The Next Big Thing

A middle-aged couple with a million dollars and a big dream: To make St. Louis a pop-music hub

"The hood is popular right now," says Carter. "Everybody knows about what's going on in the hood. Even if you're from Chesterfield, you think you're tough, so you'll sing a song about the hood and feel tough."

A very large bouncer has just denied Todd and Karrie Butterfield entry to the VIP room.

Karrie and Todd Butterfield, representing the way north side (Quincy, Illinois).
Jennifer Silverberg
Karrie and Todd Butterfield, representing the way north side (Quincy, Illinois).
Next big thing Carla Carter, fresh from a session with legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.
Jennifer Silverberg
Next big thing Carla Carter, fresh from a session with legendary producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Only moments ago the couple — the only white, middle-aged faces in a sea of twentysomething hip-hop fans — was holding hands like newlyweds, wending through the packed dance party at Dreams, a nightclub on Washington Boulevard just north of the Saint Louis University campus.

Now, as Karrie flashes her best sincere smile, Todd, dressed in baggy jeans and color-coordinated baseball cap and sneakers, presses his case. Da Banggaz314, the group that just closed out a roof-raising live performance downstairs?

I might just thump his ass, I might just jump his ass

He keep on bullshitting, I might just thump his ass

Ain't no bitch in me, nigga! Ain't no bitch in me, nigga!

That's his band — a 7Fourteen act! The bouncer frowns, shakes his head.

The Butterfields are accustomed to these scenarios; if you're a white person making money in the St. Louis rap scene, you'd better be. Last year Todd was physically thrown out of the Arena Club in north county, ostensibly for videotaping. The bouncers, he recalls, gave him some advice. "They said, 'You don't know where you're at. Why are you here?'" Butterfield says he told them to get used to him because he wasn't going anywhere. "They said, 'Take your Chesterfield/Town & Country white ass back to your loft.' Then they escorted me out to my Hummer."

"Some people have started calling him 'Bulworth,'" confides rap insider Wes Allmond, head of the local hip-hop-promotion firm Ch'rewd Marketing, referring to the Warren Beatty film about a politician who turns to rap to win an election. "They see this older white dude dressing 'hood' and they're not sure what to think."

"My guys told me I gotta dress this way: 'You're a CEO of a record label. You gotta,'" Butterfield laughs. "It's not my normal attire — at least it wasn't. It used to be a suit every day for the investment company."

Chris Hansen sees precisely that disconnect as one of 7Fourteen's greatest assets. "A lot of companies talk the talk. But these guys have been putting their money where their mouth is," Carla Carter's manager maintains. "And when you do that, I don't care if they know a lot about the business. If they'll hire the right people to run the business, it's all good."

When the Butterfields signed Steve T, Todd took 7Fourteen's newly minted producer on a $32,000 shopping spree at Guitar Center. Since then they've adopted him as a surrogate nephew, or the son they never had. They even spend leisurely weekends together at the Lake of the Ozarks. "Put him on our yacht and he comes back a different person," Todd Butterfield says. "He'll get down there and relax, and then on the way home he'll say, 'I gotta get home because I've got music in my head that I need to get out.' And he'll come home and do something crazy."

The Butterfields also shower their roster with apparel. Case in point: 7Fourteen's vocal booth, which doubles as a sneaker closet for Da Banggaz. When Carla Carter goes on songwriting trips, the Butterfields cover all her expenses.

"They really generous, nice people," Carter says. "When me and Alisha were out in LA with Karrie, we'd tell her we were going out and she'd give us a couple twenties without us even asking her."

Hansen says that in the wrong hands, that kind of generosity could be a disaster. "There needs to be good business people managing this type of situation," Hansen says. "They are powerful because they have money. When you're signing acts that come from the hood, they don't have any money. So it's easy to impress them with nice suites and studios and advances. But that's not business.

"The cool thing about Todd and Karrie is that they're not 'alpha,'" Hansen goes on. "They very much want to see things work out. Although we don't always agree, we find a way to come back together to accomplish our goals. You can have confrontation without having destruction. That's really important, because it's hard in the music game to speak your mind clearly. I feel like I can pick up the phone anytime and tell them exactly how I'm feeling."

Out in the clubs, the Butterfields have a tougher time getting their point across. Though he's ultimately able to talk his way past the bouncer at Dreams, at Club Onyx in downtown East St. Louis Todd has been known to pay bouncers to accompany him and his crew. He fully expects there'll come a time when he'll need security 24/7. Success breeds jealousy, Butterfield notes.

On the former front, Atlantic Records will soon release DaBanggaz314's first single, the Steve T-penned "Don't Step on My J's."

"After Da Banggaz got signed, people started to really pay attention," Todd Butterfield boasts. "They had heard about 7Fourteen, maybe knew what we were trying to do. But nobody realized how serious we were until we delivered Da Banggaz a record deal.

"Now everybody wants onboard."

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