Money Talks

The call came a while back now, but Play doesn't have a problem remembering it. After all, it was one of those sacred, career-changing moments. One of those once-in-a-lifetime deals.

Play, who along with his brother Skillz makes up the Dallas-based beat-making team Play-N-Skillz, was lying in bed when it came. The person on the other line wanted to talk beats. Specifically, he wanted to talk about the track "Got Money" that, once upon a time, Play-N-Skillz had created for fellow Dallas artist Tum Tum.

It was a track that was supposed to help Tum continue his somewhat meteoric rise as the first Dallas-based artist since Vanilla Ice to make a name in the national hip-hop game. But Tum's proposed collaborator on the track, the ubiquitous auto-tune effect-altered R&B/hip-hop crooner T-Pain, had to back out of participating because of a scheduling conflict, so the idea never materialized.



At least, not yet.

Later, while Play-N-Skillz was working with Miami-based reggaeton rapper Pitbull, the track again came up in conversation. Pitbull dug the beat and again thought it perfect for a T-Pain sung hook. Only, again, T-Pain was unable to get around to the track in time for it to find its way onto Pitbull's latest release, The Boatlift.

Oh, well.

This time, though, with Pitbull's help, the track did eventually find its way into T-Pain's hands. A fan of the beat—that sentiment, it seems, was unanimous—T-Pain finally got around to recording the hook Play-N-Skillz had written for the track.

Only, one problem: Now the duo needed a rapper for the song's verses.

Encouraged by T-Pain's participation, Play-N-Skillz started shopping the track around, looking for a willing MC. And, again, the duo hit a roadblock.

Hip-hop superstar Fat Joe passed on it. Fast-rising Miami-based rapper Rick Ross did too. So did a few others.

So as Play relaxed in his South Irving home, he was a little surprised to hear T-Pain on the other end of the line, explaining how he'd found the perfect rapper to spit over the signature Play-N-Skillz-sounding, synth-heavy track.

But then another issue came up: When Play pressed for more information about the willing artist, T-Pain balked. He couldn't name names, he said, and only offered Play his assurance that this undisclosed artist's work was a big deal.

Play laughed.

Nice try, T-Pain: "If it ain't Jay-Z or Lil Wayne," Play spoke into the phone, "then fuck it."

But it was Lil Wayne.

And now, with Wayne's Tha Carter III having sold 2 million-plus copies in a little more than a month, and with the Play-N-Skillz track "Got Money" dropping right now as the album's third single, the congenial, half-Venezuelan, half-Argentinean duo from "the crooked S" is sitting on top of the world.

Not that Play—or Skillz—is surprised. One thing this duo doesn't lack—much like the other major players in the Dallas scene (Tum Tum, Lil Shine, Lil Wil, Big Tuck)—is confidence.

More than anything, to them, the success of "Got Money" comes with a sigh of relief.

"For the price we're charging," Skillz says, with a smile, "it better be hot."

"Got Money" certainly is. But there's pressure at work here; the high price tag of a Play-N-Skillz beat is easily traced to the success of Chamillionaire's hit "Ridin'," perhaps the biggest hip-hop track of 2006. Play-N-Skillz produced that smash. Having another big single, Play says, finally cements the duo's status as a premier production team: "It's a reassurance of our career. 'Ridin'' was so big, we needed to get another big one."

And on Friday night, basking in the glow of that new "big one," Play-N-Skillz celebrated. Skillz, who neither drinks nor smokes, was all smiles, dancing on a table in the crowded House of Blues Foundation right next to Play, who sipped vodka straight from the bottle and whooped it up for the crowd at the official pre-party for the brothers' second annual "All-Star Weekend," an event that, this year, ran in conjunction with the annual Summer Jam concert from K104 (KKDA-104.5 FM).

Joining them throughout the crowd: Tuck, Tum and New Orleans-based Cash Money rapper Mannie Fresh, as well as (reportedly) various Mavericks and Cowboys players. And the music that pumped through the House of Blues system on this night? A mish-mash of Dallas' biggest hits of the past year (Lil Wil's "My Dougie," Big Tuck's "Not a Stain on Me"), tracks from Tha Carter III and songs from Play-N-Skillz's own catalog. This celebratory atmosphere inside the club was only bolstered by the scene taking place outside earlier in the night: A line wrapped around the front of the House of Blues as the crowd waited for Play-N-Skillz and their celebrity friends to arrive on the temporarily installed red carpet. Various media entities circled the carpet, snapping shots of those who passed by the velvet rope with nary a head nod. Interviewers called out to Play-N-Skillz with on-camera interview requests. It was so flashy, it was tough to believe.

And yet, it worked. It was...well...fun. It was the kind of night Dallas hip-hop has been waiting on for years, the kind of night it hopes to—and just might, at this rate—see plenty more of in the future.

Now, with their album Out the Box slated for an October release, the future is looking especially bright for Play-N-Skillz. Even if their own MCing dreams falter, the duo, which recently installed a fully loaded studio into their shared Irving home, has a pretty decent fallback plan: They just signed a sneaker and fitted-cap deal with Arlington-based apparel company Yums (the same organization that recently inked a deal with dance-hop sensation Soulja Boy), and artists like 50 Cent are blowing up their cells, asking Play-N-Skillz to provide the beats on their upcoming projects (currently, Play says, 50's working on three of the duo's beats).

Add Lil Wayne and 50 Cent to a Play-N-Skillz cast that already includes national artists like Chamillionaire, Pitbull, Lil Flip and Baby Bash, and the sky, it seems, is the limit for their success.

Says Play: "50 and Wayne? I don't know how much bigger it gets."

Not much bigger, that's for sure. That's why everyone was celebrating on Play-N-Skillz's behalf this weekend.

"It's a blessing, man," Play says. "It's a blessing for Dallas."

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