By Jeremy Essig
By Jason Robinson
By Hans Morgenstern
By Joseph Hess
By Peter Gilstrap
By Julia Burch
By Jeremy Essig
By Nathan Smith
When local hip-hop/soul artist Nite Owl arrives bright and early to the RFT offices for a Monday-morning interview, his brilliantly colored shirt and sneakers match his alert, talkative demeanor and it's hard to see how he embodies the burning-the-midnight-oil connotations of his name. But during the course of conversation, the aptness of his moniker becomes clear: You see, the musician (a.k.a. LaMore Maclin) hasn't slept a wink, since he came directly to his interview after his "day job" as a residential counselor at the children's shelter Youth in Need.
But Nite Owl's willingness to forego sleep for his music is starting to pay off, as he's finally solidified a deal with Select Records, the legendary hip-hop label that released music by Kid 'n Play, M.O.P. and Roxanne back in the day.
"Select Records is a real powerful record label," Nite Owl says. "Coming up in the early '80s and late '90s, the artists that they had and what their label stood for...their original logo was a turntable with a record on it. It's as hip-hop as it gets, as far as DJs go. For somebody from St. Louis to be on that label is big."
Like many music-industry maneuvers, Owl's record deal is years in the making. While still a radio personality at the old Q95, he sent out press kits and demos to labels around the nation. Select was impressed enough to want to sign him, but it took three years of hashing out contracts and other legal matters for both parties to come to an agreement. (In the meantime, he moved to Georgia and worked in radio there, too, and only returned to St. Louis last summer after the end of a relationship, after four years away from the city.)
The label is set to release "Nitro" (a sinfully catchy song that fits seamlessly next to old-school hip-hop jams) as the first single sometime at the end of the first quarter of next year, although a release date for the album Owl released locally in August, Now You Can Boo Me, is still up in the air. Still, Select Records president Fred Munao has nothing but glowing things to say about Nite Owl.
"When you talk about people who have made it whether it's in business or the arts, music or whatever one of the consistent elements is always work ethic and willingness to go to the extra mile and keep pushing and being resourceful," he says from the label's New Jersey offices. "Nite Owl, he's got that. [He's] patient, persistent and professional.
"He's very clever, how he writes it lyrically and also the music that he creates, the hooks, the feel. His music feels good."
Indeed, just take a listen to Boo, an album Owl feels is "more well-rounded" than previous discs he's released. Working again with producer Kenautis Smith, Owl has crafted an album full of laidback flow and sophisticated samples, a true hybrid of hip-hop and soul that's sometimes reminiscent of Lupe Fiasco, sometimes Tony! Toni! Toné! and other times Anthony Hamilton.
But while Boo is certainly musically solid, Owl is also proud that his album is easy to relate to.
"It's real personal," he says of his lyrics. "A lot of the songs come from my personal experience, our friends' personal experiences. Everything on it is true, nothing's made up. The production on it is a lot more musical, soulful. Like, I have samples, but these samples were more soulful, instead of hard-driving hip-hop."
Fans will have plenty of time to see Nite Owl perform this week as always, backed by a live band with a Thursday night gig at Rue 13, an appearance at the special New Year's Eve edition of the Loop Underground and even his birthday party on Tuesday, January 2. And even if the abundance of parties going on this week means sparser attendance, well, Nite Owl will still give his all.
"Sometimes we would do shows and people wouldn't show up, but we would still perform and promote our material," he says. "Because I'm looking at it still like a business. Like a Red Sea show that we did, there was literally only two people there. But it was great, it was one of our best shows, it really was!
"Those two people, they had a great time, they stayed, they hung out, they kicked it, they got CDs, and they've been at all the shows since. I feel good having those two people that became genuine fans of what we did, because of the fact that we sat there and did a show for them." Annie Zaleski
Midnight, Thursday, December 28. Rue 13, 1313 Washington Avenue. 314-588-9797. 9 p.m. Sunday, December 31. Blueberry Hill, 6504 Delmar Boulevard, University City. $30. 314-727-4444. 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 2. Legacy Books and Café, 5249 Delmar Boulevard. $2. 314-862-4226.
So a couple walks into Pat's Bar and Grill (6400 Oakland Avenue; 314-647-6553) late on a Wednesday night. "Hey, glad you guys could make it all the way here," says singer/songwriter/guitarist Pierce Crask from behind the microphone. The couple laughs. "See, it's funny," he explains, "because they live right around the corner." The audience of some two dozen people also laughs, because they're kind of drunk and now in on the punch line. And it's funnier still, because there's the sense that Crask genuinely means it.