Business Versus Pleasure
A couple of Sundays ago, Troy Birkett, better known to the ballers and ballettes as Lil' Troy, had a little get-together over at Club Jamaica Jamaica. "Oh, man, we had a ball," says the Lil' One. "Everybody had fun. We had a caterer come in We popped bottles of Moët. We just enjoyed our celebration -- gettin' ready to go on tour."
Ah, yes, the tour. This week, the Houston-bred MC is making his way back home to perform as part of MTV's TRL Tour, which also features those headlining Houstonians Destiny's Child. Troy will also be accompanied by several artists from his Short Stop Records label: R-Dis, D-Man and Bay B. Doll. "That's big for us, going on tour with Destiny's Child," admits Troy, who began performing on the tour last week in Atlanta.
"We're both out of Houston. They multiplatinum. I'm platinum. So, it's a good thing for H-town."
Even folks who know the young Troy from his definitive hit single, "Wanna Be a Baller," may wonder just what the hell he's doing on a bill dominated by pop divas and girl groups. "I was very surprised and very thankful to be a part of it," says Troy, whose originally scheduled couple of dates soon ballooned into 15. But then again, the brother's debut album, Sittin' Fat Down South,did become quite popular when it was nationally distributed by Universal in 1999. So he feels that his presence on this tour is no fluke. "Besides, they fans is my fans," he says referring to Beyoncé and company. "I've sold records to the same people that they sell records to."
It's amazing to think that just a year ago, while he was at the top of his game with Down South, Troy was serving a nine-month sentence in a Beaumont-area federal prison for, according to a report published in these pages, "using a communications device for committing a felony." (See Amplified, by Anthony Mariani, Jan 13, 2000.) "I had a telephone case," says Troy succinctly. The sentence, stemming from a 1998 offense, was handed down after Troy turned himself in to authorities in November 1999. He says, "I just decided it would be best to do the fed time." Now, he's out -- and he's one of the opening acts for a money-making summer package tour. Also, in September he'll release his latest album, Back to Ballin'.
If you told Troy a dozen years ago this was what the future held, he'd think you were smoking. He was on a different musical path at the time. In 1988, fresh out of high school, he played guitar and saxophone in an R&B band whose name escapes him (although he does recall that his mom and dad were in the group). But he soon found that this new form of expression -- something called rap -- was calling him. "When rap came out, I was like, 'I'm already playing guitar and saxophone,' " he remembers. "So I just changed over to buying keyboards and drum machines and started rapping "
That same year, he established Short Stop Records. Master P.-like, he began managing rap artists and introducing them to their future labels. His most famous deal involved hooking up Brad Jordan, better known as Scarface, with Rap-A-Lot Records. The rest is rap history -- literally.
Although he helped out many an artist back in the day, it would take a decade for him to hit the big time himself. "Up until that point, I just mainly ran the company, like I do right now," says Troy. "I run the company, and I rap at the same time. So my hands stay full."
Troy made sure he was in definite control when he dropped out of his distribution deal with Universal in May of this year. According to Troy, the label was stifling him. "Universal got me known and famous, and now, I wanna do a deal that I can have more creative control over my own projects," he says. "I felt that I should be in control of everything that I wanted to do." He has since landed a distribution deal with Koch Records.
Ballin' has Troy still living "the life," serving up a randy collection of Gulf Coast G-funk tunes that are as bass-bumping as they are titillating. (He even drops a tune "for all the lesbian ladies.") Troy describes his flow as "conversational," yet raw and visceral. "I have a conversation enlightening you on what's going on," explains Troy. "It's definitely rated R, and I'll tell every young kid to get with your ma before you buy it."
"You gotta remember, this is a business," he says, abruptly changing tack. "Don't buy my record thinking, 'Well, we're gonna buy a Lil' Troy record 'cause he gonna tell our kids not to do this, not to do this.' When you hear me speak at a public school or a public function, I will talk to them about that. But as far as my music, this is a business, and I'm selling records. This is how I pay my bills and take care of my family."
Although he keeps his playa-rific reputation intact on the mike, he tries to hip kids to the difference between a baller and just playing a baller on CD. His feature-film (well, straight-to-video) debut, the aptly titled Wanna Be a Baller: The Movie, stressed this theme. In it, Troy plays the baller all ballers wish they could be, and his teenage son, Troy Birkett Jr., plays his visiting nephew. While Troy's character spends most of the movie luxuriating in the baller life (having a three-way with twins, hitting the parties), he tries to instill a sense of morality in his younger kinfolk.
"I wanted [audiences] to know there's a better way," he says. "And my nephew in the movie he's thinking that I'm out selling drugs and this street life 'cause I got all the girls, women, clothes and all that. So he wanna go off and sell drugs too, 'cause he believes that's what I'm doing. So I have to show him that there's a better way than selling drugs." Troy also recently took part in a program, exclusively for HISD schools, in which he and his son (who raps under the moniker T-2) visit different schools and talk to kids about the dangers of drugs. The title: "Real Ballers Don't Do Drugs."
You have to admire Troy's candor. While other MCs live the baller lifestyle to the hilt, Lil' Troy just plays off the image of it, simply because he knows it's good for business. "Buy my record for enjoyment, just to listen to it," declares Troy. "Just like you go to the movies and watch Arnold Schwarzenegger kill all these folks My music is entertainment -- that's it. So don't listen to my music thinking you're gonna get a public service announcement out of it."
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