By Jim Schutze
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Redrumm Recordz's Pikahsso never misses an opportunity to plug his label's upcoming release schedule, steering every query back to the future. If you were to ask the 28-year-old rapper what day it is, he'd probably tell you Kabaal has an album coming out in a few weeks, followed by full-lengths from the rest of the so-called "Killa Klique": D-$tyle, Kimbo, Mokaah, and of course, Pikahsso himself. Or he'd proudly mention that the label's current release--a single, "Money Makin' Anthem," by label founder Gugu--has been on Billboard's "25 Bubbling Under" chart for the past 14 weeks, meaning it's among 25 promising singles yet to crack the trade magazine's Top 100 singles chart. You can hardly blame his determination to spread the word, because for the past six years, Redrumm has been more underground than a time capsule, its profile in Dallas limited to ads on the side of DART buses and little else.
Like most of the members of the Dallas hip-hop scene, Pikahsso and his Redrumm comrades have learned a difficult lesson during their struggle to turn the label into more than just a clever name: To make it here, you have to make it somewhere else first. So two weeks ago, Pikahsso, Gugu, and members of Kabaal (L-Dogg, Dawg Oz, Kreed, and Riddlez) set out on another three-week West Coast trek in the Redrummbler, a customized promotional van loaded down with sampler tapes and T-shirts. Its stereo--fueled by 3,000 watts of power--bangs out Redrumm music loud enough to hear back in Dallas. Redrumm hasn't given up on breaking the Dallas market, but after six years of bloodying its hands on the front door, it's time to see whether the back door is open. According to Pikahsso, so far, so good.
"It's going real well," Pikahsso says, calling from a tour stop in Oakland. "We've got the Redrummbler van, and we've been taking it out to a whole lot of the club spots and a whole lot of the 'hoods and just setting up, posting up, meeting and greeting all the fans and whatever, the consumers. Basically, what we're doing on this promo tour, it's like Operation Fan. We're letting them know we ain't on no stuck-up, arrogant trip. We're some down-to-earth brothers. We're putting them on our mailing list. Getting them sampler tapes. T-shirts, postcards, whatever comes. Hugs. No fan wants to buy the album of someone who's arrogant and stuck-up, walking around with their head up their ass."
The tour is ostensibly to support the label's latest album, Gugu Presents Redrumm's Killa Klique, but it serves to teach the rigors of the road to Kabaal, the next group up to bat in the Redrumm lineup. And, like the album itself, the trip is an advertisement for every member of the Redrumm family, getting a buzz started on the street now, so people will be waiting for their records when they eventually land in stores sometime next year. The other Redrumm artists will receive the same treatment next year, and by then, the members of Kabaal will be veterans of the road, teachers instead of students. "We're going to keep 'em coming like an assembly line," Pikahsso says.
The former Shahid Akbar speaks hurriedly, words flowing into each other like raindrops in a puddle, as he outlines Redrumm's West Coast strategy. He doesn't have much time to talk, because he knows every minute he wastes talking on the phone is another minute he's not talking to a potential fan, another possible sale. He realizes how important these tours can be, because if it weren't for the label's previous jaunts through the area, Redrumm would just be another dead-on-arrival dream, a stockroom full of faded memories and wasted time. Since the label's inception, the Bay Area has been Redrumm's unofficial second home, offering the kind of support Dallas has never quite been able--or willing--to provide.
"We're getting a lot of sales of that single out here," Pikahsso says. "That's the reason we came out here on the West Coast. That's where the majority of our sales are coming from, out in this region. We have a sound that's more favorable to the West Coast and the South. Unfortunately, in the South, they don't have a whole lot of college avenues to go through, or community radio. In Dallas, the only station that's gonna give us some play is [KNON-FM] 89.3. K104, they're not going to give us no play, not right now, unless we just start getting played on other stations across the country."
Redrumm Recordz would have died several years ago if it hadn't been for the sales and spins coming from the West Coast. Started by the Nigerian-born Michael "Gugu" Agugua in 1992, Redrumm existed for several years as little more than a name. Agugua had been producing bands, starting with his own Def Duo--who often shared stages with The D.O.C.'s Fila Fresh Crew--in the mid-'80s. However, his production acumen failed to translate into business savvy. In 1994, he brought in Alphonzo "Zero" Ingram and Pierre Dawson to help him run the fledgling company, leading to the release of the label's first few singles and EPs. The singles did well enough to garner Redrumm a distribution deal with Midwest Records, but the deal disintegrated so fast, the contracts might as well have been written on wet toilet paper.