It is not uncommon for up-and-coming artists to be a little overzealous when it comes to promoting shows or new CDs: Just check the overcrowded windows of local music venues or the utility poles outside them, where musicians' fliers compete for space with apocalyptic decrees and ads for miracle weight-loss pills. It is less common, however, for a promotional campaign to result in a threat of felony charges being filed against those behind it. Earlier this summer, more than 3,000 full-color and hard-to-ignore posters made their way all over Denver -- from Five Points to Washington Park and all the way to Greenwood Village, the wealthy community that surrounds Fiddler's Green Amphitheatre. By the time the 107.5 Summer Jam touched down at the venue a couple of months ago, the citizens of Greenwood Village found their suburban oasis blanketed by hundreds of posters depicting three rather surly-looking individuals: rappers B-Rock, Errol and EP. Police were called. Homeowners were fully prepared to press felony charges on the grounds of destruction of property. Instead, the culprits were given a week to remove all the posters from the area. They worked fast.
The offending poster was promoting what is simply titled B-Rock*Errol*EP, the first release to emerge from Soloshot Records, a new Denver-based label that's taking aim at what its operators and primary artists -- B-Rock, Errol, EP (aka Brock Roulier, Errol Anderson and Spiro Korosis, respectively) -- perceive as the city's lackluster hip-hop scene. They say their somewhat guerrilla-like promotional campaign -- which seemed determined to ensure that even the business people who regularly trudge down LoDo streets absorbed the Soloshot name into some level of their subconscious -- is only one part of their plan to give the local scene a swift kick in the ass.
Of course, before there are posters, there must be a product. And Soloshot has a solid one with B-Rock*Errol*EP. Roulier produced the ten-track release, and his style, which he describes as "a party vibe with an edge," is extremely club-friendly without being overly simple or focusing too intently on the dance floor. The collection features two songs from each individual rapper as well as a "posse cut" featuring all three. It also contains two remixes by artists from genres not typically associated with hip-hop: DJs Disco-d, a house DJ/producer from Detroit who reworked B-Rock's cut "The Joint"; and Kenny Ken, a jungle DJ/producer from London, who also played with the same song.
According to Roulier, the goal of the compilation is to showcase his own production skills and introduce the other two rappers to the music lovers -- and buyers -- of the Front Range. And though releases by Denver hip-hop artists tend to saunter, rather than fly, out of local record-store bins, Roulier feels confident that the release will display each Soloshot artist as a competent entrant in the race to be among the first to break out of the area. "We're not a group," he explains, "but we bring a family vibe to everything that we do. We all have our own things going on, but we are all there for each other in the end."
According to Roulier, Rock*Errol*EP will be followed by a series of three solo LPs -- one for each rapper -- all of which he will produce. Beginning with the first release in early 2001, the albums will showcase each individual rapper's strengths and personal style within the hip-hop realm. Errol, who was born and raised in Jamaica, exhibits a style that reflects his roots in reggae and dancehall music; EP brings a sort of battle-rapping vibe and a more aggressive MC style; and the more musically minded B-Rock bases his raps around his beats.
The intro CD is already creating quite a nice buzz for the boys around town, as evidenced by steady sales and a couple of recent, well-attended shows at the Bluebird Theater. The disc is also attracting some surprise attention within England's jungle scene. At her most recent appearance in Denver, London's queen of the jungle, DJ Rap, cited Kenny Ken's remix of the "The Joint" as her favorite tune of the moment. And Ken himself has spun the song at every date he's played in the UK and the rest of the world, to a reportedly tremendous reaction from ravers.
Though the name that Roulier, Anderson and Korosis selected when forming their company reflects their sense of humor ("The name is sort of a joke," Roulier explains. "You got a date tonight? No, I'm riding soloshot."), it also alludes to the do-it-yourself work ethic on which the threesome has based it efforts so far. All of the Soloshot production work is done out of Roulier's apartment, which houses a studio he built himself. Roulier works as a customer-service rep during the day to be able to afford his nighttime passion. Ideally, he would like to see a larger record label step in and act as a distributor for Soloshot, much like Def Jam's relationship with Polygram. But until that day comes -- if it comes -- Soloshot will exist as a self-reliant entity.
"[It's kind of like] 'Don't spend your time relying on someone else to do it for you,'" Roulier says. "Do it yourself, do it solo. The busier we keep ourselves and the more stuff we do, the better we get at it. You have to work at this. Too many people think that you just make a record and it's just going to take off, just like that. It's a lot of work, but it's fun work. By this point, we've seen how it works here and what people are going to go for and what they're not."
Now 24, Roulier's introduction to the world of hip-hop came to him in the third grade, when a friend of his made him a mix tape that included Grandmaster Flash's seminal song "The Message." Like many other people discovering the world of rap at the time, Roulier was immediately taken with it. Yet while most listeners focused on the rhymes, Roulier's attention gravitated toward the beats. Over the years, his interest accelerated as the sound grew, and he eventually bought a drum machine. At first making beats in his bedroom was just a hobby for Roulier, who had played drums in the school band during junior high. "The more serious about it I got, the better I got at it," he says. "I began thinking that it'd be pretty cool if I could really do this."
Roulier met Anderson shortly after he moved to Denver (via England, Los Angeles and Jamaica). The pair worked on an R&B track together before Anderson went off to work with another group. A year later, he and Roulier resumed their sonic experimentation. The more time the two spent working together, the more they realized that they were on the same track musically, and a partnership was slowly formed. Last to the fold was Korosis, who was initially working with another hip-hop crew, too. "We weren't sure if he'd fit in with what Errol and I were doing, because he wasn't as outgoing," says Roulier. "Once we got him in the studio, we found out that he's got skills. He brings a totally different vibe to the mix. What he does is a nice complement to what Errol and I do."
As Roulier's love for hip-hop grew, he found himself drawn to yet another realm of underground music: the rave scene. His interest was largely fostered by that of his older brother, Brad Roulier, who has long been a part of Denver's biggest and most successful rave production company, Together Productions.
"My whole experience with music growing up was the rave scene. I liked seeing that underground music and applying what I saw to hip-hop," Roulier says. "At first I thought, there's no way there'd be any correlation between the two worlds," he says, but it seems his involvement within the rave scene would be just the very thing that would help him create his very own niche within the greater hip-hop community. Though rave/ electronic dance artists often share a lot in terms of methodology, the two genres have remained separated by perceptions that there's little room for crossover. Roulier's history of rubbing elbows with some of the biggest rave DJs and producers in the world -- people whom the elder Roulier brought to town for Together events -- instilled in him an appreciation for the style and a desire to create hip-hop that embraced elements of it. Roulier's decision to enlist Kenny Ken to remix "The Joint," for example, was born of his tendency to gravitate toward the jungle sounds at raves. "I just want people who listen to hip-hop to be exposed to something different," he says. "There's a lot of people who listen to hip-hop and don't know what jungle is and don't see the connection."
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While Roulier's feelings about the local rave scene are familial and positive, his attitude toward the local hip-hop scene is quite different. "The hip-hop scene here bugs me," he explains. "I'm a fan of the music, so I can just go out and listen, but all the 21-plus clubs are really weak for what we're doing. Our stuff is totally different." Roulier feels that Denver's hip-hop scene is just lagging behind what's going on in the rest of the city. There are artists making good music, he says, but only college radio stations like Boulder's KVCU-AM/1190 seem to be supporting the genre, while major commercial stations look the other way. "A good outlet would strengthen the competition and make everyone step it up," he says. "All it takes is one person. One person breaks out and then everyone gets an opportunity."
While Roulier's goal is to be the best in Denver, that is not the key motivation behind his work. "I do it because I love to do it," he says. "Even if I never have the opportunity to succeed, I'd still do it. I'd still have my studio and I'd still be making beats."
Roulier and his labelmates are currently gearing up for another full-fledged promotional deluge: There's a fresh batch of posters on the way, just in time to pay Fiddler's another visit for the Up in Smoke Tour, which features hip-hop superstars Dr. Dre and Eminem (August 21 and 22). Who knows? Maybe the right person will notice them. That is, someone other than the neighborhood association of Greenwood Village.