"We're not elitists," asserts Nick Catchdubs, co-founder of Brooklyn dance label Fool's Gold. In a conference call with business partner A-Trak, he describes Fool's Gold fans as a sea of hip-hop dudes, skinny-jeans-electro kids, super DJ nerds and Urban Outfitters girls. "The tempos and the beats-per-minute are the only governing factor," adds A-Trak.
You could say that Fool's Gold is fomenting a cultural moment. After years of dismissing it as cheesy and "gay," rap fans have finally, tentatively, learned to accept dance music. Kanye West landed a number one hit with "Stronger" by remixing Daft Punk's 2001 "Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger." A-Trak, the other co-founder of Fool's Gold, is Kanye's tour DJ. And Washington, DC rapper Wale drove the Internet nuts with his remix of Justice's "D.A.N.C.E." Catchdubs mixed 100 Miles and Running, the Wale mixtape which featured that viral hit.
Fool's Gold works with many of the era's players: Kid Sister, who scored the label's first successes with clever pop-raps "Damn Girl" and "Pro Nails" (and is A-Trak's girlfriend); Trackademicks, the Yay Area electro-funk producer-rapper who celebrated the release of the single "Enjoy What You Do" at SF nightspot Vessel last month; and Treasure Fingers, the Atlanta DJ who scored a disco-house smash last year with "Cross The Dancefloor." Its biggest hit to date, though, has been Kid Cudi's "Day 'N' Nite," a lonely-stoner gem that mixes Cudi's off-key harmonizing against winsome electro melancholy. A-Trak doesn't have exact figures, but he places digital sales at around 100,000, which he rightly describes as "cool for an indie like us."
Kid Cudi was the first Fool's Gold artist to win over difficult-to-please hip-hop blogs, which sometimes ridiculed Kid Sister as too fluffy and trendy (perhaps in part because she's a woman). During Kid Sister's run of singles in 2007, which eventually landed her a major label deal with Downtown Records, skeptics didn't know what to make of her or Fool's Gold was she some kind of hipster rapper, and was Fool's Gold just a goofy imprint for fashion-challenged scenesters?
"When we first started the label, we would do all these weird interviews, like, 'Talk about the hipster rap movement.' Just bizarre interviews where people would talk about your jeans and sneakers and shit," says A-Trak. "One year later, we hardly ever get those questions. It takes a minute for stuff to assimilate. I think people know that some stuff is trendy and is going to float away like all trends do. But a lot of times it's just culture at work: ideas coming out and getting assimilated, and then people move on to the next shit."
Fool's Gold's greatest ambassador may be A-Trak. A DJ star since the age of 15, when he shocked the then-thriving turntablist world by winning the 1997 DMC World Championships, A-Trak has grown into an influential artist. In the next two months he'll release DJ mixes for two reputed dance labels, Thrive (Infinity +1, due March 31) and Fabric (Fabriclive.31, set for May 5). His transition from scratch-happy hip-hop head to genre-blurring tastemaker is one that Fool's Gold might follow.
"The whole aesthetic of Fool's Gold is based on what Nick and I play in our DJ sets," says A-Trak. "What we put out is really varied, but it all kind of makes sense."
with Trackademics, Vin Sol
Sat/21, 9pm, $13
1501 Folsom St, SF