX. If you had that around back then you were ballin so we always felt like we were ahead of the curb at the time.
What was the first video you ever shot?
Nickel-Us F – “Nurp!” It was my first music video ever. You’ll see B Major in there and then my second video ever was with this kid called Conrizzle and Drake was in that video. He came down to Virginia and made his cameo. [laughs] It’s hilarious. I’m ashamed to look back at that stuff. I shot it on tape, not even HD.
What sets you apart from other directors in the industry?
Not to be cocky, but not all music directors know about good music or music in general. They’re music video directors, but you’ll see them working with some cornball artists just to get the check. For me, especially now at this stage, having worked with Lupe Fiasco and Rocky, I just want to be selective in who I work with. Not to say I don’t want to work with big mainstream artists, I do, but I want them to respect me as the guy that has a unique approach. Go ahead and give me a $100,000 check, but I know that if you give me that check I’m going to make your video look like Michael Jackson’s “Scream.” That’s what I’m about, working with limited resources and making them look big.
Who have you have the most fun working with?
My friends, like Mansions On The Moon – those guys are killing it right now. I remember one winter we got a beach house, which is funny because you’re getting a beach house in the winter. We got a six bedroom beach house for $1500/month. They all moved into this place in VA. We called it the “Trill House” at the time or “Fortress of Solitude.” They came up with this amazing record that blew up.
Which artists from today do you see hitting a larger scale within the next 5 years?
I could see Rocky being on that level. A lot of artists today make it because of a cosign. I really feel like Rocky didn’t need a cosign from Drake or any of that. I feel like he’s big either way so I think he’s definitely gonna be in that top 5 spot and then I’m seeing Bodega Bamz, who’s bringing back Latino rap and that’s been missing. It’s cool to see that come back.
Name 5 songs in your current rotation.
1. Lil Internet x Fam-Lay – “Look Into My Eyes” (Remix)
2. Mansion On The Moon – “Athens”
3. A$AP Mob x Flabush Zombies – “Bathsalt”
4. Telefone Tel Aviv – “The Birds”
5. Pusha T x Kanye West – “New God Flow”
Connect with Shomi: twitter