The Reel Black List: Vince Lawrence, Music Legend

Vince Lawrence (photo: Tyler Curtis)

Vince Lawrence (photo: Tyler Curtis)

Vince Lawrence, a Chicago-born dance music producer and businessman, is one of the leading innovators of the genre known as “house music.”

Industry insiders recognize Lawrence as co-author of “On and On”, the first recording of the genre and producer of many other hits in that area. If you know Chicago House Music, you’ve definitely heard his work.

Vince helped found TRAX Records, the label that defined the sound, and inspired many others, creating a movement that has made an everlasting impression on music the world over.

He is also the founder of Slang Music Group, which has received numerous gold and platinum awards for their contributions while advising artists, brands and their agencies on the impact of music and the cultures connected by it.

What was your first break?

Musically, my break happened when my dad said he couldn’t afford to send me to summer camp.

He knew that all the kids on my block were leaving and promised to find something fun for me to do. When the time came, he said that the best he could do was send me on the road with funk artist named Captain Sky. There, I fell in love with synthesizers and stated on my musical path.

In advertising, I owe my start to a chance meeting with Bill Daniels and Bernie Washington. After creating the Coors Light “Silver Bullet” campaign, they hasd left FCB to start EQUINOX Advertising.

I went to a studio to pick up a [guitarist] friend who was doing something for an advertisement. The people there asked me my opinion on whether this would connect with the underground culture. I said no, contrary to what everyone else had said, and after explaining my views, they made me a consultant.”

They had vision. They put me on Ameritech, Anhuesuer Busch’s Bud LITE, King Cobra, Hurricane Malt Liquor, and KFC. We won many awards, and I consider them mentors to this day.


Worst thing that ever happened to you to remind you that you are Black?

On the eve of my 17th birthday, I was assaulted while walking home from a friend’s house.

Older boys approached me asking where I thought I was going, stating that “no coons live in this neighborhood (Bridgeport).”

I attempted to flee but was chased down with a truck and beaten up pretty badly. I returned to my friend’s house and called the police. They caught the guy at a nearby gas station, an area police captain’s son.

Some years later I met an ad exec that said they grew up in Bridgeport, they knew him and had little to say when I told them what happened.


Best thing to ever happen to you to remind you that you are Black?

That happens everyday. Knowing that, regardless of the way the system is set up, I can achieve all kinds of things is inspirational.

Being black is my license to “do stuff anyway”. The unexpected. Things that some people said couldn’t be done. Inspiration comes from blackness. I love that.


Work you are most proud of?

I am proud of most of my work in general so that question is tough. I tend to work at things until I am proud of them as a way of being.

This ethos has created the chance for me to collaborate in one way or another with some of the greatest musical artists of all time across multiple genres. Remixes for Michael Jackson, Beyonce, Wyclef, R Kelly, Whitney Houston, and scores of others.

I have witnessed the talent of so many others firsthand, most notably Ron Wood and Stevie Wonder.

I have received many awards, including RIAA gold and platinum records, Telly awards, even a lifetime achievement award from the City of Chicago.

There is also a city proclamation naming Aug 10, “House Music Unity Day” and I am mentioned amongst the original pioneers of the genre.

These are all things I am proud of but my best work just started. My son London just turned four and I am most proud of the “work” I am doing as a dad and husband, showing up everyday for that means everything to me.


How has the business changed since you broke in?

The doors aren’t as open as they were. Fewer people take actual meetings or have creative brainstorming sessions. It seems that there are fewer people who are passionate about the creative aspects, especially in the Midwest. Budgets are smaller, clients want more for less and faster.

The advent of social media, crowdsourcing and augmented reality are changing the way we communicate and the way we work. Brands are also realizing the need to be more authentic because consumers don’t want to feel manipulated or talked down to anymore. This will ultimately change the way “advertising” happens. Again.


Trapped on an island, what are the creative essentials you must have?

Electricity, laptop, headphones.


If you had a time machine, what would you say to your past self?

Hang in there, you wont believe the things that are going to happen, even though I am you telling you! Take some time and really enjoy life along with your job. They aren’t the same thing you know.


If you could have a one-on-one with anyone who would it be? And why?

John Lewis and Colin Kaepernick because they demonstrate the courage it takes to stand up for what is right regardless of the personal consequence. For work, David Geffen. One way or another he has pushed boundaries for creative across a variety of media.

To read about others on The Reel Black List, click here.