The Hip-Hop Hustle

Tommy Quon and goldfinger found out that Dallas is no rapper's paradise

"They're full of shit, real good talkers," he adds. "He knew I was struggling. I told him I didn't know the system, and he told me to trust him. But what he did is he took advantage."

Quon denies improperly withholding any royalties from Goldfinger. The CD, Quon says, was not a major hit by anyone's standards. Goldfinger "had a small hit here [in Dallas] and his singles were moving well, but all of a sudden he got big-headed," Quon says. "As far as Goldfinger is concerned, he is nowhere near recouped, and hey, if he had to spend the money out of his own pocket, he would know it."

Goldfinger, frustrated, opted to leave Ultrax and search for another studio. He took Quon to court, alleging that Quon was withholding royalties and failing to honor verbal promises he had supposedly made to the young rapper. The trial did not go well for Goldfinger.

"They brought in Royce West, and he was waving my contract and saying, 'Mr. Lane, did you read your contract?' and just pounding on me," Goldfinger says. "Before I knew it, I was like, agreeing with the man."

Goldfinger eventually dropped the suit with the understanding that Ultrax could keep using all of his music except "Scheek Fool." He wasn't able to secure a deal with another label, and faded away.

Ultrax, meanwhile, was polishing its own tombstone. Vanilla Ice had been transferred to SBK in 1990, but differences in expectations regarding contract specifics and royalties kept Quon and Ice in litigation for four years. "The attorneys were the only ones who made out," Quon says with resignation. More lawsuits and bills, as well as unhappy artists, took their toll; Sewell jumped at an offer from Atlanta-based Intersound.

Quon shut down Ultrax in late 1994, and moved his office into the label's warehouse. On top of the pile of unused CDs and legal documents lay framed gold and platinum records associated with the Vanilla Ice project.

"I think in this business, you win and you lose," Sewell says today. "What Tommy tried to do is become independent, and that is expensive. Between his cash flow being depleted and [the cost of] defending frivolous was too much."

When Ultrax failed, Quon sold the master of This Beat is For Freaks to his old pal Sewell, who was managing the Solo Jam label, a subsidiary of Intersound. Sewell repackaged it as a compilation of Goldfinger's work, naming the "concept" CD Bass Freaks. So far, Quon says, the CD that Goldfinger's buddy found "all over the place" in Florida has sold about 15,000 copies.

But Goldfinger hasn't gotten any closer to earning royalties. Production costs still have not been recouped, Quon says.

Goldfinger doesn't trust either Quon or Sewell. He believes they lied to him about sales of the single "Scheek Fool," and that they are lying now. "This is how low they are," Lane says. "They didn't even give me a copy of [Bass Freaks]. I had to go buy it in the store." (Sewell acknowledges that he made no attempt to contact the rapper about the CD.)

Goldfinger doesn't understand the business, Quon says, and the rapper's accusations sting. "If anything, I helped create him," Quon says. "I think the situation is that you have a young man on the street. They all think they are worth a million dollars. Believe me, if it was creating any waves, it would be on the charts. I am not inventing the wheel--that's the business."

After the failure of Ultrax, Quon disappeared from the music scene for two years, and Goldfinger returned to the projects. Quon spent some of his time managing a convenience store--a far cry from the glamour and excitement of Dallas' short-lived rap scene.

But today, Quon says, he's ready to end his self-imposed exile from the music business. He wants another shot at the big time.

Quon has emerged slowly, popping in to visit a warehouse where he'd stored Ultrax office items, chatting with old business associates and friends. He talked to Vanilla Ice once; he reveals little about their conversation, saying only that Ice had matured.

Although Quon says he isn't bitter about the millions that came and went with Ultrax, he realizes he made some tactical errors. "The money that I made with the Vanilla Ice project basically went into my artists here," he says. "I thought I could build it and develop it, and it just turned out not to be.

"We were not politically 'in' enough," he says. "In learning to play the radio game and the industry game, it was more than we could handle. The majors have it all locked up, and they don't want any independents to come in. There have been a few who have done well, and [the majors] end up buying them up pretty quickly. And a lot of people try it and make the effort and they don't make it, and we were one of those."

Quon would never again personally bankroll projects he's excited about, he adds. "Ultrax will look for artists who are willing to share in the risks," he says. "If there are young artists out there who believe in themselves, they should find some way to bring things to the table."

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