Tyree Michael Carter has many pictures of himself on the walls of his office, but only one in which he's smiling. It's a shot from last Halloween, and Ty is dressed like a blaxploitation-flick pimp--a veritable mack daddy. The outfit took 13 thrift stores, $100 and two weeks to put together, and it turned out to be pretty stylin'. Ty's got the Afro wig, the purple-felt fedora with the pink plume, the long purple fur coat, the big-ass shades and a wide grin that says, "Baby, I'm the man."
No one's smiling in the rest of Ty's pictures, though. Not him, not his partner P-Body Scott, and not Ice Cube, Guru, Coolio, Ladybug or any of the other hip-hop luminaries they're standing with. Instead, everyone's wearing roughly the same stony, ever-so-slightly menacing look on his face.
When New Times photographer Tim Archibald recently tried to get Ty and P-Body to crack their mouths in a photo shoot, they firmly refused. "This is hip-hop," P-Body said. The subtext to his curt explanation was: There will be no shucking and jiving here, nor anything that could be perceived as such. No slip of decorum that some punk could come up and start slinging flak about--"Yo, P-Body, you looked like a Cream of Wheat grinning motherfucker in that New Times thing. All you needed was a chef's hat, bitch." No, there will be none of that.
The unwritten custom in hip-hop culture is that no one smiles for the media, and it was a street-smart move for Ty and P-Body to adhere to that custom. Because right now in the Valley hip-hop scene, to borrow a phrase from the latest 2Pac Shakur album, all eyez are on them--and there are a lot of jealous suckers out there who would be quick to point and yell about them not "keeping it real."
That's because Ty and P-Body are the ones who finally put Phoenix on the hip-hop tour circuit--establishing themselves as national-level players in the process. Working together as TMC Presents, the two promoters have brought 14 no-joke rap acts to Phoenix during the last two years, gradually accelerating to the current pace of one major show a month.
Before TMC, hip-hop shows in the Valley were limited to the occasional Evening Star presentation of an act with heavy crossover appeal, such as Cypress Hill. Which left America's eighth largest urban center a virtually untapped market for hip-hop.
"All the major promotion organizations moved too little too late," says Carter. "They could have been making a fortune for years, but they didn't know the music and they didn't have the moves. We did, and we were able to sneak in underneath them. And now we have our hip-hop market cornered just fine here."
Carter has been promoting shows in Phoenix for almost five years, starting with illegal warehouse keggers. He has fliers in his scrapbook for several underground parties headlined by the Phunk Junkeez in the early '90s, when the band was just starting out. (The Junkeez, in typical small-time form, have repeatedly credited those warehouse parties with launching their career while neglecting to ever give Carter props for putting them on, claiming instead that the events were Junkeez-organized. The fliers in Carter's scrapbook clearly bear his promotions logo.)
P-Body hooked up with Ty shortly before his first hip-hop event, a Skatefest show in early 1994 that featured the Pharcyde. "I was standing in Zia records, staring at the flier rack, looking for something to do and he came in and gave me a flier for that show," says P-Body. "It was one of those cosmic crux moments--a minute later either way and both our lives would be drastically different right now."
During the next six months, Carter says, the two became "like brothers" and he invited P-Body to join his young company as a partner. It was probably the best move Carter has ever made--P-Body has repeatedly demonstrated a sixth-sense awareness of the hip-hop market, predicting which small-name acts will break big or "blow up" in the near future and which living legends have fizzled out and should be avoided at all costs. He and Carter made a small fortune on their most recent concert, a sold-out show by the Fugees in early April. TMC booked the group shortly before the release of its new album The Score. That recording unexpectedly rocketed to No. 2 on the Billboard charts in three weeks on the streets, and by the time the Fugees came to town, TMC was in the highly enviable position of having booked a Top 5 act at a fraction of the price the Fugees will command from now on.
The dynamics within TMC are yin and yang. "I'm the business man, he's the music man," says Carter. "Together, it's a one-two combo." The two scored their first knockout with a couple of sly maneuvers in early 1995. First, Carter was offered the chance to book the legendary political rap group Public Enemy at a high price. He was ready to make the deal, but P-Body strongly advised against it. "I had a bad feeling about that one," he says. "They were a huge name. It sounded like a slam-dunk when you first thought about it, but, under the surface, it felt like interest in them had quietly fizzled out." TMC took a pass--a tough decision, given the shaky status of the company at the time, because it burned a bridge with an agent and Evening Star picked up the show. Fortunately for TMC, the concert did not go well--Chuck D. did more preaching than rapping, Flavor Flav was probably off sucking the glass dick somewhere, and the house was half-full. "For what they had to pay to get them onstage, they bled deep-red on that one," says Scott.
The experience of a "sure winner" going sour evidently made Evening Star a bit wary of the rap game. P-Body says that shortly after the Public Enemy show, an Evening Star agent approached him at a local club about the Digable Planets--a jazz hip-hop act from the East Coast that was about to go on tour in support of its second hit album. It was clearly a good bet, but P-Body says the Evening Star rep asked him what he thought of the group. "He just didn't know hip-hop." The promoter shakes his braids and chuckles. "Only in Phoenix, man. It was that kind of ignorance that created an opening for us.
"That he would even ask a competitor to evaluate a group told me we had them. I said to him, 'Oh, Digable Planets, I don't know about that one. You might lose some money there.'" Evening Star passed on the Planets; TMC picked up the show at a discount and sold it out.
Both Carter and Scott say they've been heavily into hip-hop since the late '80s--both the music and the lifestyle. But since TMC took off, they've effected all the trappings of a subculture that unabashedly celebrates self-made affluence. They've got the rides--a red Porsche and a gold Beamer--the gold chains, the fat chronic sacks and, in Carter's case, the sweet crib. His tricked-out love palace of a condo looks like the set for a hip-hop party scene video, circa 1987--cathedral ceiling, spiral staircase, metallic black decor, floor-to-ceiling mirrors, sunken fire pit, even an iguana named G-Money that spends most of its time perched on a railing high above the living room.
One accessory the two promoters have opted against, however, is a handgun, about as common in many hip-hop circles as a digital pager. Although P-Body says the two are "very protected" in the box office and when transporting money, neither of them routinely carries a piece. "We're not about gats and guns and all that nonsense," says Carter.
That promote-the-peace attitude is reflected in TMC's tendency to book East Coast acts (with the notable exception of Ice Cube), even though it would be more financially expedient to stick closer to home with the gangsta-rap acts that dominate West Coast hip-hop.
The cover story in the current issue of The Source is an interview with Ice Cube over the growing antagonism between West Coast gangsta rappers and their East Coast peers, who accuse them of polluting the spirit of hip-hop. There's no question which side TMC takes.
"The West Coast brings a lot of bad publicity to hip-hop because of what they're all about," says Carter. "AKs and .22s and hoes and bitches and all that misogynistic bullshit. That wasn't why hip-hop was created. It was created to rap about society and themes and good times, about showing off your skills with a mike, not a gat.
"Commenting on street violence is one thing, but rapping about it from a participatory perspective is another. And they don't handle their business right on the West Coast, either. They really are gangsters, when it comes to business and when it comes to their whole way of looking at the world. They live by it."
Carter recently had a nightmare about TMC putting on a show by the Cleveland gangsta-rap act Bone Thugs-n-Harmony. It was one of those dreams where everything is going wrong, but the worst part was someone getting shot to death outside the venue.
So far, there have been no shootings at any TMC event. Earlier this year, however, two Tempe high school girls claimed they were dragged onstage and sexually assaulted by members of the rap group Onyx during a January concert at Electric Ballroom. Flanked by their attorney, Arizona's former secretary of state Richard Mahoney, the girls held a press conference several weeks after the show and said they were suing TMC Presents along with the rappers and the venue. That suit, however, has yet to be filed.
In the meantime, Carter and Scott look like they're moving to create a Phoenix hip-hop empire for themselves. The April 27 opening night of their new downtown hip-hop club, The Vibe (Saturday nights at Jackson Hole), was packed until just after midnight, and the buzz about TMC's next show--Wu Tang Clan collective member Raekwon May 6 at Electric Ballroom--speaks for another sellout. TMC is also in negotiations to bring out hip-hop's current brightest rising star, Busta Rhymez, sometime this summer. Finally, P-Body has founded his own local production company, Unqwestionable Clique, to market the beats he writes in his Tempe home studio.
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"I'm a little bit of a mad-scientist type," he says. "I like to stay up 'til all hours working on a beat, and you're likely to come into my studio and I'll be like shouting to myself, 'I've got it!'"
P-Body took his nickname from a character on the Rocky and His Friends show--a speaking dog named Mr. Peabody who, along with his adopted boy/sidekick Sherman, travels through time in his Way-Back Machine.
"I liked him 'cause he has spectacles like mine, and because he's always explaining history to the kid, and because he has an extensive vocabulary for a dog. I also like it because he kind of turned the tables on Sherman and made himself the master of the situation."
Pig Iron, Flathead and Tucson's Giant Sand are all scheduled to play a benefit concert for Tucson guitarist Rainer on Saturday, May 4, at Nita's Hideaway in Tempe. Showtime is 9:30 p.m. Tix are $5 each, and all proceeds go to Rainer and his family to defray medical costs (Rainer was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor last month).--David Holthouse