Ace of Spaides

This St. Louis rapper thinks he's got a winning hand to play

Dirty, don't hate like always
This my turn now, y'all had your days
I'm doing good like always
Know that I'm'a keep it in the hood like always
—"Always"

Last month Spaide R.I.P.P.E.R. paid a visit to his old haunts in north St. Louis, and this time he did it with style.

Getting out of his silver Nissan Pathfinder Armada, the 26-year-old rapper couldn't help but notice that not much has changed at the intersection of Wabada Avenue and Goodfellow Boulevard, not far from the old General Motors plant where 15,000 workers once made their living. The rusted iron gates still linger, as do the crumbling, graffiti-stained storefronts, containing gang announcements and directions to the nearest crack-cocaine hook-up.

Jennifer Silverberg
Spaide (left) and his manager, BoOo, employ a lavish grassroots marketing campaign, dispensing free towels, CDs, DVDs and, yes, Spaide cash.
Jennifer Silverberg
Spaide (left) and his manager, BoOo, employ a lavish grassroots marketing campaign, dispensing free towels, CDs, DVDs and, yes, Spaide cash.

For Spaide, the memories are fresh — some of them good, some of them bad. Back in the days when he was a little runt named Joseph Hawthorne, he tooled around the hood with his older brother, Pap, who taught him the latest slang and the cool way to tie his shoestrings. Then there was that golden afternoon when he recited Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech from memory at Carr Lane Visual and Performing Arts Middle School. That'll bring a smile.

But Spaide's been wobbled by some heavy weather, too. When he was a toddler, his father walked out on the family. And then, eight years ago, Pap was hauled away to jail on a murder rap. "It showed me that all the running in the streets is only going to take me so far," Spaide says softly. "It made me see there ain't really any hope for a nigger other than making these songs. So I had to get serious about that."

On a sunny February afternoon, though, Spaide is feeling up as he breezes through the "west side," as the locals call it. His manager, BoOo, is at his side as they pass Goodfellows Fashions, an Afro-centric clothing store where Spaide's hit song, "Always," is playing,

A young fan standing near the corner liquor store notices Spaide and yells out, "Gotta pocket full of money? Always!" He proceeds to give Spaide a hug and says, "That's my shit, man. I swear, it's so hood."

Looking sharp in his dark brown Schott jacket, which conceals the tattoo of a .45-caliber gun on his bicep, Spaide swaggers past a cop detaining a few neighborhood kids and arrives on the concrete porch of his boyhood friend Trauma, who today acts as Spaide's hype man and tends to the rapper's long dreadlocks.

The porch served as the backdrop for the "Always" video, which featured scores of local residents who grew up with Spaide on these harsh streets. up with Spaide on these harsh streets.

"Everybody is rooting for me. It's like I'm the first person in my family going to college," says Spaide, fully aware of the irony — he never actually attended college. "They're living through me."

You best believe, I'm in the party like always
Gotta cup full of that Bacardi like always
And I came to get retarded like always
Hollerin' at the shorty with the weave and the cornbraids

R.I.P.P.E.R., Spaide says matter-of-factly, stands for "Rhyming In Perfection, Punishing Every Rapper." But, with a wink, Spaide's partner Bozo says it stands for "Runnin' In Pussy, Pumpin' Every Rat."

The name "Spaide," the rapper says, is a reference to his dark pigmentation. "I'm the blackest motherfucker in my family," he explains, in a voice that's grown deep and growly from years of smoking menthols. "They thought my mom cheated on my dad."

While Spaide has yet to break out nationally, his music is spun in nightclubs all around town. He's a household name in African-American neighborhoods, from Forest Park Southeast to the Ville. His posters adorn abandoned buildings, advertising "Always," which is now getting heavy play on St. Louis' two hip-hop stations.

Spaide is optimistic about signing a contract with a major label in the near future, and he hopes that — with the right promotion and a little luck — he'll achieve the fame, riches and longevity of rap idols like the Wu-Tang Clan.

New York- and California-based rappers once dominated the charts, but these days the radio is filled with emcees from Midwestern and Southern burgs like Houston, Memphis and St. Louis. As a result, label interest in local emcees is peaking. Rappers Potzee, P-Dub, Ruka Puff and Penelope each signed major deals in the past year or so. (Penelope's is reportedly worth $800,000.)

Spaide is talking with a handful of record companies, each of them hoping he'll be the next Nelly, Chingy or J-Kwon. They're impressed with his talent, charisma and extensive grassroots marketing campaign.

Two years ago, Spaide, BoOo and long-time friend Bozo founded Hassle Life LLC, the independent imprint that released "Always." Since then BoOo (his real name — the unique capitalization is his "trademark") has sent out hundreds of copies of the song to record companies and radio stations around the nation, while Spaide's street team — called the "Hassle Girls" — distribute free DVDs, posters, stickers and hand towels around town.

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