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Redrumm is the case

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.

 

Two years later, Redrumm found itself with a new distribution deal--with Sony Music Group subsidiary Triple X/Red distribution--and two new partners, Pikahsso and James "Tekneek" Shepherd. Pikahsso and Shepherd had been performing around town under the name Dysphunkshunal, as well as running their own street promotion business, Gametight Promotions. The pair had staked out a small reputation for itself, with decent sales of its self-released debut single "Phield Trip," as well as performing the intro for K104's popular morning show, Skip Murphy and The Morning Team. After a chance meeting with Agugua, Dawson, and Ingram at a street festival in Deep Ellum, the duo joined the Redrumm team--first as artists, then as business partners. But even Shepherd and Pikahsso's promotional experience didn't stop Redrumm from losing its second distribution deal.

By all rights, the aborted relationship with Sony should have closed the book on Redrumm. After all, the label didn't have much to show for its four years in business, save for a few crates of unsold records. Plus, its similar sound and Photoshop artwork, as well as its thug-life moniker, had more than a few people confusing Redrumm with yet another attempt to clone the success of Master P and his No Limit empire. Instead of cutting its losses, though, the Redrumm team "went from hustle to hustle," as Pikahsso says, and headed for Reno, Nevada, and the annual Impact Convention, trying to score another deal. It worked. The Redrummbler came back to town with a contract from Street Pride, a distributor with a limited partnership with Private I/Mercury--home of isn't-he-dead? fashion victim Rick James.

It's the kind of deal that could make or break the label and its handful of staff members. Actually, at Redrumm's home base in Deep Ellum--The LABB--there is no actual staff. The artists handle every aspect of the business, from writing, recording, and producing the product to handling clerical duties, such as sending out promo copies to press and retail outlets and updating the Web site (www.redrummrecordz.com). Right now, the staff is busy readying Kabaal's Walking Half Dead, the label's next release, and the first of an ambitious schedule for the next year, including Pikahsso's solo debut (Unplugged: Pikahsso's Confessions) and albums by female MC Mokaah (Taking Chances) and reformed gangster Kimbo (Going 4 Broke). For a label that has released a mere two full-length albums thus far, it's a significant step, a sign that its day-to-day past may finally be behind it.

Without the Street Pride deal, it would be a different story. Street Pride has only distributed Gugu's "Money Makin' Anthem" single and Gugu Presents Redrumm's Killa Klique album, but the deal has already saved Redrumm from likely bankruptcy. The single, with its African-tinged G-funk and tag-team rhymes, was adopted by Bay Area radio stations, getting more spins than a Coke bottle at a junior-high party. Since then, the Redrummbler has made numerous trips out West, keeping the Redrumm name in front of the only market that seems to care. To Pikahsso, it's just as important to keep Dallas' name out there too.

"We want everybody to know where we're from," Pikahsso says. "We're not one of them groups to come out from Dallas, and then be like, 'Well, damn. Dallas ain't showing us no love, so we're going to start claiming West Coast, East Coast, or Midwest.' Not to knock 'em. Dallas is a hard city to conquer, but...when it does break in, we want to be the ones that say we stuck in with it."

Dude, you dropped
It's Christmastime in the music business, and 3,000 employees at a handful of record labels--not to mention dozens of bands--worry about going on holiday vacation and returning to find pink slips hung from the chimney with care. The turmoil that threatens to reshape the industry is being caused by the $10.4-billion purchase of Polygram Music and its subsidiary labels (including Island Records and Def Jam) by liquor giant Seagrams, which already owns Universal Music Group (home to such labels as Interscope, A&M, Mercury, and Geffen). Last week, UMG chairman-CEO Doug Morris issued a press release threatening to scale down what will become the largest music company in the world. He referred to UMG as a "lean, flexible organization that will benefit from the economics of scale." Which is Morris' way of telling UMG's employees and bands: Merry Christmas; you might be fired. "It's a sad time," says one employee at a UMG label--someone who doesn't want to be named, because he/she wants to keep his/her job come January 2.

 

But what all this means for Dallas bands signed to UMG subsidiaries remains a question mark with no period in sight.

Sources at Geffen Records, which likely will not exist after the merger is completed, insist that for now, Slowpoke is still signed to the label despite disappointing (to say the least) sales for the band's Geffen debut Virgin Stripes, which was released earlier this year. And the tomorrowpeople's still-untitled debut, while not on Geffen's 1999 release schedule, is expected from the label sometime in the spring, along with Geffen records from Weezer and Peter Gabriel. That could change, of course, when Morris and his bosses at Seagrams slash the roster after Christmas, when they're expected to begin cleaning house. Indeed, Sonic Youth and Girls Against Boys--far more revered bands than the two Dallas acts signed to the label--are often mentioned as obvious candidates to go.

Over at Interscope and Mercury, things are just as shaky: The Toadies, who have spent what seems like a lifetime recording the follow-up to 1994's Rubberneck, are also still on the roster. But with no completed album in hand, the platinum-selling locals aren't helping their position with UMG. And it can't be a good sign that Deep Blue Something's Byzantium, released this summer overseas, still hasn't hit the bins in this country and hasn't surfaced on Interscope's 1999 release schedule, even though the disc was originally due for U.S. release in September. (Though, to be fair, Interscope folks insist they never put anything on the following year's schedule until after New Year's--which is damned odd, but true.)

On the other hand, Mercury Records does have Radish's sophomore record on its 1999 schedule. Right now, Discount Fireworks is due in stores March 23, though the date is subject to change "depending on where everything falls," says a source at the label. "It's all very tentative."

In the past couple of weeks, two Dallas bands have been dropped by UMG subsidiaries: Tripping Daisy was released by Island, and Reverend Horton Heat parted company with Interscope. But according to sources familiar with both bands' situations, neither was dropped because of the merger. According to one source, Interscope simply decided not to renew Horton Heat's option because of dwindling album sales and the disappointing reviews that accompanied the release of this year's Space Heater, which was more like space filler. Most label staffers didn't even know the band had been dropped till long after it happened. "It's isolated, something different" than the UMG slash-and-burn, says the source.

And the Daisy's departure from Island comes as even less of a surprise. After all, Island's founder Chris Blackwell, who signed the Daisy, left the label a while back to start his own company, Palm Pictures; with Blackwell gone, the band had no cheerleader-protector left. Also, according to one source familiar with the situation, Island was chagrined that the Daisy titled its 1998 record Jesus Hits Like the Atom Bomb (not going to get into Wal-Mart that way); picked a six-plus-minute song ("Waited a Light Year") as its first single; and didn't tour extensively behind the record. On top of that, the band made no secret of its disdain for new management at the label, despite the fact that Island gave the Daisy complete artistic control over the record and its marketing. This summer, the band even told the Dallas Observer that Jesus might well be its last album for Island.

"The truth is, they had as much creative control as any band on the label," says the source. "They let all the work they had done fall by the wayside, and when the option comes up and the record doesn't sell and the label puts lots of money into the band, what's the label supposed to do?" Take one guess.

--Robert Wilonsky

Carry on, wayward son
Denton's two, um, cultural strengths are rock and art. Now the main link between those two spheres is packing up and moving to New York. Denton better prepare for his absence, because it will sure feel the loss. Chris Weber, a UNT grad who for the past three years has organized the music benefits and Rock Lotteries for the Good/Bad Art Collective (not to mention his contribution to the Argo legacy), has been the engine behind not only the collective's book-bands-to-survive tradition, but an artist in his own right (he'd deny that) and an impressive mediator in the Denton music scene. He's worked closely with every key musician Denton has churned out of late, which has allowed him to tweak the live-show concept as though it were more art installation than standard stage act.

 

As Good/Bad's benefit coordinator, Weber was responsible for such golden moments as "Roots Rock versus Space Rock," an Argo show that pitted the two genres and their fans against one another on opposite sides of the club; three unsinkable Rock Lotteries, which each year mixed and matched different bands' members for a glorious night of rock and chaos; and more than 35 separate multi-band benefits featuring every regional act you could name. He also participated in Good/Bad's constant one-night-only art events (and was a volunteer in the notorious Isolation Chamber, a hyper-claustrophobic three-day event).

"It's time to move on," Weber says. "It's as simple as that. I still like Denton, and I plan to keep pushing Denton, Texas, in the big city. I hate Dallas." But why New York? First off, he has family up there, but more crucially, he's heading that way to help kick off and organize a New York Good/Bad satellite--a Good/Bad del Norte, of sorts. Former and active G/B members Dan Bailey, Will Robison, and Karl Conrad have migrated to NYC over the past year or so, are stationed in Brooklyn, and have recently scoped out a living-working space for the growing contingent of Good/Badders. "We'll move into the space in January or February," Weber says. "We're planning our first show for summer...Ultimately, I'd like to have a big Rock Lottery in New York, with New York bands. That's a long-term goal." Good luck.

--Christina Rees

Scene, heard
The listening party for Captain Audio's forthcoming debut CD My Ears are Ringing But My Heart's OK, originally scheduled for November, will finally take place December 18 at Sock Money in Exposition Park. Sub Oslo will also perform...

Floor 13 will celebrate the release of its new, self-titled four-song EP with a performance December 19 at Trees...

Don't quite know what the hell this is--looks like a soundtrack to a comic book, which is kinda peculiar--but The American Fuse and former Tenderloin guitarist Kirk St. James (or Reverend Horton Heat Guitar Tech Formerly Known as Kirk Moffitt, also an ex-member of Atomic Rodeo) both appear on the new compilation disc Hell City Hell. The album, released by the L.A.-based Diablo Musica label, also features contributions from Fastball, Puff Daddy, and Supersuckers and comes with a comic book filled with strippers. Like I said, I don't know what the hell it is...

Speaking of compilations, 93.3 The Zone has released Zone Cuts 3, a 13-song disc featuring the likes of Alana Davis, Blues Traveler, Natalie Merchant, Edwin McCain, and Barenaked Ladies. Proceeds go to the North Texas Food Bank and Tarrant Area Food Bank, noble causes indeed. But when I look at the track listing, I am reminded of why I never listen to The Zone.

--R.W.

Send Street Beat your Christmas cheer to rwilonsky@dallasobserver.com.


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