Todd “Too $hort” Shaw is sitting beside his partner Monica Payne, a powerhouse with a pixie cut, in the belly of their brand-new baby — a 5,000-square-foot digital production facility in Studio City called the Magic Gate.
Dave Hampton, who renovated Prince’s Paisley Park, designed the space, which the couple says is the first of its kind in L.A. There are in-house producers, editors and even an animator, Maxwell Benson, who created Too $hort’s latest video, “19,999,” the title track from an EP released this week.
The one thing Magic Gate doesn’t have? A lot of suits.
In fact, they only have one, Max Gousse, former Senior VP of A&R at Island/Def Jam.
“In the days we came in the game, the person who was steering you in the game wasn’t really giving you the game,” says Shaw, casual in a red T-shirt and black jeans.
“You go back and read [album] credits even to this day. [The music executive] pushing the paperwork: ‘Hmm, give me 40% of that publishing.’ And if you let it go by, your name ain’t on nuthin’! Here, we promised we would never let the artist get in that situation.”
Shaw is the Oakland rapper famous for pioneering the West Coast sound, his pronunciation of his favorite word, “bitch,” and a slew of albums so raunchy most rap fans have stories of their moms unspooling his tapes into the garbage.
Payne’s career has been a little less flashy. Leaving her native South Carolina for New York on the eve of her high school graduation, she was in a girl group in the 1990s before moving to L.A. in 2004 and transitioning to the business side of the music industry. But she was instrumental in The Magic Gate’s inception, and she and Shaw share the titles of founder and CEO.
As she recently posted to her Instagram, “Behind every great man stands no woman. There is no greater man than the man that can acknowledge the woman standing right next to him.”
Two years ago, Payne and Shaw, who had dated when she moved to L.A., appeared together on VH1’s reality series Couples Therapy.
They might not have worked out romantically, but they discovered when it came to business, they were a match made in heaven.
“We may seem to be very unlikely, but in actuality we’re very, very, very similar,” Payne says in her honeyed accent.
As a manager and event producer, Payne was tired of driving all over the city and wanted to open a one-stop shop for artists. Shaw was interested in relocating his studios to L.A. And they both wanted to bring back the process of working with and developing artists simply because they were talented, not because they had a million Twitter followers or YouTube plays.
So they began searching for the perfect space. At first, Shaw thought Downtown L.A. would be ideal, but he says, “We’d walk in these warehouses and she’d have this look on her face like somebody just did a number two.” Burbank had plenty of buildings, but “it was Burbank,” Shaw continues.
Finally, their realtor called Payne with a location owned by Will and Jada Smith. When Payne drove up, she didn’t even walk inside before calling Shaw and telling him she’d found the spot to house their dream.
While Magic Gate’s official launch party was just a few weeks ago, Payne and Shaw already have managed to change the course for one artist working with them. He signed to a label recently, and Shaw and Payne noticed a small clause in his deal that pertained to his publishing.
“Three years from now, if he writes a lot of hit records, this artist is going to come up for air and look at us and say, ‘Why did y’all do me like that?'” Shaw says. “[The label] tried to fight us on it. And it really was Monica [who said], ‘I don’t care. If you don’t wanna do that one little thing, we don’t want to do the deal.’”
Payne smiles. “That’s my life’s work,” she says. “I fight.”