Joe Robinson and his company APX Management, which specializes in consulting and management for the arts and entertainment industries, has been making quite a name for itself in Detroit.
They’ve helped raise the profile of Motor City rappers like Earlly Mac and Prada Leary, collaborated with social media marketing star 40oz Van on the Detroit edition of his infamous 40oz Bounce parties, and regularly organize shows for its artists at SXSW. In 2019, APX shows no sign of slowing down, releasing new EPs by artists like Supakaine and Lana LaDonna.
And they’ve also begun giving back to the community in innovative ways.
In the last few years, Robinson has launched a “Buy Land” campaign centered on music and apparel to encourage Black property ownership. He's also co-founded a running group called WeRun313 that’s been bringing together African American runners and placed several top finishers at the Detroit Grand Prix 5000 5K race at Belle Isle this past May.
Robinson's efforts have been shaped by his experience as a lifelong Detroiter.
“I’m right here with the plight, the violence, the $27,000 median income, the abandoned homes, the Big Three auto industry crashing,” he says. “It’s self-love and community right in the middle of these issues.”
He came up on Detroit’s east side in the ‘90s and 2000s, in an area along State Fair Avenue not far from Dequindre Street and Eight Mile Road. Although the neighborhood had its challenges, his family was well respected and neighbors were supportive of one another.
Raised by his hardworking mom Bernita, a single parent, who held a variety of jobs from a nursing home to a Suzuki parts plant, Robinson also had a close relationship with his uncle, who owned a bar and several properties around the city.
Robinson got his first taste of entrepreneurship at 11 years old, when he sold two fitted caps given to him by his cousin to another kid in his neighborhood. A few years later, he was buying and selling sneakers out of his college dorm room while majoring in physics at Wayne State. Deciding to focus his energies more fully on business, he left WSU after only a short time there.
Robinson’s big break came while working at a downtown clothing shop called Spectacles. After the store’s owner asked him to bottom line a music event, he ran into Earrly Mac through a twist of fate and convinced him to play the show. That chance meeting led to an invitation by Capitol Park Records, where he soon got to know a who’s who of Detroit hip-hop artists including Big Sean and Street Lord Juan.
Sensing Robinson’s business savvy, Earlly Mac asked him to become his manager. Their first collaboration on the 2014 song “Something Crazy,” which also featured R&B singer Sebastian Mikael and was produced by Icepic, who soon became an APX regular. From there, the lineup of artists in Robinson’s circle expanded to include the likes of lyricists Supakaine and Prada Leary, as well as producer W$ Kharri.
Working with Robinson, things began to pick up for APX's artists. They began to tour and make appearances on albums by established names like Big Sean and Slum Village. In 2013, Robinson decided to form an LLC and give the work he was doing a proper title, naming it after the word "apex," a reference to his high aspirations.
In the past few years, APX has added artists like IceMane, Bun Lee, GT, and Perrier Rosewood to its roster. And from 2015 to 2018, the company even ran its own audio studio in Southfield, though the company's artists have shifted the recording side of things to L.A.
And while it’s probably stretch to classify a smack-talking song like Lana LaDonna’s “Froggy” conscious hip-hop, there’s an undeniable thread of individual and community engagement embodied in the works of many APX artists.
This is perhaps most notable on 2018's “Big Friends” album, a collaboration with Big Mearl Records featuring a slew of APX artists speaking out about the benefits of land acquisition and financial empowerment. The Earlly Mac song “Flip Mo’,” which features Perrier Rosewood, for example, talks about buying homes and renovating them for profit.
The album is part of Robinson’s “Buy Land” campaign, which also features hats and T-shirts emblazoned with the phrase: “Buy Land Because God Ain’t Making No More.”
The APX entrepreneur first heard the slogan from real estate mogul Jay Morrison while he was listening to the syndicated radio show The Breakfast Club. Galvanized by that phrase, which originates from a Mark Twain quote, Robinson decided to put it on a shirt. Soon others wanted to buy them and the campaign snowballed from there.
Beyond the slogan, though, the campaign also emerged from the challenges Robinson has faced as an emerging business owner. Chief among them was a lack of access to capital.
In researching ways to raise funding, the idea of property ownership started to appeal to him, especially in Detroit which is known for its abundance of relatively inexpensive real estate.
“Anyone can do this. There’s no degree. There’s no qualification to owning property,” says Robinson. “I was looking at the returns, the residual incomes, the positive cash flow, the return on investments. They pretty much mean the same thing: money that you’re making in your sleep.”
Robinson has bought numerous properties around the city of Detroit. Although he wouldn’t go into specific numbers, he’s focusing on a 13-unit property on Detroit’s east side purchased through a community fund through his Buy Land real estate acquisition group. The entrepreneur is a huge supporter of communities pooling their resources to purchase land and empower themselves.
“The way to achieve anything is through community,” he says, “Because it’s easier to raise money that way and easier to benefit a large group of people. You’re wholesaling the benefit of your people. You’re doing it all at once. “
And Robinson hasn't been standing still either.
In May of this year, he launched the WeRun313 run club with co-founder Lance Woods. The club numbers more than 175 members. According to the Michigan Chronicle, it’s now the fastest-growing run club in the Detroit area. Woods and Robinson's efforts to bring together African American runners with WeRun313 was recognized with a Spirit of Detroit award by Detroit's City Council earlier this month.
Running is a longtime passion for Robinson, who really started to get serious about it three years ago. Both he and Woods had both tried to start run groups on their own but nothing ever clicked until this year, when things took off.
Woods, a youth development director with the Future Project at Detroit’s Cody High School, feels he couldn’t have asked for a better co-founder than Robinson for the club.
“Joe is as real as they come,” he says. “He’s extremely down-to-earth and has the ability to connect with anyone to bring people together and empower them to have more confidence within. He’s a great man with a good heart, and people can feel that when they meet him.”
We Run 313 co-founders Joe Robinson and Lance Woods. Photo by Nick Hagen.
Participation in WeRun313 is free. The group meets three times a week: Tuesdays for a 2-mile run in Midtown, Thursdays for 5K or 10K runs at the Dequindre Cut, and Sundays for 8- to 15-mile runs on Belle Isle. Occasionally, the group also does small pop-up events where they’ll meet up at Black-owned businesses, run, and return to patronize the establishments.
Robinson hopes his efforts will help to build community in Detroit in a lasting way.
"I want people to value our future, to value our next generation," he says. “I’m working to be an example of what a community leader should be. And [that means] empowering the people around me."