By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
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By Kelsey McClure
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By Christian Schaeffer
By Gabriel San Roman
Jo Capo sits Chez A to Z at just after 10 a.m., sipping a Red Bull and trying to stay awake. It's a little too early for either of us to be bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, but at least the former Trackboy has a valid excuse for fatigue several reasons, in fact.
He was up last night until nearly five, working on music for local buzz rapper Potzee. Perhaps even more energy-draining, Capo has been putting in long hours for the past several months as CEO of the new Chesterfield-based label/production company Noize City Entertainment.
Unlike many music-based enterprises, Noize City focuses heavily on nurturing its artists both artistically and financially. Capo's music-industry experience (first with R&B group Abyss and then with the Trackboyz, who had a production deal through major label Def Jam), along with his approachable demeanor, give him a distinct business edge in the often-competitive hip-hop world and also make him a sympathetic boss.
"I actually produce and get my money like that," he says. "If I'm already getting half the song, why do I want a piece of yours? Why am I going to take an additional 20 percent from you?
"I just want to take care of them," he goes on. "We want them to really be serious about the business and their money and knowing how to take care. I'm still learning that. I jacked off a lot of money when I first got into the music business. But I know now: I know how important it is to save and to invest and all that jazz."
Noize City's roster includes rapper Yung Holla, hip-hop troupe the Grind Squad, female R&B/soul singer Barbii and ex-100.3-FM The Beat DJ (and current host of BET's daily Rap City: The Basement) J-Nicks, who's releasing a rap album. Also on Capo's wish list: working with a rock band.
To hear his philosophies and observe his professional, ambitious demeanor, Capo's aspirations bear a striking resemblance to those of another producer-turned-music Renaissance man: Neptunes/N.E.R.D. member Pharrell. But Capo's refusal to limit what genres he signs to Noize City appears to stem directly from his dissatisfaction with how pigeonholed the Trackboyz became or, as he puts it, how tired he was of people wanting tracks that duplicated J-Kwon's "Tipsy."
"I knew I needed to do something," he says. "I just felt like I was standing still. It feels like I've grown wings since I've left Trackboyz. Nothing to say against my former partner [Tarboy], but since I started Noize City my music has gone to a different level."
The first Noize City artist making some noise is Ajule (pronounced "ju-lay," the name means "free spirit" in Swahili), a.k.a. Ju Tha Czar, who's dropping the track "On Fire" this week to clubs and radio stations. A locally well-known battle-rap freestyle champ during the late-1990s, Ajule's not new to the scene. But soon after he earned a record deal with Capitol (Chingy's label) in 2002, it became quite clear that label's vision for Ajule was quite different from his own.
"They wanted me to carbon-copy Nelly," he says. "I like what Nelly does, I wouldn't try and carbon-copy his stuff. I wouldn't do what they said, they wouldn't move and I wouldn't move. We both wouldn't budge. I felt like a prisoner. I was a hip-hop prisoner at Capitol."
Ajule can laugh now mostly because after languishing on Capitol's roster for two-and-a-half years, he managed to part ways this year, with his master tapes in hand. Feeling disillusioned with music, he came home and was just "hanging out," taking care of his three kids.
Thanks to his longtime friendship with Capo, Ajule found out about Noize City. Now the two are 50-50 partners in the company.
Ajule's new tracks which feature production from his new business partner and from Bobby Crawford represent a different side of St. Louis music from Nelly and Chingy's bouncy hip-pop. Ajule is pure city boy, and he delivers a "street-edge kind of hip-hop," as he puts it, that contrasts with his laid-back demeanor.
"I'm driven off the things that I've seen," he says. "Things from my past all the things I've seen in the neighborhood. I'm like a sponge, I soak up everything I see."
"On Fire" is a gritty song that creeps like a stealthy panther, with its inky, stuttering beats and icicle-staccato tracks. Sticky hooks abound on the songs Ajule provided (personal favorite aside from "On Fire" is "Pimp Boy," a syncopated, laid-back lope highlighted by Ajule's bulldog-gruff flow and a female backup chorus).
As for Capo, the slogan on his black shirt this morning "I Am the Prototype" succinctly sums up his confidence in Noize City and the impact he expects (not hopes) it will have on the music industry.
(Aspiring artists can send information and music to Noize City Entertainment, 226 THF Boulevard, Suite 115, Chesterfield, MO 63005.)
With his willingness to pull fourteen- or fifteen-hour days to achieve his goals, perhaps the Producer of the Year Grammy he covets isn't such a pipe dream.
"We had some successes as Trackboyz, but I just see such a bigger picture," Capo says. "I just want so much more than being a big fish in a small pond. I'm trying to be a big fish worldwide."