By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
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Few people on the local hip-hop scene have a more storied past than Russell Giraud's. In 1988, Giraud introduced the first all-rap radio program on St. Louis airwaves, "African Alert," which aired on KDHX (FM 88.1) until 1992. Soon thereafter, he built a recording studio in his home, a former schoolhouse in north St. Louis, where he produced and engineered beats for local artists. When Nelly and the St. Lunatics got kicked out of their original studio, Giraud agreed to record them; these tracks later appeared on the Grammy-nominated, gazillion-selling Country Grammar. More recently he worked with the Trak Starz on regional hits by Da Hol' 9, not to mention "Right Thurr" by Chingy, which was, until very recently, the No. 1 song in the country. Despite his impressive résumé, Giraud has spent the past decade barely scraping by while he's watched his former collaborators get rich and famous. He's seldom gotten full credit for his contributions -- he's not even listed as engineer on Chingy's Jackpot, although he probably deserves to be called co-producer -- and he's lucky if he even gets paid.
"Between the ages of eighteen and 25, anything is possible," Giraud muses over coffee at Meshuggah. "No one can tell you otherwise. By the time you hit 25, you start realizing that not everything goes your way. By the time you're 40, you're just like, 'Let me find my little thing that I can do every day and be cool with it.' I'm 40, and I know it. It's hard for me to see people with their dreams and not go, 'Yeah, just wait,' but you've got to sit back and say, 'More power to you'; you've got to feed that energy."
Right now he's got all his hopes -- and a considerable amount of his money -- invested in a 21-year-old female rapper named Ahdedott (pronounced Ah-dee-dot). As her interim manager and executive producer, he thinks he may have finally found an artist who won't abandon him at the first sign of success. Giraud met the Lincoln University junior just three months ago, when he was still on good terms with the Trak Starz. "The project kind of evolved," he explains. He originally planned to develop the project for the Trak Starz, hoping they could spin it off on their deal with Capitol, but they had a falling-out. "A lot of talented people are giving their services, all hoping to get paid on the bet. It's tough for me because right now I have the most invested financially."
Although she's practically half his age, Ahdedott (whose given name is Deirdre Vaughn) has been burned by many a hustler in the nine years she's been spitting rhymes. "There was one group that had a studio in the side of a liquor store," she recalls, laughing. "They called themselves Rough and Ready, but they were these two old guys, past fortysomething. I went in the studio, and they just had a big-screen TV and a keyboard, so I asked, 'Where's the equipment?' They said they were working on it." Another local company, she says, wanted to do an under-the-table deal. "I didn't want to. They thought I was young and didn't know what was going on, but don't let the age thing fool you!"
When Giraud first heard her tracks, he winced at the poor sound quality of the demo but immediately picked up on the young MC's charisma. "You can tell when someone is confident in what they're doing," he says. "It's not like, 'Hey, are people gonna like this?' It's like, 'Yeah, people are gonna like this!'"
Ahdedott, for her part, had no idea that Giraud had worked on so many high-profile projects. "I don't trust people easily, but Russ was one of the first people I met who wanted success as bad as I wanted it," she explains. "I'm glad I learned about who he worked with later, so I could appreciate him on his own terms."
If anyone believes more in Ahdedott's potential than Giraud, it's Ahdedott herself. "I'm planning on superstar status," she says, without a hint of irony. "A lot of people in St. Louis make music for St. Louis. I make music for the world. Everybody's gonna love me."
Big talk, to be sure, but Radar Station wouldn't be surprised if the prediction comes true. The combination of her brash rhymes and veteran producer Supa Flexxx's party-starting beats seems failproof. It's straight-up feel-good music, but it's also smart and funny, with the inspired zaniness of Missy Elliott, the surreal flow of Eminem, the raucous energy of Lil' Jon. Don't believe the hype? Check out www.ahdedott.com, download "Chicky Ha Ha" or "My Feet Hurt" and hear for yourself.