Labels hardly ever discover and develop talent anymore. These days, the majors only come knocking once you have a fully functioning movement in place with independent sales that push past five figures. Nineteen-year-old Mario Talley, a.k.a. D.G. Yola, is the poster child for this new industry trend that focuses on turning homegrown hustle into big business.
The Westside Atlanta teen grinded for nearly three years before his song “Ain’t Gon Let Up” turned into a regional monster smash. Even though the gritty steel pan anthem didn’t blow up until this year, the record was actually written back in ’03 when Yola was working as a cook at a seafood restaurant owned by Bureasa “Lady B” Rahim. After seeing the youngster steady spitting lyrics while slinging shrimp, Lady B decided to take him under her wings as his manager.
Forming their own label, Power Hittas Records, in 2003, Yola and Lady B began recording what they call “gutta music.” “I brought it back to the block,” says Yola. “Everybody [in Atlanta] was dancing at that point. I was the only person who broke through with something different that people wanted.”
Popular club DJ T-Rock became an early fan of “Ain’t Gon Let Up” and broke the record at the legendary Poole Palace in Atlanta. It wasn’t long until Yola’s name crept up North. “A few DJs kept telling me about him,” recalls Mike Caren, senior VP of A&R at Atlantic Records. “So I reached out to him in November of 2005. This kid, with little to no money, had recorded 25 really raw, aggressive songs that were the antithesis of Atlanta’s snap music.”
Caren signed Yola last February, and paired the young’n’s Power Hittas label with Atlantic imprint Grand Hustle Entertainment to handle his marketing. With the release of Yola’s official debut, Gutta World, looming, the teen titan is feeling his position of power. This past June, he was designated the MVP at Atlanta’s Hot 107.9 Birthday Bash megaconcert, where he had the whole crowd leaning to his hit. “Over 100,000 folks putting they middle finger up saying your whole song,” he says shaking his head. “It don’t get no better than that.”
Check out the rest of this month’s Show & Prove artists in XXL‘s October 2006 issue (#85).