You could be a neighborhood supporter any day of the week," says the familiar voice at the front of the room. 'But this music is bigger than your block." Anyone who listens to Q93.3FM, New Orleans' popular hip-hop and R&B station, knows that gravelly voice. It's Wild Wayne, intoning in DJ style to a packed house of rappers, producers, indie TV-show impresarios and even a few decked-out video girls. The radio personality has a point. The worldwide outpouring of sympathy post-Katrina churned up a tidal wave of support for established New Orleans jazz and R&B. When it comes to raking in paper, however, local hip-hop " long overlooked if not outright disavowed by New Orleans' musical establishment " is what puts the city on the pop charts. It does so almost in spite of the lack of industry know-how among the greater number of the city's stellar underground DJs and MCs. 'If you can take the time to spend two or three hours on MySpace, adding extra friends or leaving nasty comments," Wild Wayne reasons on the mic, 'then you can take the time to learn the business. Because if we're going to compete with Atlanta and New York, we need to learn the business."
Wayne was preaching to a crowd of hip-hop hopefuls in early October at Mid-City venue The Hangar, at the first annual Industry Influence night " a networking event intended to encourage newbies and pros to push their work to the next level.
The infectious beat and salacious lyrics of bounce spawned a nation of imitators since the Cash Money and No Limit labels crested in the late '90s. But when the mainstream world hears 'New Orleans music," people still think Neville, Marsalis and Toussaint " not Williams and Miller. The New Orleans rap scene is hardly wet behind the ears, and label owners like Master P (Percy Miller) and Bryan 'Baby" Williams made money like nobody's business. Williams, otherwise known as Birdman, is a hardnosed businessman cut from the same cloth as the legendary Suge Knight and he unleashed on the world the hyper-prolific talents of Juvenile and Lil' Wayne. But like the '50s and '60s models of now-iconic labels like Minit Records, many talented African-American artists who are popular locally are limited to regional notoriety and an attendant paycheck. In the '60s, artists like Chris Kenner and Irma Thomas rarely charted, though they were regional stars. Forty years later, the same is true with hot club rappers like Raw Dizzy and Ms. Tee.
Hosted in tandem by Wild Wayne and the rapper-cum-record store owner Sess 4-5 (Nuthin But Fire Records), the Industry Influence event " held the first Monday of each month at The Hangar " aims to change that. At the inaugural event, the room buzzed with industry types drinking cocktails and trading business cards. The open-mic introductory period that followed Wild Wayne's opening remarks took nearly an hour, as people whose qualifications ranged from producing the rapper Choppa's hit track 'Choppa Style" to the editor of a startup hip-hop teen magazine to the experimental organ player Mr. Quintron got up to introduce themselves and briefly describe their goals and roles in the music industry. That was followed by a panel discussion with Wayne, Sess 4-5 and other local pros, after which a series of up-and-coming local rappers showed their stuff.
The rap business has diversified from monarchic rap-only labels like the old Cash Money and Death Row to divisions within monolitihic record companies like Universal and Warner Bros. The labels fund the necessary genuine studio releases from rappers that also help feed more devoted audiences with constant underground Internet output and uncredited collaborations. 'Baby" Williams' world, as a label owner and genuine bigwig, is far different than the one Joe Banashak confronted when his Minit and Instant Records artists stayed in the Southeast. But it still holds true that talented artists from New Orleans are not reaching national audiences that would likely embrace their sound " if the response to the few who did manage to break out is any indication. Industry Influence is a step toward making a leap.
- Wild Wayne is pushing local hip-hop artists focused on networking and the business side of music in order to succeed at the national level.