Filero Battles with the Past, Takes Control of His Future. Second In a Two-Part Series.
A hint of things to come? Filero (left) and SPM square off at checkers back in the day.
When we talked to Filero about how much the rap game has changed since he saw the first Texas Latino rap album, actually a cassette, in the Gulfgate Mall Sam Goody, he says things that make him sound like an old man. This in turn makes us an old man, because he expressed some things we agree with, like wanting to see more originality. But who doesn't? "I wish people would stop doing all these mixtapes and start doing more original music," says Filero. "There's no more originality in the game. Everything's a fashion show. Rap was the CNN of the streets. Now everybody wants to talk about clothes, cars and jewelry. People want to be followers. We need more leaders. Put more albums out. Do a mixtape after your album is done." Filero was one the first guys to call us when the Rocks Off started working this Latino rap beat and he said something that surprised us: "You're a writer. That's good. We need more Meskin writers. Everybody wants to rap, but there's a need for people to become active in other parts of the business." And it was then that we knew Filero had something more to say if given the chance.
Over this past weekend, we ran through our 90-minute conversation with him over and over, trying to make sense of how to properly give him a platform to tell his side of the story without demeaning or diminishing what South Park Mexican's (SPM) Dope House Records was able to give to the game. Regardless of the side anyone stands on, there's no ignoring the path Dope House bulldozed. But what Filero challenges is whether it could have been executed in a better way. "If everybody was getting paid, they [artists] would have stayed [with Dope House]," says Filero. "It was 'work-for-hire'. Pay you a one-time fee. That's why lots of artists left Dope House. That's why Grimm, [Baby] Bash, and others left." Filero's referring to something we talked about in our Friday blog, where he expresses discontent for producing 80 percent of SPM's Hustle Town, but only receiving $1,000 and a bottle of liquor as payment. From an artist's perspective, the scenario may have looked like getting paid $500 for 16 bars, and if the track happened to be on an album that sells 200,000 units, don't expect anymore than your initial payment. In complete fairness, we talked to some artists who didn't want to be associated with this piece, but offered an important perspective on this issue. They told us that the job of an independent label, like Dope House, isn't to pay royalties. That's the job of a major label like Universal. We also learned on the down-low that when Dope House couldn't make due on payments owed to producer Happy Perez and Baby Bash, the label gave them SPM's Benz and Corvette, respectively. So in our terms we interpreted that as don't ask a small business to give you a signing bonus and profit-sharing incentives. If you want that, go work for Bank of America, not the local credit union. That makes sense. But Filero still maintains, "They should have taken care of them boys instead of giving them cars. He ain't give me shit." And for the record, he wasn't referring to Perez or Bash, but Dope House artists in general.
Filero seems to have lots of stories where he felt his work made money for other people but he wasn't able to benefit from the profits. Like when The Most Hated album initially sold 20,000 copies under Jam Down Records, surpassing six-figure sales, but Filero only saw a couple thousand from it. Or the time Filero says Jam Down got a call from a major label wanting to sign select artist groups, like The Most Hated, but the owner wanted to sign the whole label, so the whole deal fell apart.
Filero also feels the money they made for Jam Down paid for another artist's signing bonus, who was once signed under Jam Down. That artist happened to be Lil Keke, who Filero says he still talks to until this day. Filero can hang onto those memories and let them be self-destructive, or he can leave them behind and take control of his own fate. Go try to recapture the fire he and The Most Hated had in the early 90s - it seems like the latter is going to happen. Filero is reuniting the old The Most Hated crew and is planning to release an album in 2010, and he's also producing Lil Bing's album which is also scheduled to drop this year (that artist's first from prison). Both are highly anticipated projects. Look on the bright side, Filero. No matter what, your fingerprint is on some of Houston's most respected rap albums, and the Texas Latin Rap Awards honored you last year with their coveted Pioneer award. You recently dodged a federal prison time bullet after you were caught with 168 pounds of dope and escaped with four years probation, instead of 10 years in the penitentiary. If nothing else, your beats echo the streets. "I hear that shit in the streets," says Filero. "I hear my beats everywhere I roll, no matter where I go." That's a glass that's half-full if we've ever seen one. Lots of aspiring artists thirst for a drink from that glass, but won't ever come close to satisfying their career's dehydration. Rolando Rodriguez is the managing editor of www.redbrownandblue.com.Follow him on MySpace and Twitter.
Get the Music Newsletter
Keep your thumb on the local music scene each week with music news, trends, artist interviews and concert listings. We'll also send you special ticket offers and music deals.