Hungry, So (Not) Angry

A local music fan starts Broke & Hungry Records, Matador Records gets its videogame on and the debut of "Yo! RFT Raps"

"Yo! RFT Raps"

"Yo! RFT Raps" is a brand-new, biweekly hip-hop column in which Ben Westhoff runs down what's new on the STL scene, from the mainstream to the underground.

For record labels, videogames and music are a match made in target-audience heaven. EA Sports pushes major-label names in rock and hip-hop on the company's yearly Madden and NBA updates, and Tony Hawk games sport underground punk and metal soundtracks. While those are somewhat appropriate, this week's latest music-in-games development comes off as a bit odd.

2K Games' Major League Baseball 2K6, out in stores last week, has given its soundtrack duties to Matador Records. Home-run derbies with Belle and Sebastian, bullpen check-ups with Pretty Girls Make Graves, 4-6-3 double plays turned psychedelic by Yo La Tengo — they're all there. The lonely-record-collecting-bastard songs don't seem steroid-pumped enough for MLB action, but you gotta admire 2K Games' willingness to push indie music on seventh-inning stretchers. So listen up, game makers: Here are more weird-ass suggestions in light of Matador's unexpected coup.

Super Mario Bros. : Jam bands like String Cheese Incident, Phish and the Grateful Dead. (You expected Italian singers?) Mario eats mushrooms and flowers that make him grow huge and get caught on fire. He fights lizards and talks to mushroom-shape people. His dream girl is Princess Toadstool. I'm already on a level-three trip.

Donkey Kong: Though Gorillaz and the Monkees were in contention, Tommy Lee wins out by composing a pro-ape soundtrack dedicated to his ex-wife Pamela Anderson's devotion to PETA.

Paperboy: Cypress Hill.

Pac-Man: Drum-'n'-bass songs by Photek, Aphrodite, Goldie and Grooverider would be as rave-worthy a companion to Pac-Man's colorful, pill-eating world and ghost-fighting hallucinations as a water bottle and an insecure girl who wants to touch you "alllll over your body."

Tetris: Bloc Party.

Dance Dance Revolution: For the special "emo" edition of the popular rhythm-stepping game, Yellowcard, Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday deliver painful stories about being lonely and full of feelings. Unfortunately, players plug in their dance pad, listen to the songs, stand there and do nothing but cry, thus losing the game every time.
— Sam Machkovech

Feed Your Head
In a time when rapacious corporate major labels and free downloaded music compete for the public's time and attention, only a fool would start a boutique country-blues label and expect to make money. But St. Louisan Jeff Konkel is most certainly no fool — in fact, the 32-year-old is so aware of the current economics of the record business, he's named his new venture Broke & Hungry Records. (The Saint Louis University graduate isn't giving up his day job, though: He's still clocking in full-time as director of publications for the Special School District, even as he prepares for his label's first release later this month.)

While not averse to profit, Konkel is motivated more by a fan's desire to spread the music he enjoys and a historian's inclination to document a distinctive regional style performed by musicians little-known outside their hometowns. Broke & Hungry Records specializes in the deep blues found in rural Mississippi juke joints — a genre that gripped Konkel a decade ago as he followed the musical path from the blues/rock he heard as a teen back to its inspirations and progenitors. "Too many of these guys are passing away. I've had so many good experiences down there listening to live music," he says. "I felt that someone should document this music, and I got tired of waiting for someone else to do it."

Broke & Hungry's debut CD will be Back to Bentonia, a solo effort by singer-guitarist Jimmy "Duck" Holmes, who performs in the style made famous by Skip James and Jack Owens. Digitally recorded at Holmes' own juke joint ("a cement-block shotgun shack," says Konkel) and at a studio in nearby Clarksdale, the record faithfully captures an idiosyncratic-yet-accomplished performer breathing continued life into a style that's been around for the better part of a century. With at least one more release set for 2006, and three projected for 2007, the label will sell its wares over the Internet and through select independent retailers in the U.S.A. and Europe.

"I want to help create an environment where these guys can find some success, make a name for themselves, and hopefully, we can experience some of that success together," Konkel says. "More than anything, as someone who's been a rabid music fan for many years — but has very little musical ability himself — it's a way to feel like I'm part of the process."

Visit Broke & Hungry Records' Web site at
— Dean C. Minderman

Yo! RFT Raps

You know the St. Charles County-based production team Basement Beats from their work with Nelly and his St. Lunatics; their fingerprints are on everything from Country Grammar to "Shake Ya Tailfeather." What you might not know is that Jay-E left the group last February. (For more on Jay-E, read "The St. Lunatics Fringe" in the March 19, 2003, issue of the RFT.) With City Spud behind bars, that leaves only Koko and Wally among the group's founding members.

"[Jay-E] felt like his career should have been further than it was," reports Wally (real name: Waiel Yaghnam). "He wanted to keep [Basement Beats] a beat-making company, but we wanted to get behind artists, and brand it through those artists." (Jay-E could not be reached for comment.)

Their debut talent is 23-year-old rapper Gena, the man responsible for "Dope Boy Fresh" — a song featuring Chingy and Kyjaun that's earning spins on The Beat (100.3 FM) and Hot 104.1 FM.

"In the hood, dope boys have the means to buy stuff for themselves," explains Wally of the song's conceit. "Even though they're in areas of poverty, they stand out because they have all the name brands, the jewelry, all the stuff."

Basement Beats is also promoting dancehall artist Kanjia, who formerly worked with production team Trak Starz.

Still, Koko and Wally keep on making beats. The former's biggest hit to date was Nelly's ballad "Over and Over," featuring country crooner Tim McGraw. "Out in LA, I kept pushing the beat to Nelly," Koko recalls of the song's genesis. "He said, 'It's a tight beat, but I just wouldn't know what to do with it. I'm just gonna write it for a country singer,' just joking around. Then, back here in St. Louis I went over to his house, and on a dry-erase board he'd written, 'Finish song with Tim McGraw.' He was like, 'It's over your beat.'"

Two other producers have joined Basement Beats in the past year or so: Wyshmaster, who helped build the soundtrack for the new video game NBA Ballers: Phenom, and G.A. , who, like Koko, has a song on the upcoming Ali and Big Gipp album Kinfolk. Koko also produced a track ("Run Away") on Bubba Sparxxx's new album, The Charm.

The guys appear humble and hard-working despite all their success. Koko says he's "damn near" a millionaire, while Wally has splurged on an Escalade and investment properties. As for Jay-E's departure, there's no love lost, insists Wally. "It got to ego-clashing, and [Jay-E] decided, 'I'd rather be your friend than sit here and despise you guys.'" He says the three of them caught up at Nelly's NBA All-Star game party in Houston in February. — Ben Westhoff Got a tip for "Yo! RFT Raps"?

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About The Authors

Ben Westhoff

Ben Westhoff is the author of the books Original Gangstas, Fentanyl, Inc., and Little Brother: Love, Tragedy, and My Search For the Truth.
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