By Chris Gray
By Corey Deiterman
By Jef With One F
By Chris Gray
By Rocks Off
By Rocks Off
Adds Debra: "We just felt, too, that Houston has a lot of talent. All kinds of artists are breaking out of Houston, and we just thought the Latin market had been untouched."
With about $10,000, the Chavezes began their business on January 1, 1999, with Charles serving as president and Debra as vice president. They rented space in a two-room office on Richmond, which they quickly outgrew. In July the couple relocated to its current digs, taking in Charles's recording studio equipment in the process. "I don't wanna be no pager record company," Charles says. "You know, call-me-on-my-cell-phone type of company. Half the battle is getting up in the morning and opening up your office. That makes sure that you're gonna get up and makes things happen."
The first record Latium released, in February, was a vinyl compilation of "booty tracks" and other assorted dance songs for clubs and parties. The label's next release was another compilation, Latin World Hip Hop Volume I, consisting of previously released tracks by local and out-of-state Latino rappers, including Houston's own South Park Mexican. The record was followed by Volume II in November. "I told all these guys, 'Gimme your best records, I put out a CD, and I'll help change [your popularity],' " Charles says, citing his numerous contacts.
Since its release in May, Volume I has sold nearly 25,000 copies, according to Charles. One of the tracks, the deviously bumpy "Just a Friend to Me (Nasty Girl)" by Galveston rap duo Lifestyl, is a certified statewide club and radio hit. The success of "Nasty Girl" prompted Charles to consider signing the duo, Pancho Villa and his cousin Tommy G. But there were two things in the way: 1) Lifestyl was already signed to its own label, Salty Water Records; and 2) Villa, also CEO of Salty Water, says he was in jail for a number of offenses.
After being sprung in July, Villa decided to sign on with the Chavezes and Latium. The duo's next two albums will be released on both Salty Water and Latium. "That's what made it so much appealing to me was the fact that he could get me on more radio stations," the 24-year-old Villa says, "and then, at the same time, I get to promote all my artists. I get to promote my label. I get to pump my label up. So it sets me up for when [Lifestyl] goes back to Salty Water; boom, it's on again."
Lifestyl's first Salty Water/Latium joint album, Mobstylfiggaz, has been doing well since its release in November, selling approximately 15,000 copies, according to Latium and Lifestyl. Although Villa says it took awhile to get contracts squared up to the duo's liking, he knew getting play on the air and in clubs would make it all worthwhile. "Signing with Charles Chavez, in these six months I feel that we have already saved a year worth of time if we did it ourselves," Villa says.
Another artist soon jumped on the Latium bandwagon, a 21-year-old Houston singer named Brissa Alvarado, who performs under the name Brissa. Formerly of the Spanish-language girl group Xtasy, Brissa was in talks with Latium immediately after Xtasy broke up at the end of 1998. The first single she recorded for Latium, the dreamy synth ballad "For Love," became, much like Lifestyl's "Nasty Girl," a club and radio hit around the state. For her next single, Brissa is redoing "Fascinated," the '80s club classic from Company B. All of this is obviously an effort to put the word out on her debut, which is scheduled to be released soon.
Latium has its sights set on additional acts, including two other signed Latino artists: Maria, an R&B/soul singer, and Moses, an 18-year-old high schooler who "sings like Jodeci," according to Charles. (Moses's plans are on hold until he graduates.) Latium is also looking to release more Latin World collections in the upcoming months. Scheduled titles include Latin World Dance, Latin World Down South and Latin World Booty.
Latium may be just an independent record label, distributing its music through Southwest Wholesale like every other independent in town, but its mind-set is national. "We're not a local record company," Charles says. "We got a national promotion, national distribution. We operate on a national level. We're just based out of Houston." It's this drive that has made people notice the young label. "A lot of record companies, especially local ones, will ask, 'How come I can't get my song on the radio?' " Charles says. " 'How come you can and I can't?' 'Cause I'm making it happen."