The rapper Papoose knows a thing about grit. Growing up in Bed-Stuy, he dreamed of being a hip-hop star. He was making great music, selling CDs out of his trunk and winning battles on the street, but he had no connections in the industry. What he did have was persistence and nerve.
“But the DJ caught my attention because he was playing new artists on the radio,” Pap a k a Papoose a k a Shamele Mackie told me on this week’s “Renaissance Man.” “So I was like, yo, I’ve got to meet this man. So I went and I looked up Hot97’s address and I went to the radio.”
That man on the radio was the legendary DJ Kay Slay, who passed away in April 2022.
“I gave him my CD. The first time, he didn’t play it on the radio, but I was consistent. I came back … I was so hungry at the time,” he said. And he came back and back and back until, he says, they both got sick of each other: Kay Slay of Pap bothering him and Pap of Kay Slay not playing his CD. Then during a heated conversation, a friend who was with Kay Slay mediated, calmed everyone down and assured Pap that he had his back.
“I was back in the hood … and in the middle of a situation, my phone rang, and it was Kay Slay. He said, ‘You’re on the radio next week.’ ”
It was a huge break. Kay Slay was a human rap radar. He kept his ears to the streets and helped source and launch new talent. He would become a mentor to Pap, and put him on mixtapes with big artists. Pap soon found himself being courted by all the hip-hop labels.
“Nas reached out to me. I sat down with Nas at a pizza shop in lower Manhattan and he was going to Def Jam with Jay-Z at the time. He made an offer. Interscope made it up. It was a couple different labels who showed interest in me … But Jive came in with the highest number,” he said of the $1.5 million contract he signed in 2006.
But Pap soon learned, that the independent streak, freestyling and creativity that made him great didn’t jibe with the more buttoned-up, formulaic record business.
“It was actually one of the worst mistakes I ever made man because I lost creative control. They started telling me how to make a record,” he said.
The “Alphabetical Slaughter” artist rebounded but his experience in the industry helped steer his newest career move: head of hip-hop at TuneCore, a digital music distribution company that is shaking up the traditional model that benefits the label not the artist.
“I feel like as an artist, whatever your value is, you should cash in on that,” he said. “Even if you are a new artist and you have a small fan base. If it’s not a lot of money or if it’s a lot of money, you should cash in on your true value. But that’s what it’s all about. [TuneCore] puts the artist first.”
In his executive role, he will be advising artists. He also has some universal knowledge to drop: the relationship kind. In 2008, he married fellow rapper Remy Ma while she was in prison serving six years for felony assault. He said the physical separation helped them build a strong foundation.
“We took it one day at a time … I don’t want to say it was a blessing in disguise, but one of the things it taught us was communication. I feel like a lot of relationships fail because the communication isn’t there,” he said. “But when she was away, all we could do was talk, I mean, when I would, I would go visit her. They would say, ‘Put your hands on the table’ … We came up with this system that whenever she’s speaking, I got to be totally quiet. Whenever I’m speaking, she has to be totally quiet.”
In doing that, they learned to listen to each other and work through their problems. Now they are one of hip-hop’s most enduring couples. Something the pair showcased while starring on reality shows, “Love & Hip Hop” and “Remy & Papoose: Meet The Mackies.”
“We was built to survive.”
Detroit native Jalen Rose is a member of the University of Michigan’s iconoclastic Fab Five, who shook up the college hoops world in the early ’90s. He played 13 seasons in the NBA before transitioning into a media personality. Rose is an analyst for “NBA Countdown” and “Get Up,” and co-host of “Jalen & Jacoby.” He executive-produced “The Fab Five” for ESPN’s “30 for 30” series, is the author of the best-selling book “Got To Give the People What They Want,” a fashion tastemaker and co-founded the Jalen Rose Leadership Academy, a public charter school in his hometown.