Hip-Hop Hippies

They might be moguls: Meet Mike Landau and Brad Goldenberg, the minds behind Phat Buddha Productions

When it's Mike Landau's turn at the mic, he steps up to the Brauner and lets loose a booming growl. "Ladies and gentlemens, welcome to the Phat Buddha Mixtape Volume One: Buddha's Delight!"

"Volume One!" echoes Brad Goldenberg. "Buddha's Delight!"

"This shit is the hottest of the hot!" Landau again, all gruff inflections and effusive hand gestures. "Hit me up: 314-231-3930!"

Jennifer Silverberg
Phishheads Mike Landau (left) and Brad Goldenberg traded their Hacky Sacks for hip-hop tracks.
Jennifer Silverberg
Phishheads Mike Landau (left) and Brad Goldenberg traded their Hacky Sacks for hip-hop tracks.

Landau and Goldenberg may look like white boys playing tough, but tonight's session at Phat Buddha Productions, the downtown St. Louis recording facility they co-own, is about business. They're finally finishing the intro tracks for a mixtape they've been chipping away at for six months. The CD is a marketing ploy, a demo of their studio prowess that's to be handed out free of charge to potential clients.

"Unless, you know, some suckers offer to pay for it," Landau cracks.

Might be worth paying for at that. There are some bangers on this 75-minute, 30-track compilation, every bit of it created on the premises at 19th and Locust Streets. Now Landau and Goldenberg need only to insert a few intros, shout-outs and skits to tie together cuts from the likes of Potzee, Da Camp, Ali, Spaide R.I.P.P.E.R., Stevie Stone, Missy Elliot and Murphy Lee. But although they planned to start at nine o'clock on this winter evening, by the time things are up and running it's nearly 10:30. What's more, Goldenberg has slept a grand total of fourteen hours in the past three nights, and the Crown-and-Cokes he's throwing back aren't improving his focus any.

"Brad, rule Number 1: No sounding gay," Landau instructs.

Typical in-studio banter for partners who've known one another since high school, where they bonded over a shared passion for jam bands during Landau's sophomore year at Ladue. At age 31, Landau's football-player physique, buzz-cut hair and jovial grin don't exactly scream "hip-hop impresario"; in build and demeanor he more closely resembles the serene Buddha that adorns his black "Rub My Belly for Good Luck" T-shirt. Two years older than Landau, Goldenberg sports thick dark hair and a neat goatee. He pipes up less frequently than his voluble partner, but when he does his words spill forth louder, quicker and with more resolve.

For a guy Landau describes as "the only Jewish Buddhist you'll ever run across," Goldenberg seems decidedly the more high-strung of the pair. As a teen he lived for jam bands in general and the Grateful Dead in particular. After graduation he left St. Louis for sunny Santa Barbara, a phase during which he followed the Dead across the nation and earned a degree in recording arts from Full Sail, a creative-media college in Orlando, Florida. Then came a series of sound-production jobs. By the time his friend Landau earned his own degree from Full Sail, Goldenberg was ironing out a business plan for a combination Web company/recording studio.

Landau's love of music was forged in University City, where he spent his early adolescence "hangin' out and makin' beats" with junior-high hip-hoppers in buddy Lev Berlak's bedroom. Berlak became one of St. Louis' first hip-hop producers, working with Montell Jordan, Too $hort and the Digital Underground before moving to Oakland in 1991 to open a studio and collaborate with greats including the late Tupac Shakur.

These days Landau lives in a Rock Hill ranch home with his wife of seven years, Anne, whom he met at the Hi-Pointe when he offered her a pair of earplugs. They have a five-year-old daughter, Ashley, and a two-year-old son, Mike Jr.

Fatherhood would seem to be the farthest thing from his mind right now, as his blaccent fills the studio air to the strains of "The Phat Buddha Song."

No time to waste in this quick-ass game

Muthafuckas getting famous, can't even define fame

It could be you, you or you who's next

Make a tight-ass demo and fly out West

Or take a trip East, it's all the same beast

Sick and tired of being hungry at the muthafuckin' feast

The dude can bark out a mean rhyme scheme when he's in the proper frame of mind. The lyrics aim to lure starry-eyed rappers to sign up for lucrative studio time, but they ring true for Landau and Goldenberg. Though the two are by no means starved for business, their minds are more flush with ambition than their bank accounts are filled with funds. Fly Moves, their artist-management endeavor, is shopping client demos to major labels. The partners dream of opening satellite studios in New York, LA and Miami, plus a restaurant/club venue in St. Louis to capitalize on downtown's rejuvenation and expand it westward into Phat Buddha's still-rough-around-the-edges neighborhood. Most of all, they want Phat Buddha to be known as St. Louis' top recording destination. As in the hip-hop game, flaunting those intentions helps sell the image.

Of course, certain stereotypes are associated with rap and hip-hop artists: Drug use comes to mind, and a predilection for violence. Unlike recording studios that traffic mainly in radio and commercial work, where such baggage isn't eagerly welcomed aboard, Phat Buddha has cultivated a reputation as a forward-thinking studio with laid-back charm.

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