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If you've paid a recent late-night visit to the Krispy Kreme Doughnuts in North Miami Beach, chances are you've seen Bobby Washington in the parking lot. "This is when it gets really packed," notes the 33-year-old R&B singer.
Washington cuts an odd figure amid the SUVs and sedans circling this 24/7 haven. He's dressed in a fitted shirt that clings to his muscled physique, and, curiously, Gucci sunglasses. A tiny blue cell phone clamped to his left ear gleams in the darkness. The sweet scent of sugary glazed donuts would make just about anyone give in to an impulse buy. Not Washington. "I'm here to make money, not spend it," he explains.
By the end of the night, Washington will make about $250, selling his latest self-produced album, Nude, at ten bucks a pop. That's average, seeing as it's a weekday. On weekends, he aims for double that. "You gotta get them where it's quiet," Washington says. "Too much noise, their mind is elsewhere."
While other local players hope to get their music to the masses through radio airplay or a major-label contract, Washington has long taken a more direct approach, what he calls "street hustling." After years of research he's honed the practice to an art, and a very lucrative one at that. Washington claims to have sold more than 75,000 discs out of his car trunk over the past decade.
Born and raised in Opa-locka, Washington grew up with soul literally. His father once auditioned for the Temptations, and was even called back for a second tryout, though he never joined the group. "He just wasn't focused enough," the younger Washington says. "And that's all you need, is to be focused."
In fact, his approach is nothing short of single-minded. "I knew I wanted to do music," he explains. "There were no alternatives."
As a student at Norland High School, Bobby formed the Force of Dreams, with himself as frontman, naturally. The quintet sang, danced, and made the girls scream enough girls that they eventually earned a slot opening for one of the biggest boy bands of all time, New Kids On the Block. "That was insane," Washington recalls of the 1989 show at Loehmann's Plaza. "I've never seen so many females in one place in my life."
By the end of high school, Washington had set his sights on a solo career. He managed to land odd gigs throughout South Florida, opening for luminaries such as Angie and Debbie Winans, Tony Terry, and the pied piper of R&B himself, R. Kelly. Washington also toured as a background singer and dancer with the Miami bass legend Pretty Tony and his group, Freestyle, in 1991.
Three years later Washington scored a record deal with the Miami indie label Up Front Records. He released only one album on the imprint, Sweet Summer Miami Night in 1994, but the relationship provided him with a crash course in the music industry. He saw how business was done and decided he was better off on his own.
These days Washington is the ultimate one-man operation. His small, one-bedroom North Miami Beach apartment is crammed with copies of his CDs, shelf after shelf of them, which he manufactures himself, using a high-powered multiple CD burner appropriately located next to the oven in his kitchen.
His bedroom serves as headquarters for BDubb Entertainment, the label Washington started in 1999. Inside there are three computers. He uses one for graphic design purposes (he designs his own CD artwork and his Website, www.bobbywashington.com). The second machine is for editing music videos, which he posts on YouTube and on his MySpace page (www.myspace.com/bobby washingtonmusic). Washington records and mixes his music on the third machine. In addition to Nude, Washington has released eleven other albums, writing nearly all of the music and playing most of the instruments himself.
His walk-in closet doubles as a recording booth, while his bed is littered with copies of his latest album poster (a picture of Washington, shirtless, with his bulging biceps wrapped around a woman's naked torso). The posters have been autographed and will serve as promotional giveaways the next time he hits the streets.
The most telling detail of all, though, is directly over his bed. Washington has a dollar bill taped to the ceiling, with six tiny zeroes markered next to the one digit. "I look up at that bill every night before I go to bed and every morning when I wake up," Washington explains. "It keeps me focused and reminds me that every day I'm closer to that million."
Washington's sound is mostly a combination of soul and R&B what he prefers to call "sexy music" with frequent ventures into other genres. His latest single, "Brotha from Dade," is a quirky hip-hop track that features guest rapper J.T. Money. "I don't always make sexy music," Washington says. "I love hip-hop, some pop, anything Top 40, I dig." His influences range from old-school legends like Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder to current producers Timbaland and Scott Storch.
One thing Washington has in common with these better-known artists: He's prolific. He claims to have some 300 unreleased songs, beats, and lyrics, which he's hoping to record just as soon as he can find time.