The early 90s saw a plethora of chart topping boy bands. Boyz II Men, Shai and others came with hit after hit. In 1990, a group of kids called Hi Five from Waco, Texas stormed on the scene produced by legendary hit making producer Teddy Riley with the hit “Just Can’t Handle It”, reaching the Top 10 in Billboard’s R&B charts. Spearheaded by lead singer and first tenor teen heart throb Tony Thompson, the boys Roderick “Pooh” Clark, Marcus Sanders, Russell Neal, Toriano Easley were on their way. Not so fast. Exit Easley and in came Treston Irby, the Bronx born bass singing crooner who shook up the group and became 1B to Thompson’s 1A.
Irby experienced the thrills of platinum selling success as a teenager, fell to earth, experienced depression, and was even shot 5 times in Connecticut. After experiencing the lowest lows of losing fame, Irby is now on his way back with his management company Bronx Most Wanted Entertainment. Treston and I met late June at the Jesse Jackson’s PUSH Conference’s Music Seminar where he sat on a panel of artists and industry professionals to give their advice on how to make it in the music industry. Treston, his team, and I met the next day at ELEVEN City Diner on Wabash Street in the South Loop for breakfast (delicious I might add), and discussed his life and career in this poignant interview.
ExP: Treston Irby! Thanks for sitting down with me. So when were you born?
Irby: June 29, 1973
ExP: Where did you grow up?
Irby: The Bronx. I live in Connecticut now, but I love the Bronx. BX!
ExP: What part of the Bronx were you raised in?
Irby: South Bronx section.
ExP: What was the ethnic mix?
Irby: Strictly Puerto Rican and Black.
ExP: What type of education did you receive?
Irby: I went to Stevenson High School but I didn’t graduate from there. I finished at Waco High. Hence High Five.
Irby: They found me in the Bronx doin’ a talent show…a Christmas concert. I was singing in a gospel choir. High Fives’s old manager [Vinnie Bell] found me. I auditioned, and two weeks later I was in Waco.
ExP: So how old were you at the time?
Irby: I was 16 turning 17.
ExP: How did that feel? How was that experience?
Irby: Being at that age you can’t even fathom, seeing and wishing yourself on videos and on TV…and I go from that to… overnight being there. When I got there it was already moving.
ExP: What were your dreams as a kid?
Irby: Funny you said that, I wanted to be a state trooper. That’s why I started out at military school, because everybody in my family was in the armed forces, or you know… police. I liked the experience, the adrenaline, everything that comes with it. Right after I went to military academy I would do the naval academy. After the naval academy I would do my 4 years…
ExP: So you had your future mapped out for you?
Irby: Yeah, it was planned.
ExP: What was the structure of your home? Mom, dad?
Irby: It was mom, grandma, grandpa, aunts and uncles. Dad bounced. Funny, but he be callin’ me now. I’m older now, but it is what it is. I haven’t got around to callin’ him “dad” yet. I call him by his first name, but we can have a decent conversation and if it gets out of hand, he knows he has to step back a bit because he wasn’t there in those early years…
At this point, I put salt in my coffee…
Irby: That’s not gonna taste too good.
I go on to explain another time putting salt in my coffee. By the way, it's the worst flavor on Earth. Laughter ensues. We continue.
ExP: So you get discovered, you had it in your plans to do the family thing be a policeman, a state trooper, but you had dreams of being a singer right?
Irby: True there was a song called “Magic Man” (sings from song by Robert Winters). That was the first song I ever sang. He had a baritone voice, and I was 5 years old singing that voice. You ever saw Eddie Murphy’s (Raw)?
ExP: Yeah, the part he’s in front of his family performing and the uncle says “that boy good!”?
Irby: Yeah, it was just like that. On Christmas day I received my first record player, and it was the first record I ever had. That was then. I didn’t think about taking it professional or nothin’ until high school and I joined the gospel choir. I was around all the other singers and I was like “Man I want to be a singer, I think…I’m not sure…I want to do the cop thing.” It wasn’t until that Christmas concert and he [Vinnie Bell] was like, “You’re good, I’ll call you.” He called 3 days later saying he wanted to meet with my mom. So he met with my mom and my uncles because I didn’t have no dad at the time. They played the father figure ‘cause I had no dad at the time. He tells my mother “I wanna take your son.” You know how that is! She’s like “Take him where?!” He gave her the whole business. At the time the video (“She’s Playing Hard to Get”, the first single by the group) was on the VHS tape, had the album. Remember the “album”?
Irby: Yeah. Had the album, showed my mom the album, bio, all the industry stuff. So I pretty much told my mom then, “I don’t want to resent you.” Because she wasn’t going to let me do it. I’m 16-17 and this guy is taking me to relocate. Saying, “I going to take your son, put him in a house, put him in school.” You know we from the Bronx…(sarcastic look) “Aiight! Aiight, whatever!” So I was like, “This is somethin’ I really wanna do. If you don’t let me do it, I’m gone!” So I gave her that speech, “Let me do this.” She gave me a break, and everything was history.
ExP: So what was it like meeting the other guys (of High Five)?
Irby: It was different, because those other guys being from the South, from Waco, Texas. And here I am from the Big Apple, the Bronx, the home of everything. It was a little bit different. It took us a while to work through everything. It was a lot of different vibes.
ExP: You were down there with the David Koresh thing?
Irby: Actually that was it was just outside in of Waco in Colleen. Waco was the biggest place so they just said Waco.
ExP: So how was touring?
Irby: Being on the road at that age…was difficult.
ExP: How so?
Irby: Because we still had to do school, had a tutor. We didn’t want to do homework, gave the tutor a hard time. Doing things we shouldn’t have. Yaaa know! We were young kids wanting to run around. That’s why it was difficult.
ExP: Did that affect your performance, wanting to run around?
Irby: Never did that. It was still business. You gotta remember, we were really young. When you have 5 young guys man, with opportunities to make money, travel the world, you really don’t really know what you have man. You’re young. You’re 15-16 years old. That’s not normal. That’s not a normal lifestyle. I didn’t know too many young guys going to Japan, London, whatever you name. My passport was full at 18. I had to get another passport. It’s a blessin’. I was doin’ shows. Like pay me! We weren’t thinkin’ about the business aspect or nothin’.
ExP: How did your mom handle the business side?
Irby: Uhh…wow. Wasn’t expectin’ that one. Actually I let my mom….(Pauses) But in all due respect, she was new to the game. Neither one of us knew what we were doing when it came to the business. Looking back now, I would have done it differently.
ExP: How so?
When you start making a little money and you start seeing those credit card statements in the mail. Everybody wants to get a credit card. I’m 16-17 years old. I don’t know anything about a credit card! I wasn’t taught. Now I’m getting’ credit cards in my name.
ExP: Did you use the credit cards yourself?
Irby: Hell yeah I used them! And so did other people. There’s that word recoupment.
ExP: So tell me how recoupment related to your experience in the music business.
Irby: With no one telling me about the word recoupment, the record company giving you advances on your album, they give it to you. They don’t say no. I’m talking about the whole group situation. We all fell in that. No one liked the word recoupment after a while. At the end of the day, another word for “tab”.
ExP: How did it affect you?
Irby: All that tallied up on me.
ExP: So you are saying the record company did not go over the concept of record advances before, but after you received your check?
Irby: When it was time for me to argue.
ExP: Do you think that was fair?
Irby: Honestly, in a way. I should have had the knowledge to know about that. It’s the not the record company’s job. They in it to make money. So if they gonna make a dollar, they gonna make a dollar. It’s the manager’s job to school you on that stuff. It’s not the record company’s job to say this is going to happen. I could be wrong.
ExP: What about the concept that minors cannot legally enter into contracts? Do you think that record companies should adequately educate parents? You have kids performing…
Irby: You’re right. I got an answer for that. Let’s go back to my mom. She didn’t know no better. So if she trusts the manager…once again, if you have a minor, it’s the manager’s job to inform the parent. Like, “This is what happens…” Look I manage artists too. I wouldn’t let that happen to them. I tell them “This is what it is. You make the final decision, but I’m here to advise you. To say look, don’t do that.”
ExP: So how did you find the manager?
Irby: They were the ones who put the group together.
ExP: Management wasn’t affiliated with the label at all?
Irby: No, but the deal was already made.
ExP: So he (Vinnie Bell) had a relationship with the label.
Irby: The deal was already done (to form the group).
ExP: So in some sense do you think there was a conflict of interest?
Irby: Yep. I didn’t know nothin’ about that though... I didn’t have no idea what that meant until I started growin’ up and started paying attention to the business on my own. The manager didn’t teach me that.
ExP: Do you think some of these issues contributed to the fading away of the group at all?
Irby: What happened with that was growing apart and everybody having different avenues they wanted to do. Motivational differences. What started it was that accident we had on I-95 in Florida which left one of my members a paraplegic (Roderick “Pooh” Clark). That’s when everything changed. Then we had to get another group member. My other group member Russell (Neal), fell out of it. He didn’t want to do it no more. So we got another member, trying to keep the name alive goin’ on. Then we went to different management. The guys got together to fire the old manager. For the record (Vinnie Bell), I didn’t wanna fire you. At the time it was five minors. So you got 4 guys with parents from Texas very influential. I’m the only one from the city with my mom. So we were from the outside but in at the same time. We had a majority rule. I’m not the majority. For the record, that’s what ruled it.
ExP: Did Vinnie ever know that?
Irby: Vinnie was hurt. It really hurt him. I mean, he didn’t understand where it came from. I understand where it came from. There was some conniving things that it seemed he did, but in my sense, he didn’t do nothin’ wrong.
ExP: He put you on.
Irby: Yeah, it could have been worked out. He put it together. He started it.
ExP: So a lot of these different issues, it was based on how old the guys were.
Irby: That’s why I don’t recommend kids at a young age get involved in this stuff. You have a parent, or a manager, that generally cares about the artist. He cares about you. He wants to see you be a success, so he can be a success.
ExP: So what did you do after the group?
Irby: Chill. Chill hard. Pretty much fell off the face of the earth to be honest with you. This is the first interview I’m having on this level. I didn’t know how to bounce back. I was lost. Here you see yourself on top 10 countdown, to not even knowin’ the next time you’re going to even see a video. Then you got family and friends that look up to you. You leave the neighborhood, then you find yourself back in the neighborhood. When you go back to the neighborhood, you don’t want to put people in your business. They don’t understand. I felt like a failure. At the time I had a kid, my oldest. I wanted to be a role model to him. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I just got lost. I can’t even tell where I was at. I can’t even tell what I was doin’.
ExP: So what turned it all around for you?
Irby: 2 years ago I got shot 5 times. When I woke up in the hospital I see my whole family around me. That’s when I decided… I spoke to my wife and said “I’m here for a reason, and I think I found it. And it’s here to do this music. What we gonna do is, we’re going to do this as a family. You’re going to have to let me rock. You have to take care of the kids, and let me do what I do.”
ExP: So she let you do it.
Irby: I’m here now brother.
ExP: That’s good news. So you feel as if you found yourself after the incident?
Irby: Yeah. Layin’ there on the ground…Have you ever found yourself late at night, 3 o’clock in the morning watching “The Honeymooners”, and you know you’re tired and you’re going like this (gesturing nodding off)…but of course you know you’re going to go to sleep, and you’re going to wake up. That’s how it feels, but NOT knowin’ you’re going to wake up. That’s the worst feelin’ of my life. That’s what it was. And when I woke up, I was like “I gotta do this.” It was my second breath. "I have to do for my family NOW." Everything in my life, I take it like that.
ExP: So how did you get back into the music industry?
Irby: Already before the incident I had Bronx Most Wanted Entertainment in circulation. Right after the incident I got real in depth recording and writing. Got right back in the studio and bangin’ it out. Getting’ a team together, goin’ hard on everything. They used to try to stop me. I was down and out for like 9 months. My family, attorney and everything was like “you need more time” (to recouperate from being shot). Nine months was too much time for me already. I was limpin’ around. My wind changed. Even today. After getting shot everything changes. This shoulder this is all fake in here. I used to work out all the time. I can’t do that no more. One arm is stronger than the other. When I walk these guys (pointing to rest of his team) walk way ahead of me. Even singin’. My breathing is different. Here I am recordin’ and I can’t really breath, but I’m getting’ it in.
ExP: How was building a team around you different than before and how did you use what you learned business wise?
Irby: Well this is my stuff now. Before this was a group thing, where it was, “Hey guys what do you feel about this? What do you feel about that?” And everybody say in or out. It’s what I want to do. That’s the difference.
ExP: As far as handling artists, how do you take the way you were managed and use what you have learned?
Irby: If you go to our website, www.bxmostwanted.com, on the home page, it says everything you just said. So not only I am a CEO, I’m an artist, man. So I know how to treat artists. I know what they want, I know how to talk to them to get them to do what they need to do, and they respect me, because I’m not just a man in a suit. I’ve been where they want to be. They know I’ll do good by them. Like I said, the way I was treated I wouldn’t do guys like I was treated. The way I work, I don’t present a contract until…
ExP: Until what?
Irby: Until I know that’s goin’ down, nah what I’m sayin?
Irby: It’s not “I’m going to work with him because I gotta”, contractually have to do it. If you want to leave me because you feel I’m not doin’ it, that’s okay. As soon as I get it on paper, and I find out this guy’s a jerk, I’m stuck with a jerk. With no contract, if I don’t want to work with you, I don’t want to work with you. No problem. "See you." But with a contract, you stuck with the person. Then it’s I buy him out or you buy me out. I don’t want to do that.
- Debbie Egel
ExP: So you’re here with your attorney, Debbie Egel. Debbie, how did you come across meeting Treston?
Egel: I met him through a mutual friend, and we were friends. He told me in the very beginning he was a recording artist and he had a lot of hits. At first I didn’t care, I was like, "Whatever". So I Googled him, and I was like “holy mackerel”. But we had a friendship that wasn’t based in any of it.
ExP: So how has your life been affected by Treston as far as your representation of him?
Egel: I have to say, when he first met me, he said “I’m a man of substance.” I thought that was very odd he said that because cool people don’t go around saying that. I thought “what did that mean, and what did that mean to him?”. He truly is. I think he’s one of the most amazing man.
I look over to another of Irby’s team, his friend and DJ Gabriel.
ExP: And you’re his DJ?
Irby: He does my engineering to.
ExP: What is the one quality that makes Treston who he is?
DJ: He has the kindest heart. Just one of a kind person.
Egel: Loyalty. He has a true sense of loyalty. In a world where people are about, "I know what you’ve done for me today, now what can you do for me tomorrow."...where did he go to launch (Bronx Most Wanted Entertaiment)?
Irby: Back to the hood.
Egel: Back to where he started. We had a big block party with clowns and music for the kids, t shirts, food. He’s like this is an annual event, because I’m bringin’ it back.
Irby: News cameras were there an everything.
- Irby interviewed by media for giving back to the Bronx community.
Egel: When I think about what he said about going back to the hood and how it pained him that he was a role model, when he got back on his feet, where did he go? Back to the hood.
ExP: After all that time do you feel some vindication?
Irby: I’m not finished, I’m still goin’! I came back and I was down and out, rockin’ the same sneakers AFTER Hi-Five. All my people know, I was on the corner with y’all. Y’all know. I dusted myself off, I came back, and look at me now, you can do it too.
I remember having people talking about me when I came back. Like, “Look at this guy, what a waste.” He had everything. I took that, and that helped motivate me. That right there also helped me too, by launching in the Bronx again to show those people.
ExP: So this has been an awesome story of a rise and fall, and resurrection. What is your advice to child performers, their parents, and people back in the Bronx?
Irby: For the youngins, I recommend you get your education first and learn what you want to get in first. I don’t think you should get into the industry first and not know nothin’ about it. Get your education first and have somethin’ to fall back on in case it doesn’t work out. While you are in school, educate yourself on your craft.
Irby: As a parent, if you don’t know, find someone you do know that you trust instead of making decisions without knowing. Don’t look at a contract and think you know what the words mean when you really don’t know. That’s what I would do.
ExP: For anyone back home in New York, the Bronx about their aspirations no matter what it is?
Irby: Never give up, keep up, and keep God first. Dream, and dream on. Never quit. There are going to be some times when you feel you have to. There are some times where I thought I had to quit. Thanks to having people around (like friend Gabriel) saying don’t quit. I can’t do it without my team. Without all the pieces, the puzzle can’t be put together.
ExP: Thanks for sharing your time. Let the audience know what you have now...
Irby: Yo this is Treston Irby aka Tru$, and I have ExP!
Check out Treston Irby's next single "Everything" and download on iTunes!
Exavier B. Pope, Esq. is an entertainment and sports attorney and legal blogger for Chicago Now. All opinions expressed are those solely of Mr. Pope.
(c) 2011, Exavier Pope
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