Ace of Spaides

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

A revolving cast of ten comely young women who sport crisp Spaide shirts tied above their belly buttons, the Hassle Girls also dance onstage at Spaide's concerts, some of which are held in high school gyms and children's homes. Spaide and BoOo handpick the women from Spaide's shows.

"When we see a group of girls really enjoying the music, we ask them if they want to participate, and nine times out of ten they say, 'Hell yeah,'" says BoOo, adding that the women receive movie passes and free T-shirts — but no money — for their services. Sometimes they even bring their daughters.

Spaide's biggest break so far came last fall when The Beat (100.3 FM) added "Always" to its playlist. The song has been picked up by Hot 104.1 FM, a station in Baton Rouge, and numerous satellite and Internet music services.

At once an ode to his friends from the west side and a paean to the booze-babes-and-clubs lifestyle, "Always" features Spaide's gritty vocalizations and a police-siren wail over a pop-crunk beat composed by Nashville producer Tranchilla. Like Spaide's other songs, it's a creative take on traditional hip-hop subject matter.

"Instead of saying, 'I stabbed that guy in the face,' he might say, 'I left his eyeball dangling,'" observes DJ Trackstar, a local producer who has worked with dozens of St. Louis rappers. "That might not be poetic to some, but he brings a fairly unique take on the tried-and-true rap themes."

With his dreadlocks whipping back and forth to the beat, Spaide has a commanding concert presence, whether he's entertaining the politically conscious audience at Blueberry Hill's Friday-night hip-hop show, The Science, or the booty-shaking crowd at Plush or the Spot.

"He's got the formula," says rapper Potzee, a close friend of Spaide's. "He's from the street; he speaks street. He looks like he's gutter."

Confirms Spaide: "I'm always going to be hanging with drug dealers and addicts and criminals, because that's the environment I'm from. But just because I'm riding in a car with a guy who robs banks doesn't mean I'm a bank robber — just like you riding with a lawyer doesn't mean you're a lawyer."


Shorty cute like always
In the high-heeled boots like always
I wanna get to know you like always
So I can put it on you like always

As a junior-high-playground rapper, Spaide aped the smooth flow of LL Cool J. In high school he played in the band and the drum line, mastering the tongue-twisting styles of Bone Thugs-N-Harmony in his free time.

"He wrote a rap for our answering machine, and everybody in the family had a part," recalls his mother, JoAnn Bonds. "It was humorous. I just remember getting business calls, and then there was this musical message."

Spaide's reputation preceded him at Sumner High School — so much so, in fact, that sophomore Montell Russell, an aspiring rapper himself, challenged him to a rap battle.

"The whole lunchroom was crowded around our tables," remembers Russell, now a well-known local rapper called Nimmy Hendrix. (Until recently he went by Nimmy Russell.)

"We went at it, going for the throat, like, 'You're weak, I don't care what you're doing, I'm sending shots through you, through your Isuzu.' He was fast, and he had these little-bitty Kid 'N Play braids. I was like, who isthis?"

School security demanded the boys move to an outdoor courtyard, and the crowd followed, pounding out a beat on the school's walls. Spaide and Russell kept battling until the bell rang, finally agreeing to a draw.

"Then we gave each other a hug," Spaide remembers.

Their friendship persevered through Pap's murder trial. Accused of fatally shooting a man on the west side, Spaide's brother pled guilty and received a fifteen-year sentence at Eastern Missouri Correctional Center. (His brother didn't know his victim, Spaide says.)

Fearing repercussions from the murder victim's friends, Spaide and Russell moved to Memphis and stayed with Spaide's dad, a cell-phone salesman. His father had abandoned the family when Spaide was little, but the young man decided to give his dad another chance.

It also helped that his father claimed to have a connection at a record label — a claim that never materialized, leaving Spaide and Russell to spend their days practicing their flows, working odd jobs and pulling audacious pranks.

Russell remembers the night he called his girlfriend's cute acquaintance, a big fan of rapper DMX, and impersonated the East Coast emcee, who was in town that week for a concert.

"Baby, this is what I want you to do for me," he told her. "I want you to fuck my man Spaide. He's my homeboy. If you do that for me, you'll always be able to talk to me."

The trick worked. The woman and her friend came over to the house the next day, and Spaide and Russell took turns giving them the business in their shared bedroom. The women never did get to meet DMX.

Returning from Memphis, Spaide and Russell briefly lived in another house on the same Wabada block where Spaide grew up, sharing the space with various friends, cousins and girlfriends.

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