By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
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E-Class talked to several majors, including Elektra and Sony, but eventually settled on a one-year distribution deal with independent Rufflife Records (best known for putting out a record by Eminem's former crew, the Outsidaz), which planned to distribute Poe Boy vis-à-vis its own distributor, ADA Distribution. He also found a major investor in SoBe Entertainment, which agreed to put hundreds of thousands of dollars into the label. Big Chuck says the alliance -- though he's not sure what percentage of the label SoBe owns, he refers to it as a "parent" company -- helped fund bigger street teams and advertising campaigns. "They've helped a lot," he says.
By the time of Cognito's 2002 debut, Tru Cognizance, Poe Boy was backed by some powerful allies. One of the album's executive producers was Cedric "Hollywood" Anderson, who also happens to be the program director at top-rated 99 Jamz, deciding which songs make it into the station's rotation. The album also featured several guest spots from the Slip-N-Slide roster. One of its skits, "I'm Feelin' Ya," starred DJ Khaled, a mix show personality for 99 Jamz and one of the most popular DJs in Miami.
Poe Boy worked hard at pushing Tru Cognizanceby running commercials on BET and MTV, purchasing ads in hip-hop magazines like The Source, and filming a video for its first single, "Big Bank." Unfortunately Rufflife lost its distribution deal with ADA midway through the campaign, which made it unable to get the album into stores around the country. Tru Cognizanceflopped and has only moved a paltry 1600 copies to date, according to industry sales tracking system Nielsen SoundScan. Big Chuck blames Rufflife for the failure of the Cognito project. "They really didn't do anything to help at all," he complains. "It was in a lot less places than they said it would be."
Trahan, of course, paints a different scenario. He believes that, after two costly disappointments, E-Class may have been under pressure from SoBe Entertainment to produce a winner. "I think what happened was that he knew the response that the 'Pussy Good' song that I had was getting on the streets, and just had Jacki-O push it around and do it over," says Trahan. "I just feel like he was desperate for a hit."
Regardless of who really wrote it, "Nookie" is definitely a hit. But how big? After debuting on Billboard's hot R&B/hip-hop singles and tracks chart in late August, "Nookie" bubbled in its lower depths before peaking at number 61 on October 4, then disappearing from the chart altogether. Meanwhile the "Nookie" video, where a bikini-clad Jacki-O floated on a raft in a pool amid dozens of scantily clad models while the Poe Boy crew mugged for the camera, only garnered light rotation on MTV Jams.
Recent rap history is littered with raunchy novelty tracks from sexually flamboyant women. In 2002 there was Khia's "My Neck My Back," which sailed to number 42 on the Billboardpop chart. But she never released a convincing followup. On the other hand there's Trina, who successfully used her outrageous debut with Trick Daddy, "Nann Nigga," to build a more lasting career. Whose path will Jacki-O follow?
Ali, Poe Boy's advocate at Warner Bros., swears Jacki-O has big potential. "She's going to be the Madonna of hip-hop," he proclaims. To build on "Nookie"'s promise, Poe Boy put out a remix version with multi-platinum musician Wyclef Jean, who has also written hits for Carlos Santana. They also released Jacki-O's "Sugar Walls," a brand new track produced by Red Spyda.
But Poe Boy is understandably anxious to get Poe Little Rich Girlout in stores to build on "Nookie"'s waning buzz. In spite of its considerable strengths, the song already seems old, last year's memorable soundtrack to a blazing hot summer. The label lobbied hard for Warner Bros. to stick to the album's original November 4 street date, but Ali says that after careful consideration it will now be released on February 24.
"There were a lot of heavy hitters" competing for consumer dollars in November, he says, noting that multiplatinum rappers Jay-Z, 50 Cent's group G-Unit, and the late Tupac Shakur all dropped albums that month. "So we decided to pull back," he adds. Warner Bros. has something to prove as well. The venerable record company hasn't had a big rap hit since Ice-T fled the label during the 1992 "Cop Killer" controversy. The recent Poe Boy deal is one of many moves it is making to try and win back a prominent role; impressively, it also signed another imprint, white-hot rapper/producer Lil Jon's BME Records, to a national distribution deal.
In the meantime, of course, Poe Boy has a pending legal battle with Pandisc and Trahan. If Pandisc is able to secure a court injunction on "Nookie," Poe Little Rich Girlmight not appear in stores for the next several months, all but derailing Poe Boy's chances of capitalizing on the biggest hip-hop song to come out of Miami in 2003.
Poe Boy clearly has a lot to lose. But Big Chuck is confident that his crew will prevail. "I think we're going to come out on top in the long run," he says. He characterizes Trahan's lawsuit as a pathetic attempt to cash in on "Nookie"'s success, the sad result of a career in decline. "I don't know what he's doing," he notes wistfully about his former friend. "It's a shame because we all grew up together."