A sign found in Huntsville, Ala. The producing duo Block Beataz operate there within a hip-hop economy largely of their own making.
A sign found in Huntsville, Ala. The producing duo Block Beataz operate there within a hip-hop economy largely of their own making. Brian Metz/flickr.com
Huntsville, Ala.: hip-hop’s latest hotbed. Up to now, much of the attention has been focused on up and comers G-Side, but rappers like Jackie Chain, the Paper Route Gangstaz, and 6 Tre G are helping to put Hunstville’s hip-hop on the map.
Though these may eventually become the faces of a revitalized southern sound, the musical renaissance taking place in this city is fueled in large part by a beat-making duo that offers quality beats at a competitive price.
Cory Parham and Leighton Hicks are the Block Beataz, a team of producers that has put instrumentals behind nearly all of the talent coming out of Huntsville. Their knack for contrasting laid back melodies over banging drums has created a sound that is distinct to their production company, Slow Motion Sounds.
The idea behind the company was to build a hip-hop economy in Huntsville. In order to do this, the two had to make music at market prices.
courtesy of the artists
From left to right, the Block Beataz are Corey Parham (CP) and Leighton Hicks (Mali Boi).
"Anybody doing music in Huntsville has walked through our doors," Parham says. “You can go to Atlanta and possibly sell tracks for $1000, $5000 … There's not that type of money here in Huntsville. Our strategy was to sell music and production for as low as possible, but to give them the best possible product. It wasn't easy, but over four or five years, everybody has come through; taken the music; and gone on to do other things. And they always come back."
Codie G is the manager for the Block Beataz and the Director of Marketing at Slow Motion Sounds, he says their strategy was often criticized in the early days, but they had to do it that way to compete with producers from larger markets.
"There wasn't an economy here for music," he says. "They used to get ridiculed, like, 'You gotta sell your beats for more than fifty.' But basically what they did was sell a market rate for what production was going for. It benefited the artists around here because they were able to compete against the bigger markets like Memphis, Houston, and Atlanta, and have a quality sound of their own. It was a blessing that they did that."
Codie G says that the way that the music was sold parallels the city's economy in general. "When job recruiters try to recruit, they point to the cost of living. They say, 'You can get a house here in Huntsville for $150,000 and in another city you're paying $400,000," he explains. "It's the same thing with the music. In Atlanta you might have to pay $1500 for a track and $100 an hour for studio time; here you pay $50 for a track and $30 an hour for studio time."
This laid the foundation for the hip-hop economy, but to really get the ball rolling, the Block Beataz needed to grab the national spotlight, says Parham.
"When we did 'Lacs and Caprices' with T.I. [in 2006] that was the point where everyone took us seriously. We had a national artist that was on the verge of becoming a mega star. We did solid production for them and got a good response nationally. Everything took off from there. The community here trusted us, and we wanted to make sure we gave them the same quality that we gave the bigger artists."
Codie G says that now the market is growing, prices have gone up. But that also benefits the Huntsville community.
"As the prices go up, the artist and the city will still be able to afford them," he says. "For instance you got Jackie Chain signed to a major label. He bought beats from the Block Beataz, and now he can come back and spend more money. As the artists grow, we grow, and the rates go up. We're not gonna set beats at a price that they can't afford, because if they can't afford them, we can't eat."
Even as the income grows for rappers like Jackie Chain, and for producers like the Block Beataz, Codie G says that sticking to the formula that made Slow Motion Sounds work well is important for growing the market.
"We have a small company called O'Third, and they're younger than us — they're starting up under our blueprint. You can come to the Block Beataz and you can get their tracks, or you can go to O'Third and get tracks at the old market rate," he says. "What that does is gives the younger generation a chance to make some money, and the people who can't afford what we're offering can still get a quality sound. We're trying to let everybody have access to quality music."