By Chuck Strouse
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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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Planet Bass went on to sell a half-million copies, without radio or video support. "Strictly through word of mouth on the underground," Armada says proudly. "Bass music doesn't get played much on the radio or in clubs." Instead, he states, bass has found its market niche among what Armada calls the car culture. "It's strictly car music, for guys in car clubs. You hear it playing in places where people hang out. They go places and jam to the music; the whole city hears it, practically. They have these custom car shows all over the country where anywhere from 400 to 700 cars compete in all these different audio matches -- testing frequencies and wattage of stereos. If one guy is blasting a certain tape and he's winning, then all the guys in the other cars want that tape. Which means that soon you've got 700 people driving around playing your music. It's just incredible."
Since that first foray into bass, Joey Boy has kept the market fires stoked with a slew of cassettes and compact discs -- multi-artist compilations such as the three-volume Bass Check series; six Bass Patrol sets and spinoff solo albums by Patrolers DJ Fury and RX Lord; other albums by the likes of Half Pint, Black And Sounding Sweet, and Bass Master A.C.E.; and a host of releases on the Joey Boy-distributed On Top imprint. Nearly all of them bear a warning label -- not cautioning parents about explicit lyrics, but informing listeners of the speaker damage that Joey Boy discs can do. Most read something like this one, taken from the cover of the recent compilation Cyber Messiah: "WARNING. This recording contains mega low bass. Joey Boy Records is not responsible for damage to your equipment." Armada says the warning actually attracts buyers. "They want the bass to be as loud and low as possible. If you can break their speakers, that turns them on. If it can blow the fuses out on the stereos, it's like, 'Hey, that shit's bad.'"
Even beyond its explosive capabilities, Bass functions on a more physical level. "People love to dance to it. There's nothing more hype than bass music. You put it on and they just go crazy," exclaims Joey Boy artist Albert Moss, a 26-year-old North Miamian who under the name DJ Uncle Al has cut four albums for the label. "The beats are faster; the heavy bass just hits people. You can definitely hear the difference between a Michael Jackson song and a bass song. Miami's had bass for a long time, but it's just now starting to hit in places like the West, where they're just getting hip to it. It's gaining popularity all over the world."
To be sure, sales for Joey Boy's back catalogue are steadily increasing, Armada claims, citing successful distribution deals for the label's product in unlikely bass locales such as Germany, Japan, and Italy. Sales have also recently increased on the two albums by the Dogs, although there is a macabre tinge to this renewed interest in the long-defunct group: ex-Dog Labrant "Ant D" Dennis was arrested last April and charged with the murders of University of Miami football player Marlin Barnes and a friend, Timwanika Lumpkins. "Their stuff has always sold steady," Armada says of the Dogs' canon. "It's sad to say, but it's really picked up [since Dennis's arrest]. The whole thing is just crazy. It really shocked me because he was a quiet guy, not that violent at all. But I hadn't seen him in three years. I guess a lot can happen in that time."
From "Roxanne, No More" to the endless stream of bass hits, Armada has kept Joey Boy prosperous by anticipating changes in bass, hip-hop, and dance music, rather than by simply following trends. And his label has survived numerous changes in pop tastes, sticking with bass and shying away from gangsta rap, which Armada abandoned after working briefly with three such groups from Memphis. "These groups were always getting in trouble and getting arrested," he states. "Bass music is harmless. Mostly, it talks about sex, which I think is better than having songs that tell people to go out and kill each other." Joey Boy's success (three million dollars in net sales for 1995, very good for a self-distributed independent), and its ability to pick up and market the music of the urban underground, has attracted the interest of several major labels, which have sniffed around the door of his Allapattah office in hopes of sharing some of Armada's profits through licensing and distribution deals. Armada has waved them off.
"The majors are a double-edged sword," he says. "They can pick you up and give you more money, but if they don't take you seriously they'll just put you on a shelf and kill you. And sometimes they don't know how to work a record. They know how to promote pop, but when it comes to something new off the streets, they haven't the slightest clue as to what to do with it. They can work the regular channels like radio and press, but they don't know street promotion. I have artists coming to me and DJs and people out in the streets who know what I'm looking for. Look what the majors are made of: It's mostly college kids who've never even set foot in a pressing plant. They have black kids working there who have never even been to the ghetto! And you think they're gonna tell me how to work a black record?"