Hip-Hop Hippies

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

Whurr I get my coats when it's nippy?

Why I wurr my clothes like a St. Louis hippie?

Regardless you know that I'm smokin' blue 'dro

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.

If you ain't got nothin' on nothin', then what are you fo'?

The process is inexorable, characterized by knob-twiddling, incremental adjustments — and take after take after take after take.

But then, it takes time to get some things right.

Landau and Goldenberg launched Third Eye Media in July 1998 out of Goldenberg's Creve Coeur basement. The recording division didn't do much at first, but the Web-design segment (since renamed Content Executive Inc.) grew to five people in six months and pulled in more than six figures in its first year. Soon they were forced out of the house for legal reasons. "There were like fifteen people parking there every day, partying there every day, and the neighbors didn't like it," Goldenberg recalls.

Today the Locust Street compound contains the recording studio, the Web-hosting and -management division and the partners' artist-management company (Fly Moves Productions), not to mention sundry entertainment-oriented projects on the side. As CEO, Goldenberg handles the finances, while president Landau's duties are "more the entertainment side." Populating the offices are fifteen full-time employees including Hershey and night engineers Ross Vanderslice and Chris Robinson, who run the Buddha boards from 6 p.m. to the crack of dawn.

Says Hershey of his bosses: "This company is run by a bunch of Phishheads — a bunch of Deadheads gone wrong." He quickly corrects himself. "Or gone right, rather."

True, before (and to a lesser degree, since) incorporating Phat Buddha, Landau and Goldenberg spent countless driving hours and concert dollars attending shows and festivals. The consensus zenith occurred December 31, 1999, when Phish staged a blowout New Year's Eve jam on the Big Cypress Seminole Indian Reservation in the Florida Everglades. Having journeyed 1,200 miles from their hometown, the business partners rang in the millennium with 100,000 fellow Phans.

Says Landau: "It was the pinnacle of Phish's career."

Goldenberg: "All our friends rented four RVs, and we had packed them full of water and everything to survive the Y2K explosions."

"Definitely the best show ever," Landau puts in.

"The highlight of our touring lives!" concludes Goldenberg.

Only six weeks earlier, they'd moved into their Phat new digs. Goldenberg's father, a local developer, purchased the fixer-upper, and with loans totaling about $1 million, the partners traded their Hacky Sacks for hip-hop tracks.

Now, after laying down eight separate tracks of harmonies and vocal effects ("Haha!" "Whuuut?" "Whoo!") for "My Nite," Murphy Lee and Hershey agree to call it a day. Start to finish, it has taken four hours to elevate Verse Two to album-ready status.

"Yeah, Nate Dog hooks your tape clean on up!" exclaims Lee, pleased with the booming playback.

Landau's sitting on one of the twin double beds in the tenth-floor room he and Goldenberg are sharing in the House of Blues hotel in Chicago, watching Scarface while his business partner fidgets. They've got no tickets for tonight's St. Lunatics performance, and no VIP passes. They do, however, have faith that their outside-looking-in predicament will somehow right itself.

That, and a fifth apiece of Grey Goose vodka and Crown Royal Scotch.

And voilà: a knock at the door.

Enter a guy in camouflage pants sporting a silver Derrty necklace — and Lunatics tix. After clasping right hands and thumping shoulders with Landau, he says it might be possible to gain VIP access by entering the venue with Murphy Lee, via a tunnel.

"He's either the tour manager or the stage manager," Landau explains after the visitor accepts gratitude in the form of a Ziploc of bud and retreats. "But he's definitely going to hook us up now.

"Great movie," he adds, returning his attention to Tony Montana, who just now is chomping on a cigar as he lounges in his lavish sunken bathtub. "Getting power is easier than keeping it."

Another knock announces a visit from Murphy Lee. On tour now for nearly a month, he just flew in from some San Francisco "TV shit" and is glad to see some hometown faces. He rolls a joint on the room-service menu and the three pass it around.

Hours later Landau and Goldenberg are as dapper as they ever get in jeans and sweaters, standing among the two dozen rappers, crew members and assorted hangers-on in the lobby beside — of all things — a six-foot Buddha statue. Landau is on a shoulder-thumping spree. Goldenberg, eyes bloodshot, compulsively checks his watch. Finally a yellow-shirted security cohort appears to lead the way down a flight of stairs, into the promised tunnel, through a kitchen, up a freight elevator and into a back hallway. The group emerges on the third-level landing of House of Blues just as the lights go down. The 1,300-capacity crowd commences to shriek, and Landau and Goldenberg go off in search of drink.

When the lights come back up at 11:30, Murphy Lee's "Dat Bullshit," recently recorded at Phat Buddha, explodes from the sound system. A tipsy Goldenberg raps along, Crown-and-Coke in his left hand, his right jabbing the air.

You see the keys (you see the keys!)

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