Ill Will

Is Nelly keeping Willie Moore from stardom?

Local singer/rapper Willie Moore was supposed to arrive at his listening party, held last week at the Pepper Lounge, by helicopter. The artist formerly known as Pretty Willie and now known as P.Dub did just that, making his triumphant exit from the whirlybird after it landed in the empty lot next door to the downtown swanktuary, while photographers and videographers documented the auspicious event for future hip-hop historians. The dramatic effect of the marketing ploy was lessened somewhat by its timing: P.Dub hung out at his party for a good half-hour before hopping into a van so he could get to the secret chopper.

The landing was hitchless, if anticlimactic, and P.Dub beamed as celebrity shutterbug-for-hire Suzy Gorman snapped publicity shots of him posing with his manager, John Gavin. "This thing is so staged, it's pitiful," we overheard someone muttering, and Radar Station was inclined to agree. But the overwhelming ridiculousness of the concept eventually won us over. What can we say? We're easily bored, and, besides, it's not as if grandiosity is a crime, especially in rap circles.

In any case, you've got to admire the dude for his pluck. After his major-label debut, Enter the Life of Suella, met with lukewarm reviews and disappointing sales, he picked himself up, dusted himself off and decided to start afresh, with a new stage name. He arranged to be released from his deal with Universal (our underground operatives maintain that he actually got the dreaded "drop letter," although no one will discuss this on the record), and he cut ties with his management company, the controversial D2 Entertainment [Saller, "The Producers" April 10, 2001]. He's since formed his own company, Wilflow Music Group, and hired Gavin Entertainment to manage him. His catchy new single, "Woo," is getting airplay on 100.3 The Beat (where P.Dub hosts a weekly mix show), and he's confident that he'll have another major-label deal very soon. His next record, Money Don't Sleep, will, he predicts, come out in July.

P.Dub and other members of his camp have long suspected that Nelly exerted his multiplatinum influence at Universal to poison the label against him. That the St. Lunatics had an ugly split with D2 before Country Grammar broke is no secret, but no one can prove that Nelly used his star power to conspire against the aspiring rapper. And if he did, it's also possible he has other reasons to dislike P.Dub. The mainstream rap magazines mostly knocked Pretty Willie as a Nelly wannabe, and Pretty Willie's song "Roll Wit Me" bore more than a superficial resemblance to Nelly's megahit "Ride Wit Me." In fact, P.Dub is working with Steve Wills, who co-produced Nelly's hit "Batter Up," and P.Dub's new single, "Woo," if not exactly a battle rap, takes direct aim at the world-famous cuddlethug: "What are you gonna do when your pimp juice spills?" P.Dub claims that he's merely defending himself from veiled slams Nelly made against him during certain skits on Nellyville; he expects that once he's divorced himself from "devilish" D2, the animosity will abate and the Nelly comparisons will die down.

He remains optimistic about his career. "I have relationships all over the industry," he says. "Once you're in, you're in. I'm an entertainer, like a cross between Usher and Jay-Z all in one. That's how [D2 and Universal] should have marketed me. Anyhow, my dream is to be Puff Daddy, not Nelly."

But David Stith, of D2 Entertainment, thinks P.Dub is overly optimistic. "He is still signed to me," Stith insists. "I don't know who this Gavin guy is, this management firm, but we recently got a letter from them saying that we're in breach of his contract, and we're just not gonna let him go. He said we fraudulently had him sign the publishing agreement, like, under duress or something, but he had his own lawyer negotiating his contract for him."

According to Stith, Pretty Willie's underwhelming sales weren't necessarily the result of corporate mismanagement or Nelly's alleged involvement. "He's been in every freaking market," Stith says with a sigh. "We can't force people to go into record stores and buy it. I spent a lot of my own money, and Universal invested 1.2 million in him, over $200,000 for one video. We could have spent $2 million, I guess, but when is enough enough? So let's not blame Nelly; let's not blame Universal."

Despite the acrimony, Stith believes P.Dub still has a shot at a successful career. "What Will doesn't want to do is take responsibility for his record not working. If he wants to do a national deal, he will do it through D2."

Ouch. Time will tell who prevails; we'll keep you posted.

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