A song like Gully's "Bush," imagining the life of a ghetto youth who suddenly finds himself a soldier in Iraq, even suggests that Hiero's more politically progressive themes are creeping into the youngster's work.
At present, however, Beeda remains the "face of the franchise" for PTB and Clear Label.
"Beeda's got the biggest buzz," Massey said, "so it makes sense to lead off with him. I just want to set him up properly." Proper set-up in the Bay generally involves a "pre-album," and Beeda's got three. Besides the all-original Talk Shit mixtape and The Thizzness, Beeda's collaboration with DJ Fresh, Base Rock Baby an '80s-themed disc referring to Beeda's generation as the first to be born after the crack epidemic began appears in July.
"We're going to push that online," Massey said, though there will be hard copies for sale. "Right now, if Beeda's record sales matched his popularity, I'd be ready to retire." Still, he confessed, "everyone has Turfology, but only a few people bought it," citing the difficulties of selling albums in the era of burnt CDs and file-sharing, not to mention ongoing recession under the George W. Bush administration.
Another problem was the lag between Beeda's video for "Turf's Up" becoming popular on YouTube and the actual release of Turfology, confusing consumers who assumed the CD was already out. "This time we got the timing down," Beeda said. "We'll build that buzz first, and everything will be ready to go." Nonetheless, as falling numbers of mainstream releases attest, selling albums has grown increasingly difficult regardless of timing.
"That's not how we eat anymore," Dru said. "You put out an album to get shows and verse features [guest appearances on other artists' songs]. So we gotta look at these songs as bait." Massey, meanwhile, is seeking other income streams to support his label and artists, like soundtracks and licensing.
As Massey confirms, street rap comes with headaches not usually associated with Hiero. A few weeks ago, as Clear Label began preparing Shady Nate's debut, Son of the Hood, for release, Shady was arrested on an alleged weapons violation and remains incarcerated pending trial.
"They're trying to throw the book at him," Massey said. "I'm hoping we can work it out because Shady's a good dude, and his album is great." Even if Shady has to do a stretch in prison, Son of the Hood will probably see the light of day sometime later this year.
Ultimately the big question for PTB/Livewire is whether the coalition can achieve the mainstream success that eluded the hyphy movement. Beeda and Stalin think so, and with the support and mentorship of the Hiero camp, they have as good a chance as any in the Bay and maybe even the best.
With the long view of a rapper 15 years into his career, Massey is philosophical about the prospects of his Clear Label empire. "If we break even it's cool," he said. "If we make money, even better. But if I break even, I'm happy, because it wasn't a loss for me to put out great music."
PAID DUES FESTIVAL***
With Hieroglyphics and others
Sat/14, 5 p.m., $40
Berkeley Community Theatre
1900 Allston, Berk.
***This show has been cancelled. From the promoters: Guerilla Union and MURS 3:16 regret to announce that the PAID DUES INDEPENDENT HIP HOP FESTIVAL scheduled for Saturday, June 14 at the Berkeley Community Theatre in Berkeley, CA, has been cancelled due to matters beyond our control.
For fans that have purchased tickets to the show, we apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused.