By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
PPT--named for members Pikahsso, Picnic and Tahiti--became the first hip-hop act ever signed to Dallas label Idol Records in August, a few months after their song "Rowdy, Loud and Proud" was chosen as the Dallas Mavericks' playoff theme song. If you didn't know better, that turn of events would sound like pure chance--and like everything that's wrong with the music industry. Win a contest, get a record deal. They got lucky. But there's truth to the old saying that the harder you work, the luckier you get. What the cliché doesn't say is most of the time you work your ass off and never catch that break.
Pikahsso and Tahiti have spent decades trying to make their own luck in the rap game. The younger Picnic is making up for lost time, as the excellence of PPT's debut album, Tres Monos in Love, proves. Every song from the album, released October 3 locally and nationwide early next year, deals with the topic of romantic love at every stage and from every angle: lusting obsession, regret of a quickie fling, demanding independence, the pain of getting dumped, taunting a jealous ex, imagining the perfect wife and ending a spat in the most pleasurable way possible.
The disc, in fact, is a musical love letter to '80s pop, funk, R&B and old-school hip-hop. Pikahsso's on-point harmonics and funky singing, Tahiti's raspy rap and soulful crooning, and Picnic's smooth flow and lady-killing falsetto blend perfectly with each other and the production. The breakneck "Clay at Your Own Risk" combines cowbell (more!), disco whistles and stripped-down drums to celebrate Pikahsso's freedom from a manipulative girlfriend. "Dumps" features live saxophone and a guest verse from the mighty Headkrack as the guys commiserate over being dumped. The album comes with a feature-loaded DVD that includes music videos for all but one of the album's songs, plus comedy bits and interviews.
Tahiti never expected to cash in on all the luck he's built up for himself.
"To be honest, I really didn't see it coming," Tahiti (real name: Walter Archey III) says of the group's sudden success. His doubts are understandable. At 38 years old, he is well past the age most musicians quit hoping for their big break. And despite his age, he is a relative newcomer as a rapper. He started making beats and videos for local crews that included Native Poets and the Free Agents in the early '90s and spun records before that. But his role behind the mike was mostly as a hype man until he decided to put out his own record. The Birth of Whack EP, released in 2005, was the result of years of work, made financially possible by bartered services and borrowed money. It tanked. Jobless, broke, evicted from his apartment and hundreds of miles from his son and daughter, he turned his self-disgust into a shockingly candid verse on his old friend Pikahsso's "Failure."
Though Tahiti planned to keep rapping as long as he was breathing, at that point it looked like his music career would be behind the camera or mixing board. 'Round about that time, Pikahsso (known to the government as Terry Jones) was seeking producers to come up with a new beat for his signature song, "Verb." Unable to pick just one, he did a few versions with different producers, including 23-year-old Richard Escobedo, known since childhood as Picnic.
A graduate of the Hirschi arts magnet school in Wichita Falls, Picnic studied video and audio production on a scholarship at the Art Institute of Dallas, spending free time on his PlayStation. But he didn't just use his PS console for videogames; he was making beats with MTV Music Generator. Encouraged by the professional-sounding beats he produced, he invested in some professional equipment. Then came some luck.
"Devin smokes a lot of weed," Picnic says. "Well, he and Drew were chillin' in his hotel room, and Drew slips in one of my beats on a mix CD he'd put on. Devin was like, 'Whoa, who's this?' It was kinda planned. Drew called me before and was like, 'Yo, I'ma do this.'"
The plan worked. A couple weeks later, he and Devin collaborated on a few songs for yet-to-be-released Devin projects, as well as a mixtape track featuring Scarface.
"Devin played me some of his upcoming stuff that nobody's heard," Picnic says. "Some people would kill for a moment like that."
The high-profile work helped establish Picnic's credibility as a producer, and Pikahsso took notice.
PPT took form when Pikahsso asked Tahiti to direct a video for Picnic's version of "Verb." Overwhelming fan response to the song and video convinced the three that they had something special. They started working on an album at breakneck pace, recording it in two weeks in February.
Pikahsso was so confident in the group he decided to perform with the others at South by Southwest in what was scheduled to be his solo slot. Maybe it was generosity, or maybe he realized it was his best shot at pulling himself out of the financial hole that had him sleeping in his Jeep (until the Jeep was repossessed while he was in Austin, that is).