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If you visited a local record store on Tuesday, March 30, looking for Jacki-O’s long-awaited debut album, Poe Little Rich Girl, you didn’t find it. That is because the Liberty City rapper’s record label, Poe Boy Entertainment, recently lost its distribution deal with Warner Music Group. In a brief phone conversation, Brian Bumbery, a publicist for the music conglomerate, confirmed as much, but couldn’t comment further about the split. Though it is not known exactly when the deal collapsed, Spec’s Music in South Beach was taking orders for the album as recently as the third week of March, and Amazon.com had it listed for sale until the weekend of March 27, when its status was unceremoniously changed to “out of stock.” Apparently, Poe Boy’s celebrated major-label alliance was terminated just as it was about to begin.
So what’s next for Jacki-O? It looks as if she is signing with TVT Records, label to Lil’ Jon and the Eastside Boyz, Ying Yang Twins, and Pitbull. Partnering with TVT is a coup for Poe Boy since the record label, thanks in part to the workaholic Lil’ Jon, is credited with popularizing the ever-popular crunk sound. The hot independent company also has a reputation for diligently promoting its albums (Ying Yang Twins’ Me & My Brother) and steadily building a national audience, instead of chasing after opening-week sales as do other rap imprints.
Since releasing her debut single, “Nookie,” early last May, Jacki-O and Poe Boy have gained a reputation among record executives, journalists, and radio programmers as up-and-coming Southern rap stars. But they haven’t been able to come up with a strong followup for her. The second single, “Sugar Walls,” was a frothy punany joint that went nowhere. “Slow Down” was a considerable improvement; more important, it revealed that Jacki-O was a talented MC, spitting rhymes such as, “Jacki-O, a gift not a curse/Think I’m a itch now/Well, the rash gets worse.” But it only replicated the modest success of “Nookie,” reaching number 65 on Billboard magazine’s R&B/Hip-Hop Singles chart. Then last November, Seagram (former owner of Universal Music) bought Warner Music Group. In March of this year, Warner laid off 1000 employees.
Bumbery referred me to a representative at Warner’s corporate office, who wasn’t able to comment on Poe Boy by press time. But it wouldn’t be a stretch to surmise that the layoffs, coupled with the absence of a truly popular Jacki-O hit, contributed to an untenable situation. In addition, several anonymous sources say that Poe Boy split from its financial backer, Sobe Entertainment, before losing the distribution deal.
However, promo copies of Poe Little Rich Girl were mailed to the press, and numerous magazines gave it respectable reviews. In the April 1 issue of Rolling Stone, Jon Caramanica awarded it three and a half out of five stars, and praised Jacki-O’s “cocksure flow over sterling beats from Jazze Pha, Timbaland, and others.”
Of course, Poe Boy didn’t bother to send me one. I’ve been on the label’s shit list ever since my profile of the company, which discussed a still-pending copyright lawsuit against Jacki-O’s “Nookie” track, ran earlier this year (“Anatomy of A Hit,” January 1). A month later, label owner Elric “E-Class” Prince, COO Elvin “Big Chuck” Prince, and publicist/producer Alex “Poochie” Bethune gave an interview to 305hiphop.com titled “Anatomy of A Hit 2: What Really Went Down.” During the ten-minute talk, which site visitors can download as an MP3, the three executives griped about my article, musician Charles Trahan (who brought the lawsuit), and yours truly, claiming, “Mosi Reeves is a fraud!”
After imprinting the phrase “Mosi Reeves is a fraud” on a T-shirt and proudly wearing it around town for a few weeks, I managed to procure a copy of Poe Little Rich Girl. (No, I didn’t download it from the Internet.) In keeping with Jacki-O’s scantily clad, titty-baring image, many of its songs are sex-obsessed, from the ribald (“Somebody’s Getting Fucked”) to the scatological (“Sugar Walls”). Others draw the listener in on their own merits, such as the vividly autobiographical “Ghetto World” and her smart description of Liberty City: “We’re Flintstone kids/We’re surrounded by bricks and rocks.” Peppered throughout are random lyrics ridiculing Trina, sustaining an ongoing rivalry between the two Miami divas. On the skit “Shut the Fuck Up,” she laughs, “Tina? Who’s Tina?”
Poe Little Rich Girl is a solid album from start to finish. The worst one could say is that, save for “Nookie,” none of its songs particularly stand out. It’s a modest pleasure, which would be cause for joy in the rock and roll world. But in the highly competitive rap world, where a great single or two can be the difference between a platinum plaque and 10,000 units sold (or, in hip-hop parlance, “going wood”), it’s not enough.
The Warner version of Poe Little Rich Girl probably won’t be released. Poe Boy will likely tweak the disc’s contents, jettisoning the album’s weaker cuts and maybe adding a hot collaboration with the ubiquitous Lil’ Jon or some other name rapper, before its scheduled TVT release date in July. But for now, despite recent setbacks, Jacki-O still has the interest of a fickle and impatient hip-hop industry, which is all that matters.