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Meanwhile Trahan claims that E-Class "got more into the streets. He started hustling." When asked to elaborate, he only says, "I'll let you figure that out." Miami-Dade County court records show that E-Class accumulated several criminal charges in the Nineties, from a battery misdemeanor (for which he was acquitted in a jury trial) to petty larceny and theft (for which he paid a fine). But in August of 1993 the U.S. government indicted E-Class for conspiracy to distribute and possession with intent to distribute crack cocaine. He was extradited along with ten co-conspirators to the U.S. Federal Courthouse in Tallahassee.
Trahan testified on E-Class's behalf, using pictures the two had taken together during Young & Restless tours to illustrate why the defendant was innocent of the charges. "I told the jury that there was no way he could have been with [his co-defendants] at the time they said he was with them," says Trahan. Thanks to his testimony, E-Class was acquitted of the charges in 1994.
When asked to comment on the charges, E-Class's brother Big Chuck would only say, "I know he never got convicted, so it was kind of thrown out. They didn't have any evidence, so that was the end of that."
As the decade wore on, Trahan built his reputation by working with a variety of local artists, including J.T. Money and Luke Campbell. But most of the tracks never saw the light of day. He did manage to get a few projects off the ground, though, including a 1996 album (Who Am I?) for Fort Lauderdale label Neurodisc as the leader of a group called Southern Conference.
Trahan's closest brush with Young & Restless-style fame came when he recorded "U Like Piña Colada," a minor but memorable club hit that mimicked Rupert Holmes's kitschy classic "Escape (The Piña Colada Song)" ("U like piña colada/U like drinking champagne"), for And Then There Was Bass: Dis Bass Game Real, a 1997 compilation. He roped in E-Class for an appearance in the song's video; Trahan feels it was this moment that convinced E-Class to "get serious" about the music industry.
In 1998 Trahan and E-Class formed Fat Pocket Entertainment, a production company that would make music to sell to record labels. "The deal was, 'I'll handle the production and you handle the finance part,'" Trahan says he told E-Class, who had steadily built a nest egg from sundry ventures like selling real estate and selling cars at local auction houses. The business soon foundered. Unsure of the partnership's viability, E-Class refused to put up enough money to make it work. "It got to the point where we got into bigger arguments and bigger arguments. Then we stopped doing it," says Trahan.
By 2000 E-Class had begun assembling his own record label. He named it Poe Boy Entertainment after Kenin "Poe Boy" Bailey, a Liberty City associate who was shot to death by police in 1999 while trying to rob a check-cashing store. Big Chuck notes that Bailey was just trying to get money for E-Class's label. "That's when things got serious and people started to straighten out," he says. Big Chuck says Bailey exemplifies "the Poe Boy mentality. When we go out in the streets, we promote ourselves," he says. "We handle ourselves accordingly, but we still have that aggressive mentality to go out and do this."
As E-Class struggled to establish Poe Boy, he recruited his old Liberty City companions to help out. Among them were former Young & Restless member Johnson, who now called himself P.O.D.; younger brothers Big Chuck and producer Lee "J-Freezy" Prince; and producer Poochie, who would also serve as the company publicist. Another artist, rapper/producer Dwayne "Cognito" Webb, had once been a part of R&B act Distinguished Gentlemen, who only managed to release one single in 1994 on major label Def Jam, "Soakin' Wet." Finally there were other Liberty City upstarts such as Jacki-O, Brisco, Six Six, and Rodney.
From the start, E-Class set out to secure a distribution deal with a bigger label. One of the first he spoke to was Pandisc, who would later bring the copyright lawsuit against him. "He came to me two and a half years ago," reveals Crane. "I listened to the stuff and I turned him down."
For its first CD, P.O.D.'s The Power of Dollars, Poe Boy secured a guest appearance from the more famous Trick Daddy on the lead single, "Something Going On." Trick's presence ensured airplay on local urban radio stations Power 96 (WPOW-FM 96.1) and 99 Jamz. But when the album was released in 2001, it fell victim to yet another lawsuit filed by Atlantic Records on behalf of platinum rap-metal band P.O.D., who discovered the CD through Amazon.com. "P.O.D. was the name [Johnson] always used, even when he was with Young & Restless," Big Chuck erroneously points out, though Johnson did use the name for a 1996 album on Atlanta-based Ichiban Records, Life. The lawsuit, which Big Chuck says is currently being settled, forced Johnson to change his rap moniker to Mr. Flim-Flam.
However, the zeal with which Poe Boy promoted The Power of Dollars -- from pushing copies of "Something Going On" into the hands of local DJs to pressing up T-shirts with the Poe Boy logo, riding around in vans with wraparound ads for the label and its artists, and even hawking bottles of water marked "Poe Boy Natural Spring Water" -- sparked a buzz that eventually reached New York City.