Rap-A-Lot gets busy... It looks like Houston's Rap-A-Lot Records -- once the only Gulf Coast label that truly mattered to the above-ground consumer -- has finally been shaken from its self-satisfied slumber by surging competition. It's hard to blame the company for kicking back a bit after the surprising platinum one-two solo punch -- The Untouchable and My Homiez -- by Rap-A-Lot anchor tenant Scarface. But while Rap-A-Lot and its national distributor, Virgin, fed happily on the Geto Boys legacy through most of 1997 and early '98, a hungry Houston label by the name of Suave House became a magnet for national hype.
Within months, House's elusive CEO, Tony Draper, was being lionized in the media as a perfect hardscrabble model of Gulf Coast hip-hop's self-made empire. Quickly, Draper found himself right up there alongside prolific New Orleans talent broker (and onetime U of H basketball player) Master P, who, with his No Limit label and ubiquitous production presence, is fast becoming the Sean "Puffy" Combs of gangsta rap. Soon thereafter, along came Suave House homeboy Eightball's platinum-coated, twin-CD rocket, Lost, and suddenly Rap-A-Lot ain't all that anymore.
Still, as any rap mogul worth his pricey ring collection will tell you, nothing is more fickle than an industry governed, for the most part, by word of mouth. That in mind, Rap-A-Lot seems to be opting for a "release the hounds" type of approach, spilling fresh product onto the streets with renewed purpose in hopes that something will stick. Come the end of '98, the label should have at least ten releases in stores, almost half of them either new signings and/or members of Rap-A-Lot acts making their solo debuts.
The steady flow of releases began in March with the double-disc Scarface epic My Homiez, and continued in April with the debut effort from Scarface contributor Johnny P (The Next) and the sophomore release from Midwesterners Do or Die (Heads or Tails). In June came The Dude, the first release from harmony-minded Quincy Jones fanatic Devin, a former member of Facemob who recently signed to Scarface's new Interface imprint. Brutal Houston reality rappers Gangsta Nip also came to play that month with Interview wit a Killer, their fourth full-lengther. Another Interface act, Milwaukee's A-G-2-A-Ke, debuted in August with Mil Ticket, followed by the second release from Gulf Coast gangsta females Ghetto Twinz (No Pain, No Gain) in September. Coming this fall: Memphis rapper Tela's sophomore effort, Now or Never (October 6), and Thugged Out, the solo debut from Yukmouth (November 3), one half of the Oakland, California, duo the Luniz.
Careening down the Rap-A-Lot pipeline in future months are new albums from label vets the Geto Boys (Da Good, Da Bad, Da Ugly; November 17) and the 5th Ward Boyz (Usual Suspects; no release date set). Suffice it to say that the upcoming Geto Boys release will not involve Bushwick Bill, who is suing his former label, along with Virgin and its Los Angeles rap subsidiary Noo Trybe Records, to the tune of $20 million. The lawsuit was sparked by a fight that broke out between the pint-sized Bushwick (a.k.a. Richard Shaw) and three alleged Rap-A-Lot employees outside a Houston comedy club. Unhappy with his contract with the label, Bushwick recently opted to break from Rap-A-Lot.
While ten releases in nine months may be no big shakes for most major labels, Rap-A-Lot is no Sony Music -- despite its king-size rep around here. Label publicity coordinator Nicole Ross (the only Rap-A-Lot employee who could be reached for comment) admits that having the likes of Suave House nipping at their heels dictated, in part, the recent proliferation of product.
"With everyone else getting in the game, we have to be competitive," says Ross. "That's the business."
-- Hobart Rowland
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