by Tony Garcia/photography by Michael Florendo Downlow Magazine
How long have you been with A.I.O. Entertainment?
Since about late 2001 when I went to NY and met up with super producer Ed Roc and business manager Mr. Big Sha. They both saw the vision, the talent, and the potential in me to become a viable commodity and successful artist in this business. Not only did they see the potential in me as an artist but they also saw that I was business savy. And that led to the establishment of A.I.O. Entertainment.
How long have you been rapping and how did you show interest in it?
Truthfully, I began as a die hard fan of hiphop and rap. I came up on that 90’s shit. You had artists in the north like Nas, Biggie, Black Moon, Jeru The Damaja, the south had 8Ball & MJG, Outkast, UGK, Scarface, the west had Pac, Snoop, Cube, Above the Law. All coasts were solid musically. In fact, I really can’t remember any artist putting out a wack assrecordatthattime. Youreallyappreciated music back then. That’s why you didn’t see everybody & they mama rapping like you see now. People respected the art. You respected them so much that you knew you couldn’t fuck with them. No body wanted to rap cause we had icons back then. You don’t have that now. But when I first got involved in this business, I started producing. It was hard selling beats at that time cause there really weren’t as many independent or local artists and muthafuckas never wanted to pay you $200$300 for your shit no matter how hot it was. Everybody wanted shit for free or for got damn $20. The majors weren’t trying to hear you either unless somebody really credible walked your shit in, and even then if your shit ain’t sound like whatever was selling and charting at that time, they still wouldn’t give a fuck how hot and creative your shit was. Anyway, all those beats I took time making were in need of some vocals, and that’s how rapping came into play. So I would say I’m almost near that 10 year anniversary mark since I decided to get in that booth.
So how’s that journey been so far?
I would say it’s been a rocky road. I recorded my first album back in 2000 called “Southern Contradiction”. At the time, I didn’t have any real budget going towards promoting the album. And around that time, Houston and Atlanta were the top independent markets in the South. You had Southern Music Distribution and South West wholesale which served as the distribution pipeline for most of the independent artists coming from those two areas like Lil Jon & the Eastside Boyz, Ludacris, Ying Yang Twins, Slim Thug, ESG, etc. If you didn’t have atleast a $30,000 promotional/marketing budget, these distribution companies weren’t trying to hear you. And I think that changed the game immensely where shopping your product to a major label started to pretty much become irrelevant. The era of artist development was slowly coming to a halt. So basically, you had to develop your self as an artist and show that you were a commodity in the marketplace before anyone even thought aboutinvesting in you. And I think that was a change for the better in a sense that it made the artist business like and selfefficient but on the flipside it gave every and anybody who thought they could rap but couldn’t, the notion that they could put out a record themselves. And a result of that is what you see today�..the over saturation and influx of rappers from every street corner, every suburb, and probably every household through out the world. Man, the shit is like a plague orepidemicorlikethemovie “Resident Evil” where everybody catches the tvirus and turns to zombies. Everybody caught the rap bug,andnoonecanstopit. Thephrasehating is so overused too. The word hating safeguards a lot of wack ass rappers today. You couldn’t get away with that shit 15 years ago.
But to answer your question, I started out trying to make amove with LilTroy,Short Stop Records, and All Mine Ent.Group in Houston at the end of 2000. Troy had got locked up, and that shit never came to fruition. I then moved out to NY, hooked up with Tony Dick, who produced classics like “Girl I House You” from the Jungle Bros and the “Inspector Gadget” song. He brought me to Diane Lemchak at Warlock Records. We were about to close a deal but then she was tragically killed. Diane was the only person I built a relationship with at Warlock, and since she was no longer there, I decided not to sign with them. So instead they signed Mr. Bigg. About a few months after that, I wound up meeting Cheryl “Salt” James of the legendary group Salt N Pepa, her husband Gavin Wray, and their business partner at the time, Polo. At the time, they had a joint venture with Rapalot/Virgin. I did a few records with her for her solo debut “Salt of the Earth”. Salt is real religious, andis againstvulgarityand profanity in her records. So I had to learn to tone my shit down, and that’s when I learned the versatility aspect of making clean records as opposed to always making street records. Anyway, I was under GavFam Records at the time, her and her husband’s label. If her project did well, Virgin would have given them an imprint to put out other artists, with me beingthefirstartist.Andatthattime,Rapalot and Virgin were going through their split. Virgin didn’t want to pick up Gav Fam, and so “Salt of the Earth” never came out. Gav and Polo were big fans of the “Southern Contradiction” album. They were out there shopping me to everybody who they had strong relationships with from execs like Steve Rifkind to Haqq Islam of University Records to execsat Def Jam South. I also met Violet Brown, CEO of Where House Music at that time, and she was shopping my stuff hard to people like Kevin Liles. Everyone liked the product but they would ask “where are the soundscans and BDS?” So that’s when I knew the game took a complete 360. It ain’t even about who you know anymore, it’s now all about the numbers game and what kind of following you have behind you. So then I meet Ed Roc, and he’s been through his share of ups and downs in the industry. At that point we’re like fuck it let’s do this shit ourselves by any means necessary. I met Consequence, an artist that Ed Roc works with who’s signed to Sony, and is president of Kanye West’s Good Music label. His grind is impeccable. He took matters in his own hands, never waited on Sony or Kanye, and does everything for his self. So seeing that was definitely motivational. He threw me on a track called “DeadPeople” alongwithhimandGLCfor his mixtape that was hosted by Clinton Sparks. And I appreciate him for that. That shit helped create a serious buzz. I’m talking to Charlamagne Tha God one day, and he’s like I heard that “Dead People” record with Consequence�..you murdered that shit. So from that point I knew I had to step up the grind an extra notch. I lost my mama around that time too, and was locked up shortly after that which took a lot out of me. But I’m still here, and it never deterred my grind.
Would you say all that adversity you went through was a strong factor in helping you step up your grind?
Most definitely. If you don’t go through any adversity, then you stay complacent, and there’s no room for growth. And that’s why some artists are built for this game while others aren’t.
What’s your style like?
My style is a jumbalaya recipe. It’s many ingredients. I can get crunk, street, lyrical, soulful, political, and conscious. So you can’t pigeonhole my style under one category.
What artist or artists would you say really influenced your style of music?
When artists answer this question, some say they’re not influenced by anyone because they’re so original. I think that’s some dog gone bullshit. Every artist is influenced by some artist before himinone wayoranother. Iwouldsaythe record that made me want to get in this rap shit is “No Mo Play in GA” by Pastor Troy. That shit had so much aggression and emotion in it. I personally think that was the hardest record in the history of rap. And the funny thing when that record was out, I was doing security at a couple of clubs in Columbia. Any time the record came on, it sent the crowd in an uproar and frenzy. That song shut down a lot of club nights. I had to tazer a bunch of muthafuckas back then. Shit was ugly. And if you look at Troy, he’s very unde But he’s definitely one of the big reasons
artists in the top 9 countdown. The club jocks get to playingDino,Marly,orTaylor, theentire
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club acts a fool. It ain’t the same in Columbia.
why southern rap is where it’s at today. He’s crunk, street, lyrical, soulful, political, and conscious�.he embodies all of that but most people only label him for being crunk and don’t do their research. Vica Versa is probably one of the most innovative records ever! How come when you mention southern rap, and you mention UGK, 8 Ball & MJG, Outkast, Scarface, T.I., you don’t mention Pastor Troy in the same sentence? That’s a muthafuckininsult. Givethatmanhisoverdue respect. Playa Fly is another one. “Movin On” is a classic! Give these niggaz their just due. I would say Piazo too. A lot of people outside of South Carolina may not be familiar with him but the Pastor Troys of the world respect him. He’s one hell of an artist. Most niggas hate on artists from their city. But me�.I’m proud of him and his accomplishments thus far. And anything I can do within my means to help further his movement will be done. Them Dirty Boyz from Alabama too. I fucks with them hard ever since they dropped that “Versatile”.
What’s the first rap record you ever purchased?
Truthfully, I don’t remember. It might be Ice Cube’s Amerikkka’s Most Wanted. That’s definitely one of my top 15 rap albums of all time.
You’re from Columbia, SC. How was it like growing up there? Why do they call it the Metro? Is it a big city?
Columbia ain’t no different than Wichita, KS or Jackson, MS but it’s a lot different from NYC. We’re a wholesome people with church values and principles. We’re taught at a very young age to respect all grownups & elders and address them as sir and mam. The hardest gangstas and killers down here address their elders as sir and mam. At the same time, don’t mistake us for having manners and values as being fuck niggaz. Shit is very real down here. I’m probably one of the few individuals down here that has patience, and can tolerate certain shit and channel my anger in a positive direction. But most niggaz down here don’t have that patience and composure, and once they lose it, all hell breaks loose. Unfortunately, many artists and out of towners had to learn the hard way. Like I said in one of my songs “They say it never rains in southern California but it sure as hell rains down here�.Go ask the coroner and don’t say I didn’t warn ya”. That statement’s thetruth. Hit up youtube, my nigga Trapp from mic dvd got a PSAwarning for yall artists thinking about coming to SC. All I can say is I second what he’s saying�..so take heed to what’s being said. Columbia is the biggest city in the state in terms of population. Many people from here have never been to Charleston and Greenville but damn near everybody comes to Columbia cause it’s the Metro.
How’s the music scene in Columbia and South Carolina? Is there a lot of unity in the SC music scene?
The music scene in Columbia and South Carolina has come a long way. But we still need a lot of room for improvement and growth. Charleston is the most proven market in the state. The people support their artists and buy their shit. Outside of Lil Boosie, Pastor Troy, and a few others, muthafuckas will not support you. But they embrace their Pachino Dino’s, their Marly Mar’s , and their Mista Taylor’s. I wish it was like that in Columbia but it isn’t. There’s too muchhatredandjealousy. Muthafuckasdon’t want to see you make it. But we’ve been makingalittleprogresshereandthere. Piazo been had this market in a choke hold. Lil Ru, TD, Collard Greens, and Mr. Flip been doing their thing too. Now its time for others to step their game up to further strengthen the foundation Piazo laid and not just musically but also as businessmen. I’m definitely here to enforce that change and so are others such as Du Em Durty, Lil Brod, 48 Yatti, and a few others. As far as the unity factor, we’re nothing like Atlanta, Memphis, Houston, and Florida. Artists down here only do songs with artists from their click. I could honestly say I’m the only artist who reached out to artists from all corners of South Carolina and have collaborated with damn near every artist in the state who’s worth mentioning. Outside of Piazo, Du Em Durty, Collard Greens, and myself, nobody in Columbia has done anything with anyone from Charleston. And I’m probably the only one down here who’s done jawnts with artists and producers from Charleston to Greenville. So I’m definitely doing my part in bringing the great state of South Carolina together.
Do the SC radio stations, club jocks, and media outlets help support SC music? Well from what I hear in Charleston, Z93 plays damn near every artist. They have a local show that caters strictly to local music. On top of that, you might hear 3 or 4 local Before you even get to the radio,yougotta be hot in the streets. These radio programmers down here want your shit in stores or they ain’t playin you. Then when you do have your shit in stores, they want you to buy spots with them or they’re not playing you. And once you’re buying spots, they’re like well you need to do shows. And once you’re doing shows, they hit you with another excuse and so on. Now muthafuckas think they found a get rich quick scheme by copying other primary markets who are about that payola shit. You want your record played, you have to pay 2 or 3 stacks. You want your song on their mixtapes, they want a stack from you. You want to open up for Blood Raw, them promoters want $500. If you want radio play, club spins, and so on you gotta pay. But see if you get hot in these streets on your own hard work and merits, now these maggots wanna take credit for your work and act like they’re the reason you’re hot. These niggas don’t break records. They dick ride and then are forced to play what’s hot. You kinda can’t blame em cause it’s so many muthafuckas and a lotta these niggas’ music is abominable. But at the same token, you see a nigga taking the initiative and he’s really on his grind, has hot music but doesn’t quite have the resources to fund his record, support that man. But no they want their payola or else they ain’t showin any love. Okay cool. So when I’m hot on my own, all by the efforts of my own merits, and these fuck niggaz come dick ride me and run that industry bullshit on me and ask me to come show love and do a free show, I’m telling them fuck you pay me! But shouts to all those who ain’t on that payola shit and do take chances on artists like DJ Frosty, Charlamagne, Neek, DJ Prince Ice, DJ Cleve, DJ Dirty, DJ Swill, DJ LP, Randy Roper, DJ Chill Will, DJ Kool, Lucky Leon, and a few others.
So why haven’t the industry and major labels givin SC a chance towards national mainstream exposure?
Mainly because we’re considered a secondary market. Markets like Mississippi and Alabama are no different. I know people will say that Mississippi and Alabama have both had artists with major deals that gained nationwide exposure and South Carolina hasn’t. But if you look at artists like David Banner, Rich Boy, and Dirty�.they’ve all had some kind of connection withAtlanta. Banner had strong ties with djs and artists in the A while Rich Boy was discovered by Atlanta producer Polo the Don and Dirty had independent distribution through Southern Music which is based in Atlanta. In order for anartistinSCtogainnationwidenotoriety,he or she is gonna have to be hot in a primary