By Lindsay Toler
By Chad Garrison
By Allison Babka
By Lindsay Toler
By Jake Rossen
By Lindsay Toler
By Kelsey McClure
By Lindsay Toler
"He was pretty quiet — he had to be, 'cause my uncle didn't play. He had pretty strict parents, but they was real, real good people," says John Bacon. "As a little kid, he always used to wear his pants real low. You know how people 'sag' now? He used to sag without sagging. It seemed like he was the first person to start the trend."
When Singleton was seventeen, his father died. He dropped out of high school and became the family breadwinner, working at and eventually buying into the ownership of a car wash in East St. Louis. He says he earned his GED in 1998 and found his professional calling in March of 2000, when he paid about $7,500 to purchase a duplex on Page Boulevard in north St. Louis.
"I had a friend who sold rehab projects. He said he could sell me the building and get some people to get me a loan on it at the same time," Singleton recalls. "One side was terrible, but the other side was pretty livable. What he told me we could do is fix up one side of the unit, get it appraised and maybe take a loan out on it and then I could finish the other side. I got the building, I turned it around, did a little paint, some minor things, a little drywall. It appraised for $60,000. I couldn't believe it. I got an 80 percent loan, refinanced it and got $40,000 out of it. From there I just started investing."
Over the next six years, Singleton bought and sold at least fourteen properties, nearly all of them in St. Clair County, Illinois, and nearly all of them out of foreclosure, according to court files and documents from the St. Clair County Recorder of Deeds. In 2005 he began making the purchases under the name of a company he formed and registered with the Illinois Secretary of State, Singleton Investments Inc.
In 2002 the financier for a performance by Byron Bacon, who goes by the nom de rap Spoke, backed out. Spoke's brother, John "Dump" Bacon, ponied up the dough for the show, set up a basement recording studio, and a record company was born.
Bacon says it was he and Spoke who coined the name Lock 'Em Down, as well as the label's motto: "Takin' over da streets." "It's like we wanted to take over the streets and music. We wanted to lock the city down and be the hottest," Bacon says. "Be the hottest label in East St. Louis or the hottest label in the metropolitan area."
Two years later, despite having signed several artists, Bacon was nowhere near achieving his goal. Aware that his cousin's real estate business was booming, he talked Dewanzel Singleton into joining L.E.D. as co-CEO.
"When I had it, it was kind of limited," Bacon says today. "When Jazz came along, we started traveling."
After Singleton joined the company, L.E.D. artists and employees began to perform and attend conferences out of town, traveling as far as Atlanta and Denver. In 2006 they went to Miami for The Source magazine's hip-hop awards. That was also the year they scored an invitation to the exclusive Hip-Hop Power Summit in the Dominican Republic, where they spent a week rubbing elbows with the genre's biggest names and most influential tastemakers.
Locally, L.E.D. made a name for itself by hosting extravagant parties and promotions. There was the "Chocolate Party" at Plush in downtown St. Louis, complete with chocolate fountains, chocolate martinis and a chocolate-brown carpet leading up to the entrance of the now-defunct club. On Labor Day weekend of 2006, Lock 'Em Down was the title sponsor of an old-school hip-hop concert on Laclede's Landing co-headlined by rap pioneers Slick Rick and Kurtis Blow.
"They always had something going on. They did a lot of things in the community and they just stayed in front of the eyes of people," says DJ Sir Thurl of St. Louis hip-hop station 100.3 The Beat. "They're more organized and set up than a lot of people. These days anyone with a studio in a basement can call themselves a label, but there's very few that are organized and out there actually doing anything."
L.E.D. also emerged as one of East St. Louis' leading service organizations. In addition to the Toyz in Da Hood program and other charity functions, they organized back-to-school picnics in 2005 and 2006, handing out school supplies and food. In May 2006 they supported the East St. Louis mayoral campaign of Alvin Parks, registering voters and canvassing door to door.
"I thank Lock 'Em Down for all the things they allowed me to do and say. They encouraged the whole rap community to engage young people and to take advantage of their lives," says deputy liquor commissioner Walter D. Hill, a Parks appointee. Hill had done promotions work for L.E.D. in 2003 and 2004 and represented the company at the Hip-Hop Action Summit in 2003, at which he delivered a speech and met with Benjamin Chavis Muhammad, then-director of the NAACP.
"We make it a point to make the community a part of what we do," says L.E.D. vice president Marceo Haywood, who also volunteers as a football coach at East St. Louis High School. "When people hear 'taking over the streets,' they take it in a derogatory or negative manner. It has nothing to do with what people think it has to do with. 'Taking over the streets' is being a part of your community."