Ned Wellbery is a serious guy in a ridiculous business.
That’s how many describe the 35-year-old independent concert promoter who specializes in hip hop. Rappers, friends, colleagues in the industry. Everyone agrees Wellbery, a Dorchester resident, is serious about his business. He has a brooding countenance, and there are not a lot of smiles. He locks eye contact and speaks in a frank tone about the reality of his business.
“He’s the man, it’s almost a monopoly,” said Roxbury rapper Ed O.G., a longtime friend of Wellbery’s. “If you’re not cool with him, who do you go to promote a show? He’s the only thing smoking in town.”
Wellbery has worked in the music promotion industry for the last 13 years, for about the last 11 he’s run Leedz Edutainment, his own promotion company known for booking hip hop shows of significance in and around Boston. Up until January, he was also the booking agent for Central Square club Middle East, where he booked not just hip hop shows, but a wide array of musical acts.
For Boston rapper Dutch ReBelle, any Boston hip hop artist worth his or her salt has to go through Leedz to land gigs when they’re starting out.
“I’ve known him since probably 2009-2010. He was the guy, you had to get on his radar to get any shows,” she said. “If you want to have a credible show, you had to go through Leedz, that was just the word.”
When Wellberry first entered the industry he was passionate about the music, but now it’s more about the business. Yes, there are Boston rappers he will not book. No, he is not interested in naming names. No, he doesn’t get starstruck. Yes, he has stories. There was the time recently when Stitches, a Florida rapper, showed up late to his gig, parked his tour bus in the middle of the street outside the venue and threw Wellbery the keys to move it. There was the time rapper Jim Jones instigated a riot.
“That sucked,” said Wellbery, who split his youth between Georgetown, Mass. and southern New Hampshire before attending Northeastern University in Boston. “It was like “Apocalypse Now” with all the bombs going off everywhere. Fights were blowing up everywhere. You were walking through chaos.”
Hobbies? Well, he works 60-plus hours a week. He is a movie buff, he concedes.
“That’s probably something I need to work on, my personal life,” said Wellbery.
Now, he’s currently looking to open his own club somewhere in the city limits. He won’t say where. He’s currently considering different locations, he said.
“Boston needs another independent club,” he said. “I’m doing my best to try and make that happen. That’s my next move. When that happens, we don’t know.”
If anyone can pull that off, it’s Wellbery, said ReBelle. “People know him as the guy you gotta know or the guy you have to pay. Everyone knows he’s good at what he does."
ReBelle said she could not deny that Wellbery might be the most influential person on the local hip hop scene.
“At the end of the day, if he doesn’t know who you are or if he’s not trying to book you, that definitely says something,” she said. “It’s just business. It’s not personal. It means you suck.”
“You just don’t have it,” she said.
Wellbery’s success is in many ways a result of his willingness to deal in a specialty niche that can pose unique headaches, said Jason Trefts, a friend of his who is now the booking agent for The Middle East.
“There’s a reason why he’s the only one doing that stuff,” he said. “It’s pretty aggravating. I don’t like booking hip hop. There’s a lot of politics to it. The city wants to up the rents, the insurance rates can be higher. There’s a lot of extra things that go with hip hop. Lots of venues won’t even book it.”
He added, “It’s hard not to admire the amount of shows he does. He does a lot of huge shows. It’s hard not to be impressed.”
Trefts acknowledges that Wellbery has ruffled feathers in Boston’s hip hop community.
“Anytime you can distribute opportunities and you’re in control of these big shows where there’s a lot of money, anyone who is not benefitting from that is going to be upset,” said Trefts.
Wellbery acknowledges some people in Boston hip hop have hated him. Some have come back around.
“It’s kind of a Dark Knight feeling,” he said. “First you’re the hero, then you set a standard, then you’re a villain, you’re the system. I came in here as an independent guy building a system. Once you are the system, people might say ‘(expletive) this guy.’”
He added, “At the end of the day, it’s all just business.