Photo by Nick SchouAbout a decade ago, in a record shop in a suburban mall, a music label was born.
Eighteen-year-old Carlos Perry was working the register at the Record Shop, a store in the declining Huntington Beach Mall, when a kid approached him. Not just any kid, but a linebacker-sized 15-year-old with the mononymic handle Thadius.
"I had already heard about his rap skills," Perry recalled. "So I told him to spit some lyrics at me, and I'd give him a free CD."
Thadius did, tearing off lines from "Lyrical Lunatic." It was frenetic, poetic—and worthy of the free CD.
Today, Perry, Thadius and Rafael Watkins—all under 30, all kids of the capital of OC punk rock, Huntington Beach—run All Rise Records. It's a record label, but it's also a bunch of friends who live in a big house on the top of a hill in Orange Hills. With a staff of nine, they're following an ambitious business plan they hope will take everyone on the ride of their lives.
"The idea is that, through All Rise Records, we'll all rise up together in the game," explained Perry.
But so far the label is focusing its efforts on just one artist: Thadius, an emerging rap artist of tremendous talent. His first CD, Rise and Shine, is scheduled for release this spring with—the label hopes—major airplay on Power 106 and 92.3 The Beat, Southern California's two premier hip-hop stations.
Although the label bills him as an Orange County rapper, Thadius is hardly a product of the suburbs. He was born and spent his earliest years in a South-Central LA neighborhood fought over by the Bloods and the Crips, LA's legendary rival street gangs. After his mother moved to Orange County, Thadius attended Huntington Beach High School. Then came the cash-register concert at the nearby mall and the friendship that would become All Rise Records.
Despite their relative youth and inexperience, Perry insists he and his friends are serious about turning the label into a major player in the hip-hop world—one that will someday be seen as a hit-making factory for OC-based rap music.
"When we say we're the first real independent hip-hop music label in Orange County, the key word is 'real,'" Perry said. "There are always cats running around with music they recorded on the Casio. You can be out there all day on the corner talking about how you have the greatest shit, but unless you have someone backing you up, you ain't shit."
When it comes to backup, All Rise Records has it in the form of TiLo, the lead singer of Methods of Mayhem, Tommy Lee's rap group, whose eponymous album went gold last year. Perry met him through Thadius, who used to share a house with TiLo. "We've been boys with him for a long time, way before he was in the game," Perry explained. "Basically, now he's huge, and he gets us in all over the place. It's easier for him to walk through the door at EMI, for example, than it would be for us. He already has a recording contract with EMI and knows people at Virgin Records and Interscope Records."
TiLo also introduced Perry, Thadius and Watkins to a local production unit, the Omen Room, a studio and sound-mixing lab in Garden Grove run by guitarist and producer Matt Borden and his partner, Zeke, a sound engineer whose credits include Madonna's hit song "Ray of Light." Thanks to TiLo, the Omen Room has gotten work with everyone from rap artists De La Soul to country star Juice Newton of "Queen of Hearts" fame.
"TiLo is the guy who has hooked everything up for us," Borden said. "He's had his fingers on the pulse of music for a long time, and he has introduced a lot of people to us. You have to be introduced to the right people in this business. He's cracked open doors for us, and we've done the same thing for him, too. It's symbiotic; it works for everyone."
These days, TiLo and his friends in All Rise Records spend between 10 and 30 hours per week at the Omen Room, mostly polishing off tracks for Thadius' Rise and Shine and TiLo's as-yet-untitled solo album, which will be released through EMI this summer. Unlike TiLo's disc, which will hit shelves nationwide thanks to EMI's massive corporate marketing department, All Rise Records plans to release Rise and Shinein a manner befitting an independent label—first in California, Oregon, Washington and Arizona, and then in the southern U.S.
But making a name for themselves in Orange County still tops the agenda. "OC is a huge market," Perry argued. "There are millions of teenagers here, and nobody in the rap world has tried to directly reach out to them. To do that requires direct marketing—going out and talking to people, doing shows for free, and doing radio spots and advertisements on MTV." The label has already showcased Thadius at several clubs around LA and Orange County, including Coconut Teazer on the Sunset Strip and Huntington Beach's Liquid Den.
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Perhaps the most rewarding show so far, said Perry, was also All Rise Records' biggest direct-marketing challenge. It happened when the label introduced Thadius to the Surf City's hardcore punk rock scene at a Main Street bar. "We did a show for a bunch of punk rock skinhead dudes," Perry explained. He said the audience wasn't happy when they realized that an African-American rapper was about to take the stage.
"The concert was really nerve-racking," he said. "All these skinheads were shuffling around and grumbling."
But the heckling ended the moment Thadius started rapping the lyrics to "Blood & Sweat," the first track on his upcoming album. "These skinheads were really feeling the music," Perry recalled. "They were rocking out; they really appreciated the music."
Thadius performs in the parking lot of the Santa Ana Courthouse, 700 Civic Center Dr., Santa Ana; www.allriserecords.com. Feb. 2, noon. Free.