Ace of Spaides

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

Shortly afterward, Spaide met BoOo at a downtown barber and slipped him a CD that convinced BoOo to take him on.

"His voice, his punch lines, his delivery — they were catchy," recalls BoOo. "I was like, 'Damn! I ain't never heard anybody spit like this before.' I was working with another artist at the time, but Spaide was more diverse. He had songs for girls, for all ages."

When an electrical fire burned Spaide's house down five years ago, he left the west side for good. Now, he and BoOo live in a south-city bachelor pad near the intersection of South Broadway and I-55, a red-brick building owned by BoOo's mother.

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.

Littered with long-overdue gas bills, plastic cups from Jack in the Box, and Ebony Eyez promotional posters, the kitchen is Hassle Life headquarters, with Spaide sleeping in the apartment's one bedroom and BoOo in the basement next to Debo, the house pit bull.

"It's just gonna get greater later," predicts BoOo.

Yeah, I hold it down like always
Fancy cars like we livin' in the old days
Dirty, I know you're mad like always
Cause I ain't doin' bad like always

Rap pioneer KRS-One, journalist Davey D and writer Adisa Banjoko discussed the intersection of hip-hop music and commercial culture at a Stanford University conference earlier this month. In a sudden fit of rage, KRS-One veered off topic and began threatening Banjoko, who had previously mocked the emcee's bombastic lyrics.

"What I wanna do is jump across the table and beat your fuckin' ass," KRS-One said. "You're an enemy to our culture."

Last November's "History of St. Louis Hip-Hop" conference didn't devolve into threats. But participants at the University of Missouri-St. Louis event angrily disparaged what they believed to be an enemy to hip-hop: corporate radio.

Panelist DJ Trackstar says the 1996 Telecommunications Act, which enabled companies like San Antonio-based Clear Channel to purchase more stations in individual markets, has led to less local music on the radio.

"The Clear Channels of the world make it nearly impossible [for musicians] to get through to the mainstream, without going through the gatekeepers at the major labels," he says.

In St. Louis, Clear Channel owns six stations, including The Beat. St. Louis' other hip-hop station, Hot 104.1, is owned by another conglomerate, Radio One. Neither have many local artists in rotation, Trackstar says, other than nationally popular artists like Nelly, Chingy and J-Kwon.

But the stations do play Spaide R.I.P.P.E.R. Peaking at around 40 local plays per week last month, "Always" wasn't spun as much as, say, D4L's "Laffy Taffy," but it was played enough for regular listeners to get tired of it. ("Always" was No. 1 on Billboard's rap sales singles chart in January, although that's misleading, since few performers release singles anymore.)

Spaide will soon see a royalty check from the song's 500 or so nationwide spins, albeit for a small amount.

"If you have a multi-format national success — say Madonna, Michael Jackson, Britney — you could collect $100,000 a quarter," explains Robin Ahrold, spokesman for Broadcast Music Inc. (BMI), which also collects revenue for songwriters. "If it's really popular on the local scene, you might make a couple hundred dollars."

Nonetheless, rap consultant Wendy Day says achieving radio airplay without doling out payola — illegal payments made to radio programmers in exchange for airplay — is virtually unheard of these days. She doesn't name names but says payola is exceedingly common, despite a federal law against it and a recent spat of prosecutions by New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer. Six months ago Clear Channel fired two programming executives accused of accepting "pay for play."

Spaide didn't use payola. Instead, he charmed The Beat's programming director, Dwight Stone, by introducing himself at Plush and then visiting the station's offices at Hampton Avenue and Highway 40.

"We fell in love with him, because he would always offer to help you with something if you needed it," says Stone. "I think a lot of people need to remember that, when you're a local artist trying to get on, it's very important that people like you. The billboards and the press and the bling-bling are all good, but nowadays people want to know, 'Can I talk to you? Can I touch you?'"

Ordinarily rappers want their songs on the radio so they can sell albums. But Spaide doesn't have an album — other than a few self-distributed mixtapes — and says he likely won't release one until he signs a major deal.

Instead, his goal for "Always" was to attract the attention of representatives from the "big four" record labels: Sony BMG, EMI, Warner and Universal. These representatives regularly scour radio-playlist data, seeking out unsigned artists who are getting spins in their hometowns.

St. Louis emcee Kenny Knox, who is also seeking a deal with a major label, says a representative from Universal Records recently asked him about Spaide. "She said they heard he's been getting a lot of spins," Knox says.

I keep a mean mug like always
Hassle Life we thugs like always
Yep I said 'sup' like always
People know that we the next stuff like always

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