The Hip-Hop Hustle

Dale Lane was seething. Just the other day, a friend had called the 27-year-old Dallas rapper--better known by his stage name, Goldfinger--long-distance from Florida.

"Man, did you see your new album?" the friend asked. "Man, it's all over the place down here."

At first, Lane had no idea what his friend was talking about. He asked him to rush him a copy of the CD--that he'd pay him back later. And a few days afterward, the proof arrived at his door.

The CD, titled Bass Freaks, sported three scantily clad, big-haired women with pouty lips and prominent backsides posing in front of a souped-up, lowrider truck. The company that manufactured the CD had also slapped on a puny credit that read "Featuring Goldfinger."

When he listened to the CD, he heard the women making husky sighs and slumber-party chatter before each track. But almost all of the music was his.

Goldfinger couldn't believe it. "That damned Tommy Quon!" he fumed.
The rapper hated Tommy Quon--absolutely despised him. Quon, a former nightclub owner and manager, was the discoverer of one-time rap sensation Vanilla Ice and the mastermind behind the Dallas record company, Ultrax, that had signed Goldfinger in early 1992. The rapper had sued Quon that summer, alleging that Ultrax had withheld royalties for his music. Quon said he hadn't--and claimed that Goldfinger's album on Ultrax, This Beat Is for Freaks, hadn't racked up enough sales to recoup the $150,000 spent by the record company in manufacturing, marketing, and distributing it. Goldfinger, Quon maintained, wasn't owed any royalties.

Quon had hired Dallas attorney and state Senator Royce West, who, armed with a 25-page, densely written contract bearing Goldfinger's signature, practically ran the rapper out of court.

Goldfinger went from limousines and groupies back to the Dallas projects. No car, no money, no nothing.

And now this. His discovery of the new Bass Freaks CD was like getting kicked in the face after already being thrown in the mud.

"It is all mine and it's selling, and I haven't gotten a penny from it," Goldfinger says. "Not a damn cent."

Dale Lane hadn't planned on going back to where he'd started--in South Dallas' Frazier Court projects. But here he was, toiling invisibly in a tiny studio he'd set up in his apartment, making music only a handful of folks would listen to.

Four years ago, he had been living large, one of a handful of popular Dallas soul and rap artists who had signed with the ambitious local record company Ultrax--the purported first stop on the way to the majors. Lane was a "bootie bass" expert, exquisitely skilled in making rap background music that people felt compelled to dance to. He could fill up a dance floor with his cuts, something people in the music industry consider a gift. His music, with its relentless bass rhythms and crude, nonsensical lyrics--"Scheek that bootay, make it nice and juicy"--was what Los Angeles was looking for. Goldfinger knew he was headed for the big time.

Back then, he had happily signed his music over to Ultrax owner Tommy Quon in exchange for a $20,000 advance and the promise of riches and fame.

Quon had a reputation as the kingmaker for Dallas' thriving rap scene. He'd already made millions for Vanilla Ice, a white rapper from Carrollton. Ice, whose real name is Robby Van Winkle, was one of the most successful rap stars of the early 1990s. When Vanilla Ice hit it big in 1991, so did Quon. Quon began parlaying his newfound wealth into building Ultrax. The management and record company, which had assets of about $2 million in its prime, would make Dallas--as they say in rap parlance--blow up in the soul and rap music industries, Quon believed. In fact, Quon used Motown Records, Berry Gordy's legendary soul label, as his model for Ultrax.

"He was absolutely dedicated to putting Dallas on the map," says J.W. Sewell, a former Ultrax executive. "He was going out of his way to plant a musical seed--very dedicated to breaking Dallas artists, raising the visibility of the city--but maybe too much. And this is with his money."

For a while, Quon's ambitions seemed to be bearing fruit. Some of Dallas' most promising soul and rap artists--among them the Mac Band, which had a national hit with its 1988 cut, "Roses are Red"--had signed to Ultrax, producing well-received music and touring throughout the country. But Ultrax never realized its dreams, closing down amid lawsuits, debts, and the dashed ambitions of its fledgling stars after only four years.

When the smoke cleared in 1994, Quon would be broke, as well as resented and mistrusted by just about everybody he'd worked with in town. Dallas never really blew up, not with Ultrax. Ultrax artists have gone back to their day jobs and Quon, devastated by the dissolution of his dream, went into self-imposed exile from the music industry he loved.

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Denise Mcvea