Suave House Revisited
Since that Draper interview went up last week, hella folks have run up on me in the street telling me how much they appreciated it. The feeling is mutual.
That said, here is the second half of the Suave House reporting I did where I actually got up with most of the former artists on the label.
I still wish the story could have run when it was intended to, but, I’m still glad that I have a medium to share it regardless. Funny thing is that it can still be considered a little timely since ‘Ball just dropped a solo album and MJG is dropping one soon. Crime Boss has been keeping busy too, but the stuff I heard on his myspace page…eh, it was….yeah.
Anyways, when you read this, you’ll notice that words from Tela and Rick Ross won’t be found in it. Me and Tela had an off the record conversation and he expressed that he didn’t mind being a part of the story, but didn’t want to for reasons I could understand. I straight up couldn’t get to Ross because this article was written when “Hustlin'” was breaking ringtone records and shit, he was “busy.”
But, me and Jacinta Howard (who did some reporting on this as well) were able to track down everybody else to get their thoughts on what they built and saw crumble before their very eyes. Hope you enjoy.
Suave House Revisited, May 2006
Without a foundation, a house will surely fall. But even years after its height and quiet demise, Suave House is still heralded one of entities that built the empire we call Southern Hip Hop.
A smooth counterpart to Cali’s brash Death Row Records, the 1990’s saw Suave House introduce the idea of the record label/clique hybrid to the Southeast. At their height, Suave’s talented roster boasted Eightball & MJG, South Circle (Mr. Mike and Thorough), Crime Boss and Tela. They would later spread their wings adding female group Nola and Chicago duo Psycho Drama. With in-house producer T-Mixx providing the audio backdrops, Suave grew to become a proud voice for a region that had not yet gotten its respect on a national scale.
“We was first, really,” says Mr. Mike. “You can ask the Master P’s and Jermaine Dupri’s. We was the blueprint or as I like to say the blackprint of these independent labels.”
Starting completely independent in 1993 and then getting national distribution through Relativity Records and eventually Universal, Suave opened the floodgates in the mid-90s for Southern imprints to secure support from major labels (No Limit, Cash Money, etc.) and create massive promotional campaigns. Or as Eightball simply states, “the beginning of that South label shit.”
Every album the label released not only acted as quality records, but as musical marketing tools. Before No Limit came with their “Soldier” songs, prior to Hypnotized Minds trademarking their “Posse” cuts, Suave was building anticipation for upcoming albums by advertising inside of album covers and crafting classic crew songs. Among them were “Lay It Down” on Eightball & MJG’s On the Outside Looking In, “Unsolved Mysteries” on South Circle’s Anotha Day Anotha Balla and the “hidden” track “Come And Get Some” from Crime Boss’ debut All In the Game.
Dungeon Family rat Andre 3000 once rhymed of his crew that “never has every member in one crew been so diverse.” He makes a strong case, but, the same has to be said about the Knights of the Suave Table.
Whether it was Ball & G’s educated pimping, South Circle’s witty realism, Crime Boss’ in-your-face narratives or Tela’s Gator boot game spitting, every piece of music (with high-quality videos to match) gave the listener a believable vision of life in the South, or life period.
“People always told us that we had a message in our music, even with the videos,” says former Suave artist Crime Boss. “The message was that the street life was not the way to go. Right now, the concept is females, cars and clothes. Anybody can talk about that. I think people put more time into their music back then, it was more real.”
Realness could not help but to be heard in the music. Remember, Suave came about at time when Hip Hop wasn’t generating as much money and fame as it is now. So when you heard these labelmates rhyme about the struggle and the brotherhood between them, it wasn’t done just to sound good.
“People thought when we was saying Suave House, we was saying it being cool,” says Thorough of South Circle, who was also the first solo artist signed to the label. “Naw, it was a house with 10-11 niggas staying in it.”
He continues, “It brought about friendly competition. It enhanced what everyone did in there. It was like how boxers do. If you got the top seven boxers training together in the same gym, they gonna get better.”
Unfortunately, the relationships between the trainers and boxers began to rift.
Just as Ball & G’s album titles suggested, things looked good On the Outside Looking In and the label seemed to be On Top of The World. But artists involved saw the picture in the vein of Crime Boss’ sophomore album, a lot of Conflicts & Confusion.
“You can sense when shit ain’t going right,” says Thorough using another sports analogy. “The team of players was fine, but the owners and general managers wasn’t right.”
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