House Music Pioneer Vince Lawrence on Helping Brands Connect with Music and Reclaiming EDM

House Music Pioneer Vince Lawrence on Helping Brands Connect with Music and Reclaiming EDM
Vince Lawrence’s first foray into commercial music was something of an accident. An artist and producer in his own right, the now founder and CEO of Slang Music started his career at the heart of Chicago’s burgeoning house music scene in the ‘80s, pioneering the genre as it would come to be. Vince’s early claims to fame include co-writing the first-ever house song recorded, ‘On and On’; the first house song to enter the Billboard charts, ‘Funk U Up’ (both with Jesse Saunders); and the seminal track, ‘Love Can’t Turn Around’ from Saunders and Farley ‘Jackmaster’ Funk, which reached #10 in the UK’s singles chart and launched the house movement across the pond.

After being involved with the formation of legendary Chicago house label Trax Records, he founded Slang Music Group – a select group of highly accomplished music producers and business entrepreneurs – and began his evolution from artist and producer to marketer and mogul.

However, Vince first fell into the space between music and advertising via a friend at Capitol Records, Dave Resnick, who he had been keeping up to date with the happenings in Chicago’s growing dance music scene. One night at a studio with Dave, he gave a suggestion to a struggling engineer that would alter his career forever.

“From the back of the room comes: ‘And who the fuck are you?’,” says Vince, explaining how after sharing his Billboard Chart credentials, the questioning ad executive asked him to make ad music that would resonate with the young audience Vince was already playing to at loft parties in the city every week. “I said: ‘Look, I make records… I’m not a jingle guy’. And he said: ‘I’ll pay you $30,000 per commercial’. So I said: ‘OK, what kind of proof do you need?’,” Vince laughs.

Vince went on to make his first commercial for a telephone company using a ‘hip house’ track (“a rap song on top of a house beat”) designed to get kids to use public payphones. He even helped cast the ad, bringing the production crew to his 4000 square foot loft at 1am on a Friday night. “They came down into this basement and there were 200 kids dancing. I played the music that we were going to use for the commercial and everybody went crazy – they really liked it. Everybody was dancing and making phone gestures, and I was in the advertising business after that.”

Originally working almost exclusively with Equinox Advertising on brands like KFC and Anheuser Busch, Vince soon discovered the wider world of ad agencies and started working on Coca-Cola brands with Burrell Communications, before finally crossing paths with Leo Burnett. With this legendary Chicagoan ad institution, Vince applied his contemporary music knowledge and expertise to campaigns for Kellogg’s, Nintendo, Pop Tarts and more, all while continuing to make records.

Around 1990, Vince decided to try and “get brands and bands to play nice”, seeing that there had been an antagonistic relationship for a long time. With artists seeing ads as the “ultimate sellout” and brands frustrated with the “exorbitant prices” they had to spend to use a hit, Vince worked to help clients predict trends and connect along cultural lines with the audience and the record business.

To this day, Slang Music Group assists clients to do exactly this, thanks to its talent that is embedded in the fibres of the mainstream music industry, and not just the world of advertising. The team at Slang are working consistently with some of music’s biggest names, from Lil Wayne to Kid Cudi, Sheck Wes, Wiz Khalifa, The Cure, Zayn Malik, Cardi B and more – Slang’s Anthony Kilhoffer is even credited as a composer, co-producer and engineer for Jay-Z and Kanye West’s acclaimed collaborative album ‘Watch the Throne’. These talents form a ‘brand support team’, called Agents of Slang, that helps agencies, brands and individuals make connections through music along relevant cultural touchpoints.

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House Divided

Trax Records helped launch Chicago’s own music genre, but the artists behind the influential label say they weren’t fairly compensated. Now they’re fighting for what’s theirs.


eated behind the console in the basement studio of his Highland Park home, Vince Lawrence is in his element. This is where he produces dance records that make the floors shake, though now he’s cranking up an oldie: the Jackson 5’s “Forever Came Today,” the group’s 1975 disco-style remake of a Supremes song. As the beat blasts from the room’s 20 speakers, some of which rest on cinder blocks, Lawrence describes what a formative record this was for him and, by extension, for Chicago house music. “I think every good producer has to be a musicologist,” he says.

Evidence of Lawrence’s success lines the walls: gold and platinum records honoring his production work on Destiny’s Child’s singles “Girl” and “Soldier,” R&B crooner Joe’s “Stutter,” and former B2K member Omarion’s “Ice Box.” But long before Lawrence worked on these hits, the South Side native helped pioneer a music genre, one birthed in Chicago in the 1980s: house. Fusing disco with electronic instrumentation, house music artists packed dance floors and sold records not just in Chicago but around the globe. Trax Records, the label Lawrence helped found, was at the center of it all, putting the music on vinyl for the first time and releasing some of house’s biggest hits, including Marshall Jefferson’s “Move Your Body” and Frankie Knuckles’s “Baby Wants to Ride.”

Dressed in a gray hoodie and sporting a trim goatee, Lawrence is a young-looking 59. He clicks on a project he’s currently working on, a series of new songs by Chicago singer Jeanette Thomas, who had a house hit back in 1987 called “Shake Your Body.” The speakers throb as the playback booms at a rib-rattling level.

Lawrence helped launch house, and house, in turn, helped launch Lawrence’s career as a producer. But not every artist was so lucky. Lawrence can recite the names of others who had hits for Trax yet face significant financial struggles today — even as their music has generated licensing income and royalties for someone. “I’ve been an entrepreneur since I was 15,” Lawrence says. “I’m OK. But there are so many people who aren’t.”

The reason for that is the music business’s oldest story: Lawrence claims the label and its owner, Trax cofounder Larry Sherman, ripped them off. Sherman died three years ago, but Lawrence and many of his fellow labelmates are still around — and they’re taking action.

Last October, Lawrence filed a federal lawsuit against the current incarnation of Trax Records and its owners: Sandyee Sherman, who was married to Larry Sherman when he died, and Rachael Cain, Sherman’s ex-wife and a house artist known as Screamin’ Rachael, who received half the business in her divorce settlement. The suit alleges that the label failed to pay royalties on the artists’ music it licensed and sold — and that in many cases the label didn’t own the song rights in the first place. Joining Lawrence as plaintiffs are more than 20 former Trax artists, including house icons Jefferson, Jesse Saunders, Jamie Principle, and Ralphi Rosario.

But the lawsuit goes beyond music rights to the very identity of Trax. It asserts that Lawrence came up with the name and created the logo (an all-caps, slanted “Trax Records,” a nod to the graphic approach of the British dance band Frankie Goes to Hollywood). And while Cain and Sandyee Sherman pursue parallel visions for Trax’s future, Lawrence contends that he never relinquished his share of the label after he and Saunders cofounded Trax with Sherman. In the suit, Lawrence asks for at least $1 million in damages and ownership of the Trax trademark and the rights to all his songs. He also intends to see his fellow artists emerge with the rights to the music they created — and compensation for the use of their work.

“At some point someone has to stand up and punch a bully in the mouth,” Lawrence says. “It took me 30 years to realize that I was supposed to be that person.”

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Trax Records Artists Sue Label Over Unpaid Royalties

Vince Lawrence, Marshall Jefferson, Adonis, and others who released music on the label filed the lawsuit on Friday

On Friday (October 14), more than a dozen artists sued the legendary Chicago house label Trax Records, the estate of its co-founder Larry Sherman, and its current owners Screamin’ Rachael Cain and Sandyee Barns, reports Rolling Stone. Those suing—a list that includes Vince Lawrence, Marshall Jefferson, Adonis, and Maurice Joshua—allege the label owes them unpaid royalties and, in some cases, failed to pay certain artists anything at all. 

A copy of the lawsuit obtained by Rolling Stone describes Trax’s early years as a “shell game” that involved forged signatures, bounced checks, and shoddy accounting. According to the lawsuit, “Plaintiffs may elect to recover statutory damages and are entitled to the maximum statutory damages available for willful infringement… in the amount of $150,000 with respect to each timely registered work that was infringed.”

Sean Mulroney, the lawyer representing the artists in the lawsuit, claims Trax Records’ history shows a detailed pattern of financial malfeasance. “Larry Sherman said he was going to pay them and never did,” Mulroney told Rolling Stone. “Are you going to spend 50, 60 grand to chase it down, knowing there’s no moving forward? What are they worth? You have to go, ‘Is it worth it? I’ll just keep writing.’ And for some of these guys, it was, ‘I’ll never write another song again.’” Pitchfork has reached out to Mulroney for comment.

Larry Sherman started Trax Records in 1984. In 1997, Sherman discussed how he ran the label with the Chicago Tribune, saying, “The kids making these records didn’t know what they should get, and they often didn’t know what their material was worth. And being a good businessman, you don’t say, ‘I think you’re underestimating the worth of your material. Here’s a few thousand dollars more.’” Sherman died in 2020 at the age of 70.

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Slang signs Grammy-winning producer Anthony Kilhoffer

Rick Rubin, Kanye West, and Anthony Kilhoffer in the control room

Rick Rubin, Kanye West, and Anthony Kilhoffer in the control room

Vince Lawrence
cuts a deal
with his
longtime friend,
the legendary

Slang Music Group, the company founded by Black entrepreneur and Chicago House Pioneer Vince Lawrence, has signed four-time Grammy-winning producer Anthony Kilhoffer for commercial representation.

The move elevates the studio to a level of expertise, talent, wisdom and diversity that is matched by few, if any, in the country. It also extends the Slang focus far beyond the boundaries of music.

“Cultural relevancy and honest engagement is really what’s important to us,” says Lawrence. “We want our work to speak as part of a greater conversation. Our team is growing by helping artists, agencies, and brands connect authentically”

LA-based Kilhoffer is a likeminded visionary who wields a culturally diverse resume of epic proportions. He’s won Grammys for production on three Kanye West albums — My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, Graduation, and Late Registration — as well as John Legend’s Get Lifted.

Kilhoffer also served on the mix team for the iconic Watch The Throne album featuring West and Jay Z, and on the pop side he is the final mix engineer responsible for Iggy Izalea’s chart-topping hit “Fancy”

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Slang Music Group launches a SlangMusicVault stock music resource

Slang Music Group packed thousands of easily licensed instrumental tracks and songs into a digital layout that operates like a record store. Vince Lawrence along with teammates Jere McAlister and Jim Marcus have created Slang Music Vault, moderately priced and officially launched in October.

Grouping genres, styles, and moods into categories that are represented by colorful “album covers,” the Vault provides users with previews, descriptions, and technical information for every title they click. The Vault offers a selection of diverse tracks, often created by thought leaders in each respective genre. Slang Music Group and Slang Music Vault are Black owned, minority certified businesses.

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Vince Lawrence honored for contribution to house music

Vince Lawrence
Composer and musician Vince Lawrence was officially recognized by the City of Chicago for his role in creating House Music during a ceremony at Millennium Park over the Memorial Day weekend.

An estimated crowd of 40,000 — on hand for the city’s annual Chicago House Party event — cheered as Lawrence took the stage to accept the award with his wife Tara, his mother Jean, his son London and his daughter Yasmine.

“Looking at where we started and where house music stands today,” he said afterwards. “It’s amazing.”

A teenaged Lawrence and DJ Jesse Saunders ignited the phenomenon that would become House Music from a bedroom on the south side of Chicago during the wee hours of a spring morning in 1983. The childhood friends were finishing off a weekly ritual that they had developed while hosting all-night teen dance celebrations in a juice bar called The Playground at 13th and Michigan Ave.

“It all kinda started from throwing parties in the late-70s,” Lawrence recalls. “We’d get an average of 1,500 to 2,000 kids a night, two nights a week.”

With the help of Saunders’s DJ brother, Wayne, the young impresarios filled the room by spinning the likes James Brown, Kraftwerk, Martin Circus, the B52s and “all the John Rocca songs.”

When the parties ended, they would fuel up on steak and eggs at nearby White Palace Grill before trekking down to Saunders’ home at 72nd and King Dr., where they would continue recording and playing music.

On one typical morning in the spring, they patched a Korg Poly-61, a Moog Prodigy, a Roland TB-303 and a Roland TR-808 into a “newfangled Yamaha MT44 Multitrack Cassette Recorder.” Then they recorded a song called “On and On,” which is considered to be the first house music track in history.

Within a few years, the sound could be heard “throbbing from the speakers at the hippest dance clubs in New York and Europe,” according to a 1986 Tribune article by Daniel Brogan. The catchy bass lines and dance appeal prompted many to nickname the genre “disco’s revenge.”

For Lawrence, the success was extra sweet. He had been an usher at Comiskey Park during the infamous “Disco Demolition” rally in 1979, when radio talk show host Steve Dahl started a riot by exploding disco records with firecrackers on the infield between a doubleheader.

Fans received free admission to the event if they donated a disco record for demolition. But, according to Lawrence, most of the records they brought were not disco.

“The people brought in specifically black records,” he says. “I said to my friend, ‘that’s a funk record, that’s a blues record.’”

At the time, the soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever was midway through a three-year ride on the Billboard Top 200 Album chart. Its cover featured John Travolta.

Travolta's unmistakably caucasian face represented disco to the mainstream, yet fans that night were willing to wreck the likes of Stevie Wonder's multiplatinum 1976 funk / soul / R&B masterpiece, Songs in the Key of Life, for a free seat at the destruction.

“Disco demolition was widely anti-Black, anti-Latino and anti-Gay,” Lawrence continues. “That was the first time I had that kind of ideology thrown in my face.”

The misguided negativity did not prevent Lawrence and his crew from getting things done.

“All of us poor and middle class teens from the south side of Chicago were in the record business,” he says. “By osmosis, we were becoming black entrepreneurs. We were becoming Latino distribution companies, black DJs, promoters and studio owners.”

In 1989, Lawrence stopped by a recording studio to pick up his friend Dave, a member of the band Sonia Dada who was playing guitar for a commercial session. It would be a pivotal moment in his career.

“They were having some difficulties communicating with an engineer,” Lawrence explains. “So I just kind of blurted out the solution because I wanted Dave to get out so we could go to the Shelter and party.”

One of the clients in the studio was Bill Daniels, who cofounded Equinox Advertising with Bernie Washington. Impressed by Lawrence’s technical abilities, he wanted to hear what Lawrence could do on the creative side.

“He said ‘if you can make music that resonates with teens, I’ll have a job for you,’” Lawrence recalls.

Today, Lawrence’s Slang Music Group creates and records tracks for commercials, television and a select group of well-known artists. Big Sean, Oprah Winfrey and Honda are just a few of the artists and brands enhanced by the studio’s creations.

Lawrence also continues to work on original compositions. He is currently one-third of The 312, a trio that includes Felix Da Housecat and Jamie Principle. The group released “Touch Your Body” on the Crosstown Rebels label last summer.

Billboard described the collaborators as “three important figures in the history of Chicago house music.” While Lawrence is happy with the recognition, he responds with characteristic modesty.

“It’s awesome to even claim such a connection, because it’s way bigger than us as people,” he says. “We just wanted to make a record that would move a crowd.”

The Election

In case you don't live in the US (or you just haven't heard the news yet), Donald Trump was just elected our next president. although stunned, I accept the result, and have braced myself for change, good, bad or indifferent.

Actually this is NOT a political email, but I think given the circumstances (and frustrations from all sides) surrounding this election, I am pressed to acknowledge a very powerful truth: that despite country borders or even political borders within my own country, there is still one simple thing that brings everyone!

Music has been a common thread woven throughout all countries, in all of history, since the creation of the world. Music is an amazing gift of God that simply is beyond comparison. Music actually heals. Music can change things. we created this song when we recognized that the country was at a precipiece, brought with violence and unrest. I offer it again and food for thought, please share it if you can:

That is why you and I love music so much. For sure that’s why we work so hard at it here at Slang. We are driven to create and we only want the best sounding and most impactful music possible! These days, if you have great musical ideas and amazing songs, but lack the knowledge or experience (i.e. confidence) to turn them into a sonic reality, then you're in the right place! We are here to help!!

Personally, I go to work every day trying to create the most helpful and encouraging music so that you can do what you do best - Feel it!

So whether you are an American like me, or from one of the 200+ countries that have been moved by what we have created over the last 20+ years, thanks for listening. Thanks for supporting me and the rest of our team. And lastly, love one another, whenever and wherever you can.

You Wish – Girl Like You

You Wish, by the real name Gabriel Mican, is an artist & producer based in Chicago, USA. He classifies his style as Progressive House music with some Electro – all built around a love for a strong melody. His music has a feel-good vibe that is captured on his latest offering “Girl Like You” co-produced by house music pioneer Vince Lawrence, which debuted #1 on Dance Top 100 Releases as well as #3 Electro House Top 100 charts on

You Wish cites early 1990s Euro-dance as a big influence back when he lived in Europe. Groups like The Prodigy and Faithless served as inspiration to become a music artist and producer himself. It was around that time that he got his hands on a Casio keyboard, a gift from his father! He became instantly in love with synthesizers! A passion which he shares with producer and fellow Chicagoan Vince Lawrence whom he met in 2010. Acknowledged universally as the producer of the first House record “On and on” back in the late ‘80s, Lawrence saw right away the potential waiting to be explored in “You Wish”.

Having lived in different parts of Europe (Romania, Monaco and France) and now in the USA, Wish knows first-hand the impact that electronic dance music has on people. Its message is that of love, unity and respect. It’s the sound of hypnotic synthesizers and hard kicking drums that brings fans together who share a common love for dance music. It is out of this love that his music label “Wish Music” was born in 2013. He wanted to build something that Chicago, the city that started it all, would be proud of.

His latest release, Girl Like You, mixes a perfect blend of melody and atmosphere, addictive guitar chord progressions, and a laid back beat, this new tropical house jam by Chicago artist & producer You Wish, will surely bring back all those feel-good summer vibes! Featuring vocalist Chaddy (of "The Streets on Fire") on the hook, and co-production by Chicago House pioneer Vince Lawrence, this romantic euphoric banger will surely have you up on the dance floor in no time! The 2 track release also features an Electro House remix produced by New Jersey DJ and producer, Draco Savon, resident on London's Real Dance Radio.

Felix Da Housecat and Jamie Principle Share Steamy Video For “Touch Your Body”

American producer Felix Da Housecat, veteran vocalist Jamie Principle, and early Trax Records affiliate Vince Lawrence have teamed up as The 312 to present the darkly-lit and sensual video for their debut single on Crosstown Rebels, "Touch Your Body." Directed by London/NYC-based filmmaker David Terranova, the clip pairs footage of Felix and Principle jamming along to the song with thematically-appropriate shots of women dancing, bringing the track's sultry vibe to life.

Over email, Felix Da Housecat gave THUMP backstory on the track's production. "We all sat in one room and jammed," he said. "I sat there by the synth, played the bassline first, and had the music done in about an hour. That's when Jamie started writing away whilst Vince joined him. While I was finishing overdubs on the music, I said, 'Jamie can I pretend to be you and lay down melody for verses?' He looked at me like I was crazy, so I took that as a yes. I sang the song melody without words, pretending to be Jamie. Then Jamie cloned me being him and Jamieized it. He then whispered in my ear and said, 'I got the chorus,' and I was like, 'cool, sing it.'"

Back in the summer of 2014, Felix Da Housecat recorded his THUMP mix while cavorting around Ibiza, and made something a bit more introspective than what he's known for on his Narrative of Thee Blast Solution album.

The single is out now, featuring two additional remixes by Detroit favorite Moodymann.

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