Business is Booming

Jose Armada, Jr., has built his own empire from the spine-rattling, ass-shaking success of bass music.

Most likely not. Armada's role at the self-distributed label has been multifarious. "I've produced tracks, written lyrics, come up with names for groups, taken photos for album covers, directed videos," he explains. "I've seen every aspect of the business -- from the plant to the studio to the street to the stores."

Also, he adds, the majors don't have the instincts, the ability to estimate the longevity of music trends, or the acumen to find the next trend. Despite consistent sales for the label, Armada feels the bass tides are changing; he says that while he will always have a hand in the bass business, he's shifting Joey Boy's focus to the twin hybrids of Latin rap and Latin reggae. The label's latest batch of discs includes Puerto Rican rap diva Rude Girl and -- through the Joey Boy-promoted Parcha label owned by a cousin of Armada -- El Cartel and Sandy & Papo MC, both from the Dominican Republic.

"There's too much product out there," Armada says of his decision to move away from bass. "Nowadays every engineer, producer, and programmer has his own bass tape. What's coming in style now is more Latin-influenced. It's taking a Latin feel and combining it with hardcore hip-hop -- they're modernizing old stuff and rapping to it. And Latin reggae is just enormous in places like Panama, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, and all over the U.S. There's a big population of guys like me in the United States who were born in Latin America but raised here, so we speak both Spanish and English. That's how kids talk now -- a few words in Spanish, a few in English, and that's how they're rapping now. And radio stations are picking up on it here. Even Power 96 [WPOW-FM 96.5] has switched over to it."

And, according to WPOW program director Kim "Kid" Curry, the station is doing very well with it. "I'm convinced this is the way to go," says Curry of the hip-hop-steeped mix of Spanish and English raps. "It's a natural progression. The abuelos speak Spanish and their kids speak less Spanish and their kids will speak less. What we're seeing is a 'generationization,' or a mutation of Spanish and English into 'Spanglish.' It's very acceptable now in music, and it's paying off for us."

This new music takes several steps away from the oozing, carnal pulse of Joey Boy's long-time stock-in-trade. Both El Cartel and Sandy & Papo MC offer rapid-fire raps and chanted background vocals over a synthetic layer of salsa-style horns and rhythms borrowed from dancehall reggae and the incessant beatbox drone of house and techno. Rude Girl, nee Excenia Knights, a onetime artist for Columbia Records with a pair of international hits from the early Nineties, applies her gritty soprano to a similar mix. She adds contemporary soul flourishes on "100 Percent de Amor," while the salsa groove on "Dia y Noche" is baked into the percolating Jamaican rhythms. And her lyrics provide a nice alternative to the horny expoundings of her male contemporaries.

"I try to educate women with my lyrics," says Knights by phone from her adopted home base of Brooklyn, New York, where she has lived since leaving Puerto Rico in 1982. "I talk a lot about relationships, about trying to get women not to depend on men too much -- to do your own thing, you know? And I'll switch it and come up with a nice song for men and women. Something lovey-dovey. I'm just about trying to take the music to different places."

And that, too, is what Armada has been doing for the better part of a twelve-year career spent not in the spotlight but quietly working behind the scenes, navigating his label steadily through the vast and varied waves of pop music -- taking the music to different places, following a vision of fierce independence. "I've done everything in this business," Armada says, not bragging but merely stating the truth. "I used to look up to the major labels and thought they knew it all. Now I know I don't need them. I know what I can do and how far I can go. There's just no limit.

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