In this week's Observer cover story, we take a look at the upcoming NBA All-Star Weekend coming through town and what it could mean for Dallas' hip-hop future. In short: If nothing else, it should add some eyes to the burgeoning D-Town Boogie movement and help the scene get some attention from outside record labels.
And that's already happening, actually: Bone's earned himself a deal with Def Jam Recordings and Treal Lee & Prince Rick have already been signed to Atlanta's Collipark Records, an imprint of Interscope Records.
It's a promising start: The man behind Treal Lee & Prince Rick's deal, Collipark (born Michael Crooms), is the man who discovered Soulja Boy. Two weeks back, he was kind enough to indulge in some questions about the deal, as well as some queries about Dallas' position as a hip-hop market as a whole. In general, Collipark was a little timid about Dallas' future. If it's going to break out, though, he believes it's going to be because of his new signees.First off, can you tell us a little bit about the deal you've offered Treal Lee & Prince Rick?
They're signed to Collipark Music and my label deal is with Interscope Records.
What's the plan?
We're trying to play it in the middle of the road right now. You don't want to put it out there and have it burn out naturally. We're gonna blast it all over the country.
Is it a singles deal?
All deals now are singles deals.
Fair enough. But what turned you on to these guys?
I think they're entertainers. And that's what I saw from them that I didn't see from the other stuff that I saw in Dallas.
How'd you find out about them?
My brother, who's A&R for the company, was in Dallas last year, and we go back with DJ Bay Bay because of Hurricane [Chris]. So Bay Bay was taking him around and showing him stuff. And he called me and he was like, 'Yo, there's this record..." And just the name of it--Mr. Hit Dat [Hoe]--it just sounded like it it had Collipark all over it. And then I went down the next weekend and I met them. To me, a record is a record. But I look for personality, showmanship, all that stuff. And we went around the city and people had love for them and all the intangible stuff that you wanna see in something that you sign.
Is it true that they drove all the way out to Atlanta to see you and you snubbed them at first?
[Laughs.] I was contacted from a guy I knew back in the day. And he told me he had a group from Dallas or whatever and they were coming to Atlanta. However, at that time, I didn't know that they were coming primarily to meet me. Second of all, I didn't know that they were driving from Dallas! And I was busy doing family stuff, so when they called me, I was like, 'Yo, man, I can't make it.' I had no idea that this was the same group. But they made it a point to let me know later that they were the guys who drove out there and stood in front of my office. When I found out, I was like, 'Oh, man! That was you!'"
What're your thoughts on the Dallas hip-hop scene as a whole?
I like it. To me, I like it because they remind of back when everybody was hungry. When you look at a market that hasn't been developed or exposed, you find a certain kind of hunger that comes with, y'know, when hip-hop was fresh. See, I'm in Atlanta so everybody is doing it here. Everybody knows that they can put a record on the radio and they're gonna get a record deal. So the creativity, the work ethic, it's not like it used to be. So when I went out to Dallas and I saw the level of support that I saw everybody giving each other and the amount of records I'd never heard before--it kind of reminded me of when I used to go to New Orleans back in the day and the bounce was the bomb. You would go into New Orleans and they'll play five local records and one national record. I like it. What I don't like [is that] it's very one-dimensional right now. [drops Big Chief's name] What I mean by one-dimensional is, you're gonna find different variations of it, but it's all basically going in one direction.
Is that dangerous?
[Sighs.] Well, they're just starting out. The more exposure that they get... See, what you've got to do as a record company is, once you see a market like Dallas with all stuff that going on, you've gotta go down there and find the acts that are doing their own thing. To me, that's when the market is gonna get his just due. You look at the types of deals that have been done... I've had Treal Lee and those guys since since October. And I'm in no rush to just throw that song out there because it's hot. That's why I didn't just blow my wad, so to speak, before Interscope got involved. Because I want to give those guys a fair shot. You look at a lot of artists outside of Dorrough and GS Boyz and they got thrown out there and in today's climate, if it doesn't go the way the label wants it to go, you kind of get put on the shelf. I'm one of those guys that I believe in everything that I sign; if I don't, I won't sign it. I believe that these guys have staying power, I think they have star power, so I'll take my time rolling out Mr. Hit Dat because that has the potential to be a HUGE record nationally.
You really think so?
Yeah. To me, Dallas is one of those markets, especially in the hip-hop community that people have no idea how viable that market can be to the hip-hop community. Because they just don't go! When you have an event like the All-Star weekend, people are gonna go in there and they're gonna see, first of all... There's so many women out there. Phew... There's so many women! [Laughs.] What I like about Dallas, is it's a good place to be, but it hasn't been exposed to all the bad parts about [hip-hop success]. Y'know, in Atlanta, you come here, everybody's flexing like they got money. Everybody's driving a Bentley, half of them can't afford it. In Dallas, it's all so new, you don't have that level. You don't have to deal with that when you go to Dallas.
Heading into All-Star Weekend, as someone who's been through it before, like when the game can through Atlanta in 2003, what advice do you have for the city?
I already know that the clubs and the street guys, they'll continue to support. But, unless, for some strange reason, formats change for that weekend, so long as radio continues to support... If Dallas continues to do what they do on a regular basis, it's gonna have a huge impact. People are gonna know about the Dallas hip-hop scene. And that's why I say I hope that no one gets in anybody's ear and says "Yo, this weekend we've gotta do it like this, as opposed to the way we've been doing it."
So you're saying it really doesn't matter what the city does to prepare, right? It'll happen or it won't.
You could put on all the parties that you wanna put on. But the music that is just organically circulating around the city, that's what's gonna catch the ear. You can't pay for organic. If people are naturally messing with Dorrough, or naturally messing with Play-N-Skillz, you're gonna feel it. You're gonna know it. If it's just paid for or it's something... it's almost like paying for radio spins or something like that. Anything you pay for is only gonna be there for as long as you pay for it. As soon as you stop paying for it, it's going away. You can have as many parties as you want to. If you're not that dude, it's not gonna matter. If you are that dude, then all that stuff is gonna mean that much more.
Who stands to gain the most from this weekend, artist-wise? The up-and-comer or the guys who've already established themselves a little bit?
If you're a guy without a record deal out there, and your song is that next record to blow and everybody's talking about it and it's that record that everybody's playing and everybody's asking people when they come in town, well, have you heard such-and-such's song? You're gonna be the guy that comes out a winner at the end of the day.
So what do those guys need to do--this weekend,, specifically, I mean?
Just be visible. Just be visible. You've got to act like Treal Lee and Prince Rick. When they step into the building, it's a scene. It's the whole thing. Anywhere they go, it's gonna be a scene. So, for a group like that, all they gotta do is be in the building. When they were here for BET weekend, we took 'em to a club here called Club Miami. And no one had an idea that they were gonna be there. And there were radio spots and they had all these people performing and blah blah blah. But, when those guys hit the stage, it was total pandemonium. And, for the most part, they had never heard of the group.
That's gotta bode well for Dallas, right?
My view on the Dallas hip-hop scene is that it has a lot of potential. The only dangerous part of it is that the music that I've heard, that's gotten attention out of the market, is it lacks a certain substance. It's all club music. But, you gotta understand, at this point, Dallas is like Atlanta two years ago. At some point, it becomes a been there, done that. And especially from a record sales standpoint because everybody feels like all they're gonna have is one little dance record, it's gonna get play, I'm gonna get tired of it, I'm not gonna buy it. I'm gonna dance to it in the club, and I'll be over it in a couple of months. And not just in Dallas--it's that way in Atlanta right, too, now. So if you don't come with something to offer, whether it's a group that people buy into beyond the music or whether its music that kind of offers something else that no one else is offering--that's what you've got to tap into.
Can you give me an example?
Soulja Boy. He's the perfect example because he's at the forefront of this dance music.
Yeah, he's already had a lot of influence over this scene, for sure. A lot of the Boogie guys credit him with showing them the power of the Internet and YouTube with their dances or whatever.
And that was only one aspect that he has to offer! We came out with the "Crank That." Everybody knew it was this kid who could dance and it was a catchy little dance record. But we wanted to develop the artist, so we came back with "Soulja Girl." And we touched into a whole different fan base of his, all those little girls that love him. Then, after that, we came back with the "Yahhh!" which went to his humorous side and it developed his personality. And then we put out a more mature record for him with "Donk" because his crowd wasn't used to hearing that kind of record from him. Every single we put out was to develop his audience.
Now, you take a group like GS Boyz. You came out with "Stanky Legg" and then you put out "Booty Do"? That's the same record! That's what you've got to develop.
Well, Dallas needs to learn to show more than one side is what you're saying.
Yeah. Like, Dallas? We don't know anything about Dallas. If you look at the way we shot the "Mr. Hit Dat" video [see above], it's just as much about Dallas as it is the group. That's what we wanna do. We took it in the hood. I don't think anyone who don't know anything about "Mr. Hit Dat" walk away from it thinking it's a dance video. It's about presenting something new to the marketplace. Dallas is something fresh and everybody's talking about it, but nobody's put it on the map. You still haven't found anybody that's brought something to the market that nobody's heard. So until you find that, it's just gonna be what it is.
Will it stay that way?
Everybody's looking at Dallas right now. It's all about the music, though. All the labels are looking at Dallas right now. Even when we were there, we ran across a couple of cats that didn't necessarily have stuff that went along with what's getting signed out of there. Right now, everybody just knows Dallas for the D-Town Boogie and all that.
And that's not enough.
Nope. That's why we're gonna roll out Treal Lee and Prince Rick's "Rockin'" next. It's a real song.
And not a dance song, which is all Dallas is offering up.
Yeah, but people don't talk about it like that. To be honest with you... Can I be honest with you? I think Treal Lee and Prince Rick are gonna be the group that puts Dallas on the map.
Well, you're a little biased there. I mean, they're your horse in the race.
After we make the road with "Mr. Hit That," let's talk. When the record peaks and it starts falling, hit me back. Because I know you can't just sell a record out here and win. You've gotta sell a record, but at the same time, you've got to buy into the movement and you've got to buy into the act. You've got to see potential. And I see potential beyond the dance and all that. It hasn't even really gotten started yet.
You see potential in Dallas, then?
It has to develop into that. I guarantee you there's some people out there. They're just not checking for that right now.
Could this weekend be the start of that? How important is this weekend to Dallas' future?
It's the jump-off, man. You're gonna have people from all over the country, from all over entertainment--sports, music, anything--right there. It's the jump-off. It's definitely the jump-off.
But you can't force it.
I believe in organic. You're gonna have everybody throwing parties and doing everything--you can't keep up with all that kind of stuff. It's the records and the acts that are truly on the tips of people's tongues, and that are truly hot in that market when they're not listening to the radio, but what's in their cars when they're driving down the street or what's playing in the store when you're buying your liquor, what song are they playing? You understand what I'm saying? It's that kind of stuff.
You think we'll see a bunch of signings coming out of this weekend, regardless?
You probably will. I just don't believe in the whole bandwagon aspect. It's definitely gonna happen. But unless it's someone that, when they went to Dorrough's party or what and they ran into this cat that was truly dope--maybe he's not evben on the show, but I ran into him and he's just the dopest dude. To me--and I'm serious--that's the kind of act that can benefit from this situation. I think an act like Big Chief will come away with a record deal.
Is that a good thing, though, for him to get signed? He's not really a dance artist.
They might sign him 'cause he's from Dallas and expect him to have the next "Stanky Legg" or whatever, but it's not gonna happen.
Thanks so much for your time, man. We really appreciate it. Anything else you wanna say that we haven't yet discussed?
I'm going on the record. People didn't understand me when I said this, 'cause they had no idea what I was talking about: I compared Soulja Boy to Michael Jackson when I first signed him. And it was in his first bio when I first signed him. People were like, "What the hell are you talking about?" And that was nothing more than me seeing how his fans were into him and the starI -power he had, and I had never seen that in a hip-hop artist. And then, fast-forward two or three years later and, of course, he's not where Michael was, but he was so young when he started, to have that at that young age? By the time he reaches 25, who knows? I really wasn't that far off with what I trying to say. I say that and I'll say this: I really think Treal Lee and Prince Rick--because you've got a lot of acts from Dallas, but a lot of people are still not talking about Dallas to this day, and I can say that--once we get "Mr. Hit Dat" up and rolling, it's gonna be the record that gets people starting to talk about Dallas as a market. That's all I'm saying.