Put your hands up -- and your votes down -- for local rap label Hoodoo Labs, which has been nominated "Label of the Year" for the 2006 Southern Entertainment Awards. With recent releases such as Da Crunkstaz's Crunktivity, Tom Skeemask's Da Legend Returns, and Nasty Nardo's My Hustle & Flow Mixtape, Hoodoo Labs has established itself as one of the best low-cost, high-creativity labels in the region.
As label co-founder Holland "Chopper Girl" Taylor explains, "We're working more than other labels, handling distribution, operating a recording studio, and offering CD duplication services."
The petite, soft-spoken brunette might not look like a rap mogul, but she's currently at the top of her game, operating Hoodoo Labs from her Midtown home with her husband and right-hand man, former Grifters guitarist Scott Taylor.
"People act really surprised when they hear me rap and meet me," says Chopper Girl. "Sometimes, they mistake courteousness for weakness. Rapping is mentally similar to tae kwon do. In both, you learn how to really stand up for yourself."
Locally, Hoodoo Labs releases typically move about 2,000-3,000 units each, Chopper Girl says, not counting the number of discs they sell at concerts. "Hustle & Flow helped us a lot," she says. "After the movie was released this summer, I saw DVD sales [for Chopper Girl's Dirty Dolla$, Hoodoo Labs' first DVD] go up for a few weeks. People wanted a quick look at the Memphis rap scene, and this was one of their only choices.
"Working directly with Nasty Nardo and Al Kapone and getting the benefits of that affiliation really helped too," she adds.
Yet despite the inclusion of Nardo and Kapone on the Hustle & Flow soundtrack, released on Atlantic Records last July, most of the major labels continue to steer clear of the Memphis rap scene, Chopper Girl explains.
"People respect us more than they did before, and they're realizing that Memphis rappers aren't ignorant or buck wild," she says. "But there have been so many negative situations here that the A&R guys won't come near Memphis. We could move 10,000 copies, and they wouldn't call. Lots of people in Memphis [who have] scanned over 100,000 copies can't get a deal."
So, instead of looking to the majors for help, Chopper Girl -- and many other independent rappers -- have taken the future into their own hands, releasing inexpensive mix-tape compilations ("which are cheaper to put together than an album and move just as many copies," she says) and creating low-budget videos aimed for airplay on UGTV, the local public access channel.
Chopper Girl also is channeling her time and energy into joint ventures, such as project-by-project collaborations with other labels and artists. "We're not looking for any new artists," she says. "So many of these guys want a free ride. We find that it's easier to function with the support of an artist who knows the business, someone who's personally invested [in his release], like II Black, whose new CD is coming out later this month."
Managing to stay focused while continually thinking outside the box has led to Chopper Girl's success in the rap biz.
"Locally, only a few rap labels have managed to stick around for more than five years," she points out. "Labels here tend to be dishonest, because they feel that the artists are dishonest. Even at Hoodoo Labs, we're constantly cutting people off because they're trying to get one over on us. It's insulting to our intelligence. Ultimately, you have to ignore the bad stuff, because if you're getting into the soap-opera drama, you're wasting your time."
By the time the Southern Entertainment Awards roll around next January, says Chopper Girl, "I won't be actively doing business. Instead, I'll be focusing on the new Chopper Girl album, Wicked Witch of the South.
"I want to let the concept of the album flow," she says, adding that she hopes to release the album by the late spring or early summer of 2006.
"We'll start working on it in December," she says, "but it's tough writing music while you're still thinking about the business."
To vote for nominees for the 2006 Southern Entertainment Awards, which will be held in Tunica, Mississippi, January 19th-22nd, go to SouthernEntAwards.com.