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Things turned better a year later when he laid down tracks at a recording studio at Natural Bridge and Goodfellow Avenues. Studio boss Brian Johns immediately took a shine to Hines and is now his manager; Johns' father also pitched in and secured the rapper a decent job at a chemical plant. But the biggest boost from the studio guru was how he helped Hines land a record deal with the Houston-based label Rap-A-Lot records earlier this year.
Johns, who's also the CEO of indie label Untouchable Records (now a subsidiary of Rap-A-Lot/Warner Brothers), credits a useful gimmick for attracting Rap-A-Lot's attention: sending in videos of Hines' concert perfomances. Rap-A-Lot founder J. Prince was so impressed with Hines' stage presence that he called Johns personally and set things in motion; Hines signed in February. Consider it a major coup for an East St. Louis rapper to join the legendary imprint, known for Southern heavy hitters like Geto Boys, Bun B and Pimp C. "I was going to be the young blood for the label," remembers Hines.
Hines escaped from hell but now finds himself in record-label purgatory. Rap-A-Lot still hasn't given him a release date for his as-yet-untitled major-label debut. But Hines, who wears a triangular goatee and a diamond-encrusted gold grill, says he's not apprehensive. "I don't want them to hurry up and put [me] out," without sufficient promotion, he says, adding that God has taken care of him so far and he expects Him to continue to do so.
In the meantime, he's released a mixtape, Street Credit, and entertains constantly, performing multiple shows at clubs around town on the weekends, as well as at lucrative birthday parties for young female fans.
He splits his downtime between an East St. Louis pad and Washington Avenue's University Lofts, where he shares an apartment with Johns and records out of their bathroom studio. It beats Arby's, but the rap game is hard work, says Hines. "It's a real job," he says, adding that he took a small advance from Rap-A-Lot in order to get a deal that would pay off more in the long term. "I don't do it for fun."