For the past six months, we've been blithering on about how it's only a matter of time before local hip-hop crew Da Hol' 9 scores a big-time record deal ["Radar Station," November 21, 2001]; now it's happened. After considering pitches from most of the major labels, Da Hol' 9 is finally ready to sign a contract with MCA, which will reissue the group's self-released debut CD, Out Here, later this year.
It's little wonder that the major labels waged a bidding war over Da Hol' 9: For months on end, the duo -- 100.3 The Beat's supernaturally charismatic drivetime personality Big Sexy Kool DJ Kaos and his able compadre Kemo -- has held steady near the top of local retail sales charts, outselling countless national artists and burning up the request lines on The Beat. (Correctly surmising that Da Hol' 9 is a promotional vehicle for its rival's star DJ, Q95.5 won't touch it, but so far the snub hasn't hurt sales.)
Da Hol' 9's best song, "Urbody N Da Club Up," was the third regional hit (after "Lemmehollaatcha" and "My Block 2 Yo Block"), but MCA has wisely chosen to drop "Urbody" first, accompanied by a splashy video. With its dirty percolating beats, its spare and spooky samples, its gutturally voiced lowest-common-denominator sex talk, "Urbody N Da Club Up" has "megahit" stamped all over it. The amazing thing is that somehow, by sheer dunderheaded grace, it manages to be as brilliant as it is stupid and vulgar and deeply problematic from a feminist perspective. We were nursed through puberty by the Rolling Stones, a band whose genius and misogyny were inextricably fused: No amount of Germaine Greer could possibly make us apologize for loving Da Hol' 9, whose coochie-poppin' anthems are about as cerebral as the Playboy Channel. They're lewd, they're crude, they're completely unredeemable, but, goddamn it, they're catchy. Let me see you bounce, baby, indeed.
Da Hol' 9 filmed the video last week at the Monastery nightclub and various other local hotspots. The national release will be more or less familiar to the tens of thousands of local fans who bought Out Here, although it will be self-titled and contain a few different songs. When we caught up with Kaos by phone last week, he told us that he and Kemo have no plans to screw around with what's obviously a successful formula. "What we're doing right now is kind of how Cash Money started," he explains. "We've got one in-house producer -- his name is Buck Bam Sham -- and he's gonna do pretty much all the stuff on our albums. If [MCA executives] pick up 'Lemmehollaatcha' [produced by frequent St. Lunatics collaborator Tarboy] and they want to use that track, we'll go with it because it's someone we've used in the past, but we're not interested in working with a whole lot of other people."
When it comes to signing a deal with a major label (generally a way of saying "dancing with the devil" or "getting fucked up the ass without lubricant"), no one is more cynical than Radar Station. Usually artists start out with great expectations, fat advances and lots of coke-fueled promises from Armani-clad liars -- only to end up broke, broken and burned out. Unless you're Nelly-huge, you'll probably never see a penny in royalties and you'll end up in indentured servitude to the label before you know it.
That said, if ever a group was prepared to beat the suits at their own game, it's Kaos and Kemo. In 1993 they began performing as a duo under the hilariously modest moniker Above Average. They scored a few high-profile gigs, opening for such hip-hop legends as Eazy-E, OutKast, Coolio, Too $hort and the late Tupac Shakur, but soon lost momentum. Kaos concentrated on his radio career and studied the industry. Like any veteran, he knew that you've got to prove yourself before you sign on the dotted line; you can't negotiate with a roomful of executives until you're in a position of power yourself. That's exactly what he and Kemo did: They proved they could get airplay and sell a shitload of CDs with no corporate backing. Because they made it happen for themselves, they don't have to grovel at anyone else's Prada loafers -- the honchos come to them, not the other way around.
Kaos -- who recently received a plaque from the Creve Coeur Fire Department for his heroism in putting out a fire at the radio station -- is confident but not cocky. He doesn't plan to go all rock-star on everybody all of a sudden. "Your money just isn't that great when you first get started, so you don't never want to quit your day job," he says cheerfully. "I have a love for radio -- I want to do both, if it's possible, and it is possible with voice tracking and that kind of thing. I want to stay here and do radio as long as possible."
We've got our fingers crossed.
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