Rolling Stone Interview
F.A.Q. Page | Casting Page

RS: We’ve not done an interview with a model agency director before so this is completely new and welcomed territory.
If you’re in the modeling field you know the name TOPOP. What we’d like to know we’ll discuss here with the founder, Nelson.

“Please excuse me, since high school most people call me by my whole name Honey…”

RS: Ok, that’s interesting?

“I am a native Californian; I attended Saint Elizabeth, in Oakland, California. At St. Liz there was a very competitive fashion atmosphere, at all times, like ten times that of the Mean Girls.”

RS: You serious?

“Very serious. Although I was the short fat dude, I was “in” there were only 3 of us, William James, he looked like a light brown, light eyed Richard Gere only better and Tony Hamilton, the super basketball player, All-American quarterback, light skinned, ‘Good-Hair’ Billy Dee Williams with the knock out smile, only better, and little ode me.

I got into the habit of calling myself by my whole name like James Bond, it made me feel more responsible, like my ‘family name’ was on the line, then all 3 of us started doing it and the entire school followed. I started it.

Shoot we were wearing Armani and Versace in high school! I’d wear linen pants, with Greek style espadrilles, Tony Hamilton had a pair of leather pants, we went far beyond Polo shirts, Calvin Klein jeans or argyle patterned socks to shopping from the International Male catalog or visiting Wilkes Bashford in San Francisco still one of the most expensive clothing stores in the country.

It was half about the grandiose of spending over the top amounts, if your parents had it and my parents did, onto being knowledgeable about fashion. I began even using some of my mother’s sweaters, and reading both GQ and Vogue cover to cover, kids had to steal to keep up with us…”

RS: For the sake of the article, I’m just gonna’ call you Nelson, if that’s ok…” “Whatever, Dude”

RS: How did you get into the modeling business?

My story is a popular one, probably because I’ve been telling it around the country for so long but it really started with the music…

I started just with a real love for classic Rock n’ Roll music, my big cousins on both sides of my family loved Rock music.
My big cousins John & Walter Holloway were like the first ever “black rockers” in Oakland they went to Castlemont high school with the girls from the Pointer Sisters. Dude, they’d smoke out all day and night, playing electric guitars in the house while my God Mother- Nanny was gone.

They were listening, practically studying Hendrix, they instilled a love for Hendrix and rock music in me, and these guys are to this day personal friends with the band AC/DC and others from having scored for them for over 30 years.

I grew up listening to Hendrix, Janis Joplin, the Mamma’s& Pappa’s, 3 Dogg Night, the Beach Boys stuff like that which turned into Fleetwood Mac, Journey, Hall&Oates, AreoSmith, Def Leppard, Tears4Fears, Elton John and my boys Van Halen.

Dude when I took Shirley, a summer girl friend to see Run D.M.C.’s first big national “Rap” concert called Raising Hell in 1986 it was a joke to me. She had begged me to go to this concert for weeks; she wore a pink thong, skintight leggings, high heels and did whatever I asked.

I never thought rap would make it, I was the guy laughing in Todd’s face on the back of an AC Transit bus so by the time we started making it in Atlanta and we bumped into each other again he was laughing at me.

By then he called himself ‘2 Short’ and was a real business man, he had a house, a car, and a studio before I did.

RS: So you know ‘2 Short’ that’s cool, when did you move to Atlanta?

I was married fresh outta’ Tuskegee when we moved to Atlanta back in 1988. Man Atlanta was a lot different than it is now, I mean white boys were running around in white Ford pick up trucks with what seemed like state issued Confederate Flags.

Waving it around proudly yelling “Nigger go home, go home you Nigger’s” Dude they were red necks, looking for a fight, serious, out in the open bigotry, in the board day light right down the street from where we are now and they wasn’t trying to act black- no ‘whiggas’ or saying nigga’, it was ‘NIGGER’!

It was crazy back then but we were sick in love, Belinda was one of the finest black girls I‘d ever seen, we meet at college, at Tuskegee. Everyday I’d wake up an hour before she did, just to look at her. I was amazed I got a chick so fine, her butt was the firmest, the roundest and so pretty and her waist was so small, she was so country with an ultimate coca cola bottle shape.

I just stared at her while she slept, like all the time Dude!


RS: “Black Girl” You almost say that like you’re not African American or…something?”

I’m Black- Dude. I’m from California, that’s all, what I’m saying is that I literally grew up on a private street, in the Oakland Hills, a near 80% white community in the seventies.

I grew up with a horse ranch across the street, camping, hiking, surfing, archery, expensive summer camps just one in many different “black” American experiences.
There are more doctors and lawyers and professionals in my immediate family, that Dude my profession is kinda’ looked down on. I come from true black stock, people who speak proper English and take pride in their appearance, homes, cars, marriages, children, and go to church on the regular, give blood, read & write well, registered voters with party affiliations, my nanny was a long term member of the N.A.A.C.P. like 40 plus years, people that own shit, Phd’s and Judges…can you feel that kinda’ black? Black!

RS: “I was just asking Nelson?”

Had my mother not opted for Tuskegee Institute across the country in Alabama, which I eminently did not want to go, I most definitely would have gone to UC Santa Cruz, smoked out, surfed, knocked up little blonde betty and would have never ever had a need to ever leave Cali’.

RS: “I want to be a little cutting edge, as you know we’ve not done an interview, such as this before. Are all the stories about you true? Like having thrown people out of your office, blacklisted another modeling businesses, yelled at models, or even dated underage girls?
Your rock days, the drugs? I’ve also heard you sometimes have a bad attitude about other modeling businesses?”

“Wow!? You’ve either done some homework or been talking to the wrong people?”

“Believe what you need to believe the fact of the matter is I started TOPOP out of my freaking house in 1996!” I’ve got hundreds of models PAID modeling assignments, I can prove it and any body with a brain knows it, so people can say what they want. Grauteed parents will continue to find and come to TOPOP for modeling training that matters, and to be placed in the correct direction to actually get paid modeling experience.

As for everything else take with a grain of salt dude.

Yes, I’ve hung up the phone on ignorant parents, challenged others to call the Better Business Bureau or the President! Yes, I’ve yelled at a model or two because of the same thing I’ve laughed with Tyra Banks about. Listen the 1st of the Golden 3 Rules of Modeling, is being on time. That rule will always be applied at all times! If the so called ‘person’ calling themselves a model can not be on time to a designated place at a designated time they can not be a model!

The thing is in 2001 when we went out of business, about the time she started fooling around and we started getting a divorce. When I closed TOPOP and we sold our house there were maybe 5 modeling agencies and we all knew each other.

After spending a year on Panama City Beach trying to reconcile with my wife I return to Atlanta in 2004 and the landscape changed. Dude there are over 280 male photographers, another 151 casting, agencies, and management companies and alike. Unbelievable shit!

Fake companies on Criagslist telling models they’ll tell them how much the job pays after the casting, saying the money is TBA, TBC, ABCD coming up with abbreviations that don’t mean shit.

Credible clients know the exact amount they’re going to pay model-talent months in advance before the casting ever takes place.

These “New Jacks” simply use trail & error, any lie to get the models telephone number and sell them “Booty Glam” pictures with no hope of ever getting a job. 99% of these so called companies have never ever got one model a job, less on done anything in our industry, it’s becoming like L.A. scam upon scam, upon scam.

So yeah, I’ve busted out as many as a can, I make it a point to continue to educate both the model and the parent before they spend thousands of dollars and never even see real casting information.

We restlessly email anybody stupid enough to continue to post ads. for models but they rarely reply; because they know they’re not really looking to hire models, they’re looking to charge models. If we email you twice a week, it’s not spam- it’s targeted because you’re dumb-ass continues to post ads. supposedly looking to hire models!

I’ve said to many people, TOPOP is not a “black owned” business it’s just a business and I have run it as such almost since it started.

I was no angel. I didn’t grow up in the ‘hood but we still had to walk down the hill into East Oakland everyday, so it’s still in me. In the old days, when there would be problems, it would be nothing to tell Gino to accompany me somewhere, as soon as they saw me at their office or especially their home, the apologies started.

RS: Oh, my, Who was Gino, Nelson?

Relax Dude, Gino was this real thug dude I meet back in Oakland at the Sizzler, I was a waiter, he was a cook, the cook, with the permed hair, the slang, who everybody loved. The cat who’s real business, was you know-drugs, but he had to had a regular job as a cover.
His little brother was killed in a drive by, and I guess I looked like him; Gino would do anything for me.

I’d wait in the car, where they could see me, while Gino did whatever I asked him to do, and that’d be that- Oakland Style, we’d go over there.

I shot images of The Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, just months before his murder.
Anybody can be touched.

There’s still a Stripper tattooed on my right arm from the P.C.B. days.

I referred them and partied with members of AreoSmith in Roosters, then one of the sleaziest honky-tonk strip clubs on Buford highway, which turned into a black club then closed. But we did what all men want to do, to be The Guy- only to sneak into my own house at 6AM in the morning to my gorgeous wife who was screaming and crying.

I’ve sincerely must have been the poster boy for living a Sex-Drugs-& Rock n’ Roll life as I nearly OD’ once; would I recommend that lifestyle to my students at the Boys & Girls Clubs or to my own daughter- Hell No!

Life is a learning process, I prayed as an 11year old kid that God allow me to learn & grow- I inherently knew my path was going to be unique. I think that’s what I’ve done. I’ve been 100% clean for 3 years now, I’ve lost nearly 85 pounds, I jog 2 miles 4 days a week, religiously eat my oatmeal, pineapples and pray. And Honey-Child- I’m still rocking, still backstage at least 4 of the biggest concerts every summer with my friends.

You know-Joan Jett and I are exactly the same age, you should see her abs.

Been there, over done it, still got all the Tee-shirts but that was a long time ago…

I love God 100% I do.

I love young people too. I’m out- I’m out in the open. Shoot, John Casablanca’s was dating Stephanie Seymour at 16! People forget so quickly.

Young beautiful girls and boys are always going to be around me, I could change my private number a hundred times, but as long as we actually get models jobs they’re gonna’ keep coming, they’re gonna’ keep calling.

If you get upset seeing me in the dimly lit corner booth at Goldfish, black as I am, as successful as I am, with a stunning 18 year old Marist blonde bimette and we’re having fun; move to another country! This is America going on freaking 2010!

RS: “Bravo! I didn’t think you’d touch that; Nelson when did you pick up a camera?”

“I turned pro back in 1995, that was year I sold my first photo to a restaurant I was waiting tables at called Café Tu’Tu’ Tango in Buckhead.

The manager came to me and asked me could they buy my shot of the ‘Tango Dancers” and I was so impressed, I felt so honored, I was like yeap, then he asked me how much, and I blushed. I was stuttering, I said, um, $50.00 or something, he ran, I mean literally ran upstairs to the office and came back with the cash.

With a little maneuvering and years of trail &error, I was published in a shit load of magazines including Rolling Stone, before I even knew what public domain or even a model release was.

I would wait tables around shooting concerts, Buckhead was so hot, there was no where else to go in Atlanta, LuLu’s Bait Shack, Tango, Azio’s, Steam house, Bellbottoms, Fado, all the bars, restaurants and the hottest clubs so everybody came there.

RS: “You must have met many people? Make any friends?”

I waited on a lot and the stardust didn’t hurt, management started giving me the celebrities at work too because I was over it and treated them like regular people, didn’t ask for autographs besides most other waiters didn’t know who the fuck they were anyway, especially if they were wasted.

Nobody knew how to deal with wasted stars better than me...

I meet Liza, LA Reid, Gregg Allman, Lynard Skynard, Hootie & the BlowFish, James Brown, Maddonna when she dated Dennis Rodman and many others.
Dude she was his toy, she couldn’t stay off of him, grabbing him all underneath the table…

I really tended to bond with people who were around my age, I guess ‘cause everybody was on the ‘come up’ so when I meet Lisa “Left Eye” Lopes (T.L.C.) she was just so down to earth.

Lisa had me laughing and just by coincidence I bumped into her every where after that, like I was shooting Freaknik stuff down at the old 112 which used to be off Piedmont Rd. in this empty shopping lot, and she was there. Then I’d be at Lenox Mall, that was the high end mall, only people with big money even went into Phipps, not like today and she was there.

Before I knew it we had become friends, I remember Lisa saying to me, you always got that camera with you uh? I want you to take a picture of me, we blowing up, in later years she hired me to shoot her Foundation.

RS: “Her Foundation?”

Lisa had a blood disease called lupus and I shot her foundation’s coming out function it was really cool, it was the last time I ever saw her in person.

I don’t understand, what about Modeling? How did you get into that?

I waited on Iman the super model, and she really invested her self in me, she answered my tremendous amount of questions and basically just encouraged me.
By the time I opened TOPOP back in 1996 we already had kids coming to me for photos and wanting to hear Rock stories, have me sign the back of the photo like I was a big shot.

RS: “Top-Pop? I’ve been meaning to ask you, Nelson? Come on? It sounds like some Japanese cartoon or firecracker and the way the receptionist and you guys answer the phone, is kinda’ funny; How did you come up with that name?”

“Dude, if you weren’t so busy being busy you actually simply read…Just read the website, I encourage young people all the time, to get a love for reading…reading matters Dude.
One of the very last things Mattie taught me while I was being trained as an agent, was to learn everything I possibly could on the Modeling Business, everything. I submerged myself in research of the history of this business...I read!”

In high school, I walked up to my friend named Paul the day after John Lennon was killed and he just fell apart, Paul asked me in shock, ‘NelsonJones! you don’t know who John Lennon is; not you Nelson?”
Shit I knew who Zeppelin was and I had heard of the Beatles but this Lennon guy, nope…When I said no, he told me to fuck off and cried right outta’ school, Paul didn’t come back to school for another week.

I figured he must be very important to Rock ‘n Roll so I found out everything I could about John Lennon.

John used to pump up the band sociologically, so he made up this phrase to say, he’d scream “Where are we going fella’s? They’d say “To the Top!” John would then say, “Where is that, fella’s?” and they all repeat, “To the Topper Most of the Popper Most” I took that phrase and created Top-Pop from it.

RS: “Now that’s a cool story; A real Rock in Roll agency uh?
Rock Stories, you’ll probably got a few, uh?”

I’ve been parting with Rockers’ since I was 21, from Huey Lewis in the News and Night Ranger back home in Alameda, to signing for James Brown and kissing his hand then telling him what an honor it was to meet him and what he meant to music and Rock n’ Roll, to backstage getting high with so many people, the strippers, the coke parties and all the stuff I’ve seen.

Dude I’ll never forget talking with L.L. Cool J back stage while the Time, that was a group Prince helped put together with Morris Day as front man, was on stage and four little girls walked up to us.

RS: “Nelson I know who the Time is…!?

I’m sorry I thought that might be before your,

RS: "Yeah I know- time. Funny. Nelson Jones, made a funny.”

The way they waved their hands and said their name, it looked so practiced it was corny but they looked good.

RS: “Who were they Nelson?”

Destiny’s Child. I met them when they were a foursome; back when they lived in Atlanta, I think that was back in the early nineties, I shot them were they were famous- a threesome.

I’ll never forget the night I partied with TuPac, at a strip club, the very first club to ever hire me as a photographer on Buford Highway called the Follies. Pac was cool, he took all the finest white girls out of the club that night, straight into the limo, parked on the side of the club.

RS: “What happen?”

I couldn’t go, I was married and we lived right around the corner, Belinda would have had a fit, and by then I’d seen everything and knew exactly what was going to happen after the club.

RS: “Nelson what about girls…um, you know how many? Any details a brotha wanna give?”

Oh! Shit now I’ma “Brotha”, Dude you wildin’… I don’t know probably said too much already, maybe I should lay it down for prosperity-um, whatever?

I’m not a virgin if that’s what you mean, came on to Christina Aguerila and got so nervous I froze, girl’s like a “Song Bird from heaven”; I love me some Christina! I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for the California bubbly blonde, I mean the business doesn’t reflex that, it’s exactly the opposite but that’s just how I’ve always been. It like the more unattainable she is the more I feel like a conqueror after getting her.

I’m a reformed very bad boy, what’d you really expect from a “Preacher’s Kid” from Oakland! I mean my personal life is 100% separate from TOPOP now-a-days, I really learned my lesson by losing a wonderful house, two cars, a super cool beautiful wife, your sanity, your sobriety and even the business for a couple of years.
I learned! I learned that there are no short-cuts to a successful life you’ve got to really put in the work. Like the old Atlantis Morissette verse from her song Jaded Little Pill “… you lose you’ll learn…”

But believe me Dude if there was a short cut to life, I would have found it!  Please believe- I would have found it!! 
I was the kid behind the scenes on everything that went down in the neighborhood, My mom said that I, let’s she how she put it, I was the most manipulative person she had ever met, parents had to call her to find out the truth of whatever it was, that happen!

In grade school I was cutting class to go buy taffy at Knowland Park, you know the city Zoo, to sell to other students when I got back- brought it for 10 cents, sold it for a quarter or to watch television at home only to sneak back into school before the end of the day. I'm the kid the principle had to drive to our house to find in grade school.

The same kid they based the main character of in a major motion picture while in junior high school at Saint Peters Lutheran in San Leandro! (Last American Virgin)
I was the kid that set other kids in motion at the Saint Elizabeth to pour liquid cement into the toilets. I once wrote an essay at school about the school that got me sent to the Dean Sister Ester and she was no joke; she almost expelled me and it was a private high school!

I was the kid who orchestrated the panty raids at Tuskegee; it was called Tuskegee Institute when I went there. I physically coheres one of the finest girls at college to take her thongs off, while I watched so I could have them as a souvenir; I had to meet the dean of the university behind that one. I was the kid who made love to the most beautiful girls and afterwards they'd always look at me, 'Like how in the world did you get me in bed!?"
If there was a short cut to life!  I would have found it!
RS: “OK…that was a mouth full, so I take it you’ve had a few

There were so many, I use to pray back in the early days that I just wanna hear once a fine girl say, “Nelson, I do annnyything you want me to do!” And really mean it. I figured out back then it was the guy who got the models a freaking paying job that was King! So needless to say, I became a very aggressive agent.

RS: “Did it ever happen? Did you take advantage?”

Dude you’re trying to get me killed or something, that was a long time ago and I heard that phrase a few times.
I just grew up, Dude I mean you can only chase the sexy little eighteen year old bimbettes for so long after a while you really do need someone who’s gonna have heard of Steely Dan or heard ‘Hey 19’. “…The Quervo-Gold, the fine Columbian, make tonight a wonderful thing…”
Shit, dude I was a published photographer in my twenties before TOPOP got started, I’ve been making a living in this industry since I was a kid.

RS: What are odd tidbits about you personally people might never guess or probably would like to know?

I knew a question like this would come and could really get me in trouble; I’m such a narcissist.

I think I must love cosmetics and toiletries like a sixteen-year-old girl ‘cause you’ll find everything in my bathroom, talk about metrosexual- everything like Noxzema to Pro-X a fifty-dollar face cream or manicure in a bottle.

My favorite color in the whole wide world is pink, like carnation pink like a little girl. In every home, the master bedroom will always look like a teenaged girls room; every girl I’ve ever had since getting divorce loves my bedroom, they laugh, they tease, but as soon as they touch that goose down pink comforter or see the pink Playboy blanket and smell the baby power it’s a wrap they never wanna’ leave! I believe your bed must be the centerpiece of a bedroom Brotha-; my bed is to die for!
My favorite fashion designer is Mr. Giorgio Armani, I’ve got the $150.00, 30 pound coffee table book, his biography and his portrait on the wall- I would sleep with that man; 500 Billion dollars!
I must have fresh flowers in my room, at least every two weeks, doesn’t matter what they are, just as long as they are colorful and make the whole room smell like flowers.
If I were to let my hair grow it would be 100% white and I still look like a kid it’s a fucking curse. I get high off of pretty girls being around; they’re like a drug for me. I’d spend so much money making a group of very fine girls happy at a mall. I still love girls not ladies, not women, but girls! Young skin, belly bottom rings, pink toe nail polish, mid-drifts, butterfly tattoos; don’t get me wrong not for dating just like their energy.

RS: “Right?”

My favorite band of all time is and will always be Journey, they’re from the Bay Area and they made us so fucking proud as kids. Favorite contemporary band of all time Van Halen, I grew up those guys. Strong second will always be S.T.P. they bring back the old Atlanta days, back when we were a young married couple, drinking and getting high as a kite all night, back when Buckhead meant LuLu’s Bait Shack, The Steam House Lounge, The World Bar, Azimoto’s, Fado, Bell Bottoms or Tango. I will always love Atlanta!

After all these years I still love fashion, I love it so much, an Armani $450.00 dope-ass shirt that was made just for me, or Levis 501 jeans that fit me just right, a crispy starched linen shirt with a sweet dark navy suit jacket I’m using as a blazer at a wine mixer where every married white guy is under dressed and they’re all complementing me.
A oversized Roberto Cavalli print so soft and silky it’s almost feminine, I guess it’ll always be in my blood. I’m still reading Vogue cover-to-cover 40 years later. Oh yeah, I hate freaking texting!

Favorite car is a Porsche Boxer- with a TOPOP personalized license plate, painted hot pink of course, favorite meal is still grilled jumbo prawns in a spinach-quatro-formuai sauce with a penne noodle prepared Al’Dente’. My favorite restaurant is called Verde but when I wanna’ impress, and I know I’ma’ knock the boots, it’s Goldfish of course. My favorite movie is still American Gigolo- television show, I haven’t watched T.V. in about 7 years other than like the Grammies or CNN but I still love Miami Vice- I own all five seasons of that bogger!
People I always wanted to meet, Jesus, Sammy Davis Jr. And Richard Pryor.

My favorite past time, you guessed it-
In the back of the v.i.p. in some dive strip club with a gorgeous little bubble-butt blonde, whose rent is overdue on her extended stay, and um, I’m flashing $300 disposable… it’s her first week.

RS: Not your first time around the block though uh, ThaKid? Some things never changed?

Yeah, not exactly, hopefully I’ve got more refined with time, “I is who: I is, I’m still Sonny, still Tha’Kid, or …

RS: Yeah, I know… Nelson Jones- Rock photographer, Owner TOPOP Entertainment Inc.

Uwh, He’s getting it…. Love ya’ Dude! Love All:: Serve All, Baby!

RS: “Last question, Nelson Jones, when did you come up with the idea to specialize in the modeling field and how would you recommend models begin building successful careers?”

TOPOP is special. TOPOP is the most popular boutique-modeling agency in Atlanta, Georgia; we always trained models, because I learned that they had to be almost robotic to make an impact.

We after almost 15 years we are still here, we specialize in both Entertainment photography for commercial publications and All-American Ethnic beginner models ages 15-25 . Simple.

The field on a local level is actually become more difficult as everybody and his momma has picked up a digital camera, but getting the model’s paying assignments remains the same shell game. You’ve got to befriend our clients almost anticipating their needs, so it’s a lot of work finding them, working within their budget then a lot of times it can be a job just getting your money from them, you know getting paid.

For the local model, there are so many books you can read; mind you watching television is a bust. America’s Next Top Model is not going to help you if you’re not a Fashion model in a primary market. Um, read Roshamba’s William’s The Idiots Guide to Modeling, that’s a good start then get the basic images done, don’t be afraid to pay, just know exactly what you need, ask questions, learn the business. Pick an agent that actually has a track record of getting people paying assignments, have an idea of what kind of model you are and how you think you should be marketed.
Don’t spin your wheels! It’s so funny it’s like when you’re young they’ve got so much energy they go to every agency, use every photographer, do everything and anything for “exposure”. When they’re older, usually they’ve been scammed and have learned the difference; so they see all the same TOPOP Models at all the legitimate castings for the paying stuff.
You’ve got to get an education just like any other business you’d enter, you’ve to be willing to educate yourself.

On any casting in a city where there’s a TOPOP location - Trust Dude you’re going to see TOPOP models at every single legit’ paying assignment!

If you go to any major Rock concert this summer, Def Leppard, Areosmith, Incubus, Motley Crue and you see the pretty shapely girls in the short-shorts giving out the bottled waters, asked ‘em, those are TOPOP promo girls.

Everybody else…. Shoot, If you’ve got 3 kids and stretch marks, two full time jobs, “plus size”, or don’t know what an email is, and ain’t never ever been on time any where, well this business ain’t for ‘ya. Modeling is youth driven. I couldn’t be a model, so many people can’t so it’s hard.

Nelson Jones is a nationally renown entertainment photographer living in Brookhaven, a community in Atlanta,GA.

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