TDE may take its name from its founder and CEO, Anthony “Top Dawg” Tiffith, but Dave Free has become one of the most recognizable names in the crew beyond its roster of music stars.
Since meeting Kendrick Lamar in high school and playing his demo tape for Top while fixing his computer (he used to work as a computer technician), Free has risen through the ranks to become President of TDE, alongside Terrence “Punch” Henderson.
But what does a President of TDE do exactly? In a rare appearance on the Rap Radar Podcast, Free provides some insight into what his job entails—and it’s not always as glamorous as people might think.
“I run day-to-day operations of the company, direct management and creative for the artists,” he says. “It can be as little as picking up a bag and carrying it—I don’t give a shit, my ego’s not anywhere in the wrong—so I’ll carry a bag or sit on the phone and talk a $3 million deal for you, it doesn’t really matter. Wherever I’m needed, that’s where I apply myself.”
On an average day, Dave says he might “be with Soul and I’ll be having to set up a press run for him, it might be making 30 calls one day, it might be being on the set and making sure everything’s going right.” He adds, “I’m here in whatever shape or form: if I gotta direct a video, I’ma direct a video; if I gotta talk business, I’ll talk business; if I gotta carry some boxes, I’ll carry some boxes.”
With deep family ties in TDE (Punch is Top Dawg’s cousin and Moosa, ScHoolboy Q’s tour manager, is Top’s son, for example), it’s not surprising to hear Dave treats his job as more paternal than presidential. “All the artists, for the management, they’re our kids,” he says. “We protect them.”
In Isaiah Rashad’s case, sometimes that means tough love. After going on tour with ScHoolboy Q and developing a drug habit that almost got him dropped from the label, Dave Free says keeping the young rookie close by and watching over him was the key. “We not gonna let any of our artists go out there and do stupid shit,” he says. “We are really a family.”
Dave also reveals that all of his voicemail interludes on Isaiah’s The Sun’s Tirade album stem from real scenarios, but some of them had to be rerecorded because they “were a little more aggressive.”
Beyond his duties as a music executive, Dave Free is very much hands-on in TDE’s creative direction. He’s a member of the in-house production crew Digi+Phonics (alongside Sounwave, Tae Beast, and Willie B) and produced two of ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul’s best songs, “Blessed” and “Terrorist Threats,” respectively. As one-half of The Little Homies alongside Kendrick Lamar, Dave has also co-directed almost all of K. Dot’s music videos, as well as his breathtaking live shows.
Above all else, Dave Free is a hustler. No matter what hat he’s wearing—executive, director, big brother—he’ll figure out a way to get the job done. “I’m the executor,” he says. “Anybody can say the idea, but it’s all about putting the muscle to it and doing it.”
By Andy James. You can follow him on Twitter.
Photo Credit: Calligrafist