"Sin City is starting to flex its muscle in the hip-hop game as Qadeer breaks lyrical fool with his debut release, What Happens in Vegas, Stays. Making noise with the single, 'Burnin,' Q shows what really goes down in Nevada on tracks like 'Pandemonium' and 'Ride and Roll.' The Lil Flip-assisted 'My City' also proves that Q is one to gamble on."
Qadeer (Rodney Stone) is inside a home studio in the back yard of a house in the bowels of Regal Estates, a timeworn North Las Vegas neighborhood known primarily as the home of retired Sen. Joe Neal, the second-longest-serving lawmaker in Nevada history (32 years), but also for periodic gang violence. Baseball cap cocked to the side and dressed in black shirt and baggy gray sweats, Stone eases his lanky frame into a chair and laments being here—not in Regal Estates, but in a home studio in the back yard of a house.
"I told myself I was done f--king with home studios because they don't produce the sound I need," the 21-year-old rapper says. "But Dwayne Cromwell (chief executive officer of Triple P Records) put his faith in me and here I am, ready to blow Vegas up."
Easier said ...
Vegas can be a dream killer of a hip-hop town. The trail of groups (Raiders of Doom) and emcees (King J, Stacy G) who threatened to end the drought is as long as the Strip. Local artists insist there's major-label talent here, that there's a superstar among the underground rappers, pimp rhymers, battle emcees, area-of-town neighborhoods and gang-affiliated crews. "How can there not be talent here?" Stone asks. "This is the entertainment capital of the world."
Next to his chair is a couch where his hopes and dreams sit, both literally and figuratively. It's the July issue of The Source magazine, arguably hip-hop's most respected publication. Toward the back of the magazine, in a section highlighting news about independent record labels, is a 62-word write-up on Stone's perceptively titled debut, What Happens in Vegas, Stays, a remixed version of now-famous tourism slogan (What Happens Here, Stays Here). The intro, laden with the sound of police choppers and gunshots, sets the stage for 19 tracks of reality-laden rap that paint a picture of a city as problematic as any big metropolis. A mention in The Source isn't say, like a Grammy nomination, nor is it an automatic ticket out of rap purgatory, but the magazine's track record of uncovering the next megastar (in its Unsigned Hype section) is enviable—Eminem, DMX and Biggie Smalls, to name a few. Had it not been for a friend, Stone might've missed the biggest news of his young career.
"Someone called me up and said, 'You're in The Source.' I was like, 'Wow, that's major,'" Stone says. I'd gone to New York and did a couple of shows. I met someone in The Source, gave him my stuff and I guess they liked it."
Stone's write-up comes two months after The Chapter—think a two-man version of The Roots, whose respected producer ?uestlove is one of their biggest backers; the duo has graced The Source on occasion—became the first local hip-hop group to score worldwide distribution with their CD, Us vs. Them. The Chapter opens nearly every time a major hip-hop act performs at the House of Blues. For a city known as hip-hop hinterlands, having two Vegas hip-hop acts generate buzz outside the 702 is downright seismic. But is this the start of something big in local hip-hop or a mere blip on the radar?
An Artist is Born
Stone was a military brat. Born in San Antonio, he spent his formative years in Germany—where he was introduced to hip-hop via MC Hammer, the parachute pants-wearing, high-gloss, rap-dancer—then bounced around wherever his father was stationed. Alabama was the last stop before Vegas. Once out here, his parents split up, after which he began testing the waters. Free from male supervision, Stone began getting into trouble, running with the wrong crowd, constantly beefing with his mother—knucklehead by all accounts, including his own.
"My mom wasn't too much getting along with that. She even called police on me trying to take me to jail," says Stone, who graduated from Cimarron-Memorial High School. "So I found myself having to live with friends. That's when I started taking rap seriously because I felt I had something to say."
But who'd want to listen to a broke delinquent?
"People would laugh at me. I'd tell 'em I was gonna start rapping and they'd be like, 'N---a, you ain't finna rap, you're homeless.' I lost a whole lot of friends," he says. "I really didn't have to go far for inspiration for my rhymes. I could look at the situation I was going through—just my life. (In Regal Estates) you can step outside and look next door and your neighbor don't got the lights on, that's a song in itself. My inspiration comes from suffering. Not that a lot of other rappers haven't come from where I'm coming from. But I can rap it from the heart because I'm still struggling."
City (and Region) of Dreams
Warren Peace is a pioneer/trailblazer in local hip-hop. One of the town's most respected DJs, he co-hosted Word Up, a popular underground hip-hop show on KUNV 91.5-FM. He also co-owns hiphopsite on Maryland Parkway, the most complete hip-hop music store in town. Peace says he has heard of Qadeer, hasn't heard his CD, but is concerned that he—and all other hip-hop artists—trying to land a major leader are simply running in place.
"There's no one coming out of Vegas or the West Coast, everyone's coming out of New York and the South, it's just economics—these places are producing the stars and selling the records," Peace says. "If North Dakota is producing the stars, then I'd say go to North Dakota. I tell rappers to go where the talent is being found."
(Contradicting Peace's comments, however, is the fact that Compton, California rapper The Game sold millions of his debut CD, The Documentary.)
It's May and Stone is in New York, hip-hop's birthplace, for a music festival. During the day, he and his compadres, including his manager, Mary Selby, schmooze industry figures. Nighttime is grind time, time to chat up club managers, slip them a CD and try to score some stage time to wreck a few microphones. Stone succeeds, performing at the three clubs, including venerable hip-hop spot, Club Underground, to some positive feedback.
"New York is a very colorful place ... it's a beautiful thing to see how people could come together and put something together for hip-hop. Rappers would get up there (on stage) and say, 'This is BX (Bronx) son,' or 'This is Harlem, kid,' and to see people go wild was crazy ... something I'd like to see here to Vegas, if possible."
Rewind to late last year: Stone is in hip-hop's reigning mecca, the South, performing on a black college tour with the likes of legendary Houston emcee Scarface and stars-on-the rise Mike Jones and Paul Wall. During a performance in Galveston, Texas, he meets Bun B (Bernard Freeman), who's half of Port Arthur, Texas' most famous hip-hop export, UGK. Of all the hip-hop stars Stone has met, Freeman is the most affable and amiable, offering his cell phone number and any advice on making it big.
"He told me that Pimp C (UGK's other half) was getting locked up so he couldn't offer any help but he could give me guidance," Stone says. "For the longest time, I was all about rushing celebrities and giving them a CD. In talking to him and now being in the business, I see the trials and tribulations you go through as an artist. A lot of people come up to me trying to pass me CDs. They don't understand that I'm not in a position to help them; I can't even help myself. If somebody has been busting ass with their record, just because you bust a hot 16 bars, they're not going to put themselves and their careers on the back burner."
City of (Broken) Dreams
Everywhere Stone has performed—colleges, New York, the South (he's particularly fond of the voluptuous women at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge) and Beverly Hills (for a music convention)—he says love for Vegas is universal. "There's great potential here," he says.
But potential doesn't automatically translate to platinum sales. "Ras Kass (widely respected lyricist out of Carson, California) can spit a hot rhyme and he can't even get a deal," Peace says.
Which explains Stone's reluctance to create his debut in a home studio. Cromwell's studio is accessible via a gate on the side of the house. From the outside, it looks like what you'd get if guest quarters mated with a shed. You step past an array of exercise equipment and head to the left, through a door, where there are two couches, a chair and ... a home studio. Initially, Stone wasn't feeling it.
"I was caught in a phase that a lot of rappers are caught in, which is going to home studios, recording with one mike, using little-bitty keyboards and producing something that you really can't take to a label and expect them to take you seriously," he says. "Now, I'm in the game and I'm looking at folks with demos and they've got DVDs, videos, bios, 100 pictures of themselves along with the demo. You have to step your game up."
Much of the stepping up was left to Dwayne Cromwell, owner of Qadeer's label, Triple P Records. Using relationships made over decades of tagging along with an industry-connected friend, Cromwell hooked Qadeer up with top producer Mike "Windex" Woodrum (Eric Clapton, Snoop Dogg, The Neptunes) and "Big Bass" Brian Gardner, who's provided bass for a who's-who of musicians—Eminem, Dr. Dre, Stevie Wonder, Prince, Janet Jackson, 50 Cent and Tupac. Says Cromwell: "We got some good quality stuff."
In many ways, Stone and Cromwell are tied to the hip. Both previously worked with another label, but left because of disputes with the company's overall direction. Cromwell, a longtime Las Vegan who quit his sanitation- worker job to start an entertainment company, recruited Stone and Triple P was started in the back of Cromwell's home—just one artist, one producer and someone to press record. "I knew he had talent from the first time he heard him ... a nice flow and delivery and good topic of conversation," Cromwell says. "Lots or rappers talk about cars and clothes. At the time, he was 18 and talking about reality, the kind of hip-hop I grew up on."
Stone figured that Cromwell, being a native Las Vegan, had insight on what it would take to capture Vegas' ear and if he'd go to such lengths to make a good project, then maybe recording at a home studio wasn't so bad: "He'd seen the Doomdays and 420s and other Vegas rap groups and seen where other people made mistakes. I have a lot of disputes with Dwayne about my music, whether it's too deep for Vegas. But if you're rapping the truth, motherf--kers are going to feel that shit regardless. We know we are fighting against the grain to get Vegas on the map, but we're fighting together."
State of Vegas Hip-Hop
"You're not going to go gold or platinum in Vegas. Everything is about the Strip and major talent. There's lots of competition and things for people to do. You can either listen to (local) rappers perform or go see Cedric the Entertainer. Most people are going to see Cedric."
In five months, Stone sold more than half of the 10,000 CDs he pressed up, mostly by "trunkin"—selling out of the back of a car trunk—and mostly in West Las Vegas and North Las Vegas, two areas of town that have long disliked each other. Such territorialism, Stone says, is cancerous to Vegas' stagnating hip-hop scene. "We do have the people to fill up the clubs, but clubs are scared because of the violence. You still got n---as in Northtown and on the west side saying, 'I'll shoot you if you don't shoot me first,'" Stone says.
One problem Cromwell sees is a lack of professionalism. Before major-label executives will listen to your artist, he says, they'll look at the CD's artwork—at the graphics, the bar codes and copyrights. If those things aren't in order, it could mean the difference between your artist being 50 Cent or Ras Kass. Too many rappers think the key to platinum plaques is putting posters on poles and getting CDs on shelves, Cromwell says, and that guerilla marketing is confined to word of mouth. Wrong. "Vegas is a hard place to do hip-hop ... we should've had an artist come out of Vegas to succeed," says Cromwell, who created a commercial for Qadeer and tries to get Qadeer to perform anywhere he can (Cooler Lounge, SRO nightclub, even the Aloha Kitchen).
The push is working. The Source plans a profile on Qadeer in late- fall. "We'd heard that you couldn't get in these magazines without paying. Not true. The Source article shows we are serious about what we're doing. It will help with kicking down doors. Getting big names on your project also help. "Lil Flip did it ("My City") at a cool price when the 'Game Over' was hot and he was at the top of his game."
But it'll take more than The Source pub and collabos with hot artists to erase decades of being dissed. Stone is fiddling with the keyboards. Next, he grabs the July issue of The Source and flips to the review of What Happens in Vegas, Stays. The title reflects his frame of mind: Ignoring the city's history of false starts when it comes to hip; being committed to blowing up Vegas.
"The state of Vegas hip-hop is good. Basically, Vegas is (going through the) same stuff people were saying about Midwest—people were saying, 'Who raps in the Midwest?'"