Ace of Spaides

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

"I think it's easier to win the lottery than to pull yourself up from nothing and get a good [record] deal," says Wendy Day, the hip-hop impresario who discovered Eminem after the Detroit rapper slipped her a demo tape nine years ago.

Since 1992 the Memphis-based Day has run Rap Coalition, a nonprofit group that gives legal counsel to rappers who believe they have signed unfair contracts. Day says a common problem for artists is taking a large advance, which functions more like a loan and is later recouped by the label.

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.

The distinguished pantheon of rappers who were misled by their labels, she says, includes TLC and local platinum-seller Chingy.

"He was signed to Track Starz, DTP (Disturbing Tha Peace) and Capitol, so the money was being stepped on three times before it got to him, so that's a lot of cuts," she says. "After two and a half years he realized that 'Shit, [I'm] not making any money.'"

Montell Russell wishes he'd been more skeptical when he signed his own album deal with the local hip-hop quartet The All Stars. Despite his part in a hit song, "So Serious," Russell says he has yet to see a nickel.

"You have to look at the deal from every angle," elaborates Potzee, who is signed to Asylum, a division of Warner. "You could not get publishing, or not get creative control. People don't realize. You worked so long and so hard to get there, once you get there, you've got to [fight]."

Currently shopping Spaide's music is Reynold Martin, a New York City-based artist and repertoire consultant with ties to all four majors.

Martin, who has worked with groups like SWV and C+C Music Factory in the past, loved Spaide's promo CD, which he received from a mutual acquaintance.

"Spaide could be signed already, but we don't want just any deal," says Martin, adding that he's also negotiating to turn Spaide's songs into cell-phone ringtones. "It's a matter of him deciding which record company can best market and distribute his product."

And so it was with great caution that BoOo and Bozo took a recent meeting with Warner in Los Angeles. Warner representatives, who paid for the St. Louisans' hotel but not their plane tickets, wanted to put a remix of "Always" on the forthcoming album from an LA artist named Black Chill. BoOo says the deal fell through because he decided Black Chill wasn't famous enough.

Rap-A-Lot Records, a large independent label, is courting Spaide as well. The imprint's marquee artist, Scarface, put "Always" on his new album, My Homies 2. BoOo says Hassle Life's lawyer, Maurice Foxworth, is discussing details of a potential contract with Rap-A-Lot's lawyer.

"We don't want to jump the gun," says BoOo. "We don't wanna sign with Rap-A-Lot and then have Sony or Warner call with a better deal."

You know how I do like always
Put it down for the Lou like always
And I'm'a disregard what y'all say
Until I'm on top like always

The next stop on Spaide's west-side sojourn is the swank pad inhabited by rapper/producer Vice. The thickly carpeted crib features gold and platinum records on the walls, in recognition of Vice's contribution to Chingy's hit "One Call Away." (He wrote the chorus.)

Downstairs, Spaide is munching on fried food procured from the Chinaman, a favorite chop-suey joint down the block, and listening to a radio commercial he recorded the previous evening in Vice's state-of-the-art recording studio. The commercial will soon air on The Beat. Over the "Always" beat, Spaide shills for the north-county apparel store Work Wear for Less. For his trouble, the store paid Spaide in Dickies slacks and shirts.

The afternoon's final stop is a particularly downtrodden stretch of Semple Avenue, where litter swirls and decaying houses make one wonder if Hurricane Katrina took an unreported turn northward.

Spaide exits the car and lights up a Newport. He's soon joined on the curb by an old peer, a known Blood who has taken a break from drinking beers in an idling Chevy Cavalier, all blue save for the white door on the driver's side.

Men have been looting bricks from the block's crumbling houses, he tells Spaide. "The city should tear it down already."

Then, after wishing Spaide luck and giving him a hug, he returns to his car to drink away the afternoon.

"If Spaide becomes a millionaire, these guys think they got a possibility of working with him, to get out of the hood," says BoOo. "These aren't just fans, they're family. And they're stuck here — we're not."

The sky has clouded over and Spaide and BoOo take refuge in the Pathfinder. A few minutes later they pilot out of the neighborhood to their new home, hoping, someday, they'll be able to take some of the west-side folks with them.

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