Hip-Hop Hippies

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

"We haven't tapped the corporate thing too heavily," offers Goldenberg, then explains his reasoning: "I think the corporate will scare the rappers away and the rappers will scare the corporate away."

Makes sense, in the abstract at least. But beyond declaring time and time again that their studio "caters to" these musicians, Landau and Goldenberg shy away from discussing specifics. They're "open-minded." They make their clients "feel comfortable." That's about all you'll get out of either of them — even in the silence between takes in a darkened vocal booth where the sole illumination emanates from the glowing ends of what might be but probably aren't cigarettes.

They're businessmen, after all, and a little mystique makes the product more desirable.

Chris Robinson is one of Phat Buddha's two night engineers, who run the boards from 6 p.m. to the crack of dawn.
Jennifer Silverberg
Chris Robinson is one of Phat Buddha's two night engineers, who run the boards from 6 p.m. to the crack of dawn.
U. City rapper Kat is counting on Landau and Goldenberg's Fly Moves Productions to take her recording career to the next level.
Jennifer Silverberg
U. City rapper Kat is counting on Landau and Goldenberg's Fly Moves Productions to take her recording career to the next level.

On this night work wraps at about 1 a.m. Emerging from the booth, Goldenberg runs his hands blearily through his hair. "I dunno," he mutters, agitated. "I didn't like it. We need to do it again."

"Naw, I'm not doing it again," Landau grouches, shrugging on his brown leather coat and heading for the door, the rest of the night-side entourage close behind. The bickering spills into the parking lot, then ebbs as car doors slam. But the evening is by no means over. Engines turn over, bass is cranked and a small thumping convoy rolls down the empty city streets, in search of a nightcap.

A ProTools-equipped Mac hooked up to a Digidesign Control 24 soundboard feeds six thudding speakers powered by something like eight hephastillion gigabooms per decivolt. In other words, if it were any louder it'd blast the paint clean off the radioactive-carrot-hued walls. And slunk deep in a saggy purple couch, his thumbs flying across the buttons of a Sidekick, is rapper Murphy Lee.

Heads bobbing in unison to the bowel-rattling bass, Lee and Nathan Hershey, Phat Buddha's chief audio engineer, are attempting to track down publishing rights to the "Tequila" song — or as Lee refers to it, "that Pee-wee Herman shit" — which is sampled in the background of a new track called "Get Busy." Was the ditty written by Stan Getz? George Vince? George Vincent? Paul Reubens?

Welcome to Phat Buddha's Dharma Room, a.k.a. Studio B.

Perhaps appropriately, this building was once home to a company that produced breathalyzers and urine-analysis kits. Brown and gray dominate the exterior color scheme. Bars fortify the windows, and the entries are equipped with state-of-the-art electronic locks. Gateway Homeless Services lies up the road, and aid recipients occasionally gather outside to comb through the studio's trash. Hershey says his car has been broken into ten times.

Though the studio has been up and running for six years, it remains a work in progress. An unfinished upstairs hallway that exudes a pungent eau de spackle leads to a shadowy cavern of a room crammed with remodeling must-haves. Among the ongoing projects chez Buddha: transforming a room behind Studio B into a work space for beat producers and creating a "euphony lounge" where, according to Landau, recording artists and staffers alike will be able to "kick back and chill out."

"Phat Buddha" is a moniker Landau carried with him from about age eighteen. "I've always been on a pretty heavy spiritual kick, and incorporating the name made sense," he explains. Likewise for the company's tagline, Entertainment Enlightenment. "I want it to be a very relaxed, serene, comfortable environment," Landau says, "but also one in which you're going to learn about yourself and what you're trying to be. I mean, the whole point of recording is to create the very best fictionalized version of yourself you can."

Make no mistake: Landau's also heavy into being a businessman, and he pushes his product with the polished amiability of a star car salesman. Instead of four wheels and trunk space, Phat Buddha sells the idea of Benzes and bling — and music-biz savvy. "We want to offer more education," Landau says earnestly. "We're real honest with people: We tell them that this is how you want to get better, and you're wastin' your money on that!"

Seconds Goldenberg: "There's people who come in and don't even know how to go through the recording process. We'll lay it out for you if you want to pay us for consulting. We'll lay out a whole business plan on how you need to go to market."

Landau again: "Most artists just come in here and think they're going to record something and be famous. We make it very clear that it's just one component of their career. This is ultimately a business, you know what I'm sayin'? And they need to have a real understanding of that."

Music-industry trends dictate that an artist, once signed to a major label, relinquishes final say on where and with whom he will record. In Murphy Lee's case, Universal Records is fronting thousands to record the follow-up to 2003's Murphy's Law at Phat Buddha.

"I do prefer artists to record in a place that I know," says Universal exec Bruce Carbone. "But if I trust someone in the equation — the artist, the writer, the producer — then I feel comfortable with it. An artist like Murphy Lee has earned the right, based on who he is and where he comes from, to sort of pick his path."

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