Top 5 most hectic moments at Fat Beats Distribution
A chat with Amir Abdullah
2 weeks ago , I had the pleasure of having great Brazilian food with my good friend Amir. Beside the fact that Amir is known as half of DJ team Kon & Amir, he has also had a pivotal A&R and Distribution role in the growth of names like Rawkus, Stones Throw, Big L, D.I.T.C, A-Trak, Common, J Dilla, and Pete Rock.
After few caipirinhas (a fantastic Brazilian cocktail), we started to reminisce over some good old school memories in Indie Hip Hop, Fat Beats and the state of vinyl distribution.
Fat beats distribution was THE PLACE and crazy stories were poppin while drinking. I felt, man, you’ve got to write down your top 5 most hectic moments as Head of A&R during this golden era. And here we go a 5 long and detailed stories that had been heard, rumored but never really documented. Ain’t no business like rap business !
Watch out for 180 Proof Entertainment, his new label with some several exciting projects in the pipeline.
Back in early 2001, when we (Fat Beats Distribution) moved to the DUMBO section of Brooklyn, we had probably the most hectic situation ever happen to us.
Now we had moved into a 13,000 square foot warehouse in the middle of nowhere Brooklyn. Furthermore, there was maybe one other “business” in the building. We were on the 7th floor where the elevator would “work” sometimes. In addition, our offices were not completely built yet so we all worked in a common area close to the back of the warehouse.
So one day either in March or April, the warehouse guys get a buzz from downstairs that UPS is dropping off packages as they usually do. The guys take a peek out the window and tell the UPS guys to come upstairs in the elevator. Now remember I said the elevator would “work” sometimes. Well, this happen to be one of those times that it didn’t so the UPS guys had to troop it upstairs. All of sudden ten minutes later we hear in the back of the warehouse all of this noise and yelling; I just didn’t pay it any attention. I was on the phone with maybe an artist or label; regardless, I was not concerned at all. However, less than 30 seconds later I see a guy walking towards me with a 9mm gun. I thought I was seeing things and I still didn’t pay it any attention until the guy got closer. The next thing I know he is yelling at me “put down the phone this is a REAL gun and I WILL shot you!” Needless to say, I put down the phone. I started to see many guys with assault rifles and 9mm appearing out nowhere. I am buggin out cause I am like who in the world is after us?? Like Joe (the owner) who didn’t you pay?? By the way, these guys never once announced who they were!
They had all of us against the wall and we could not talk. In the meantime, they pull aside Joe the owner and asked him mad questions, none of which we could hear. We are SUPER pissed cause we are thinking he has got us all killed. After about ten minutes some of the armed men come over to me and ask me to follow them. This is where I am shittin bricks! I am thinking I am going to die. However, they take me over to the mix tape section in the warehouse and pull out one of DJ Spinbad’s mixes. They are like did you order this and why are you selling product that contains unlicensed music! Man, my mouth dropped to the ground because I am like all of these guns and bullshit for Spinbad’s mix tape????? Indeed, they were there because we had sold Spinbad’s mix tape too well. Apparently, one of our retail accounts in Canada ordered it and was caught during a raid in Toronto. They quickly told the Canadian authorities that they got it from Fat Beats.
After some brief discussion about paying a fine, I finally asked why did ya’ll storm up here with guns blazing! The lead guy was “like look at this piece of shit building…it looks like ya’ll could have been running drugs or distributing child porn up here!! We had to be ready for any thing.” Thankfully, we could all laugh after the fact. However, that was the most hectic moment at Fat Beats to this day for sure!!!
The second most hectic moment at Fat Beats was back in January 2002. I used to stay late a lot of times at Fat Beats and I would be one of the last to leave.
So this night there were a few of us still hanging around after hours. So around 7 or 8 pm I hear the doorbell ring and I go to the front of the warehouse to answer it. Now I did think it was strange, but I didn’t pay it any attention. I answered the door and it’s my dude Jerry from Hydra Recordings with three REALLY big guys behind him. I am thinking that’s REALLY odd! I say what up and he ask for one of my colleagues. I say wait here a sec and I will grab him. So I go get my colleague. I say hey man Jerry’s here to see you. My colleague immediately says ” ahhh man he must be here to kick my ass!” I am like wtf!?! Why is he here to kick your ass???? My colleague goes “I told him to go fuck himself!” My mouth dropped cause Jerry is NOT a person you wanna fuck with at all.
Anyway, we all accompany him down to see Jerry. Immediately, Jerry was like “say that shit to my face.” I see the dudes behind him with their hands in the coat pockets and I am like ahhh man it’s about to be on. I say to Jerry let’s go into the conference room and discuss this like gentlemen. He just was not having it and starting yelling at my colleague. My colleague tried to stand his ground but you could tell from the cracking in his voice that he was shook like the rest of us. Then to make matters worse a bunch of the warehouse guys come busting in the room trying to act brave. Dudes that were with Jerry were pulling out shit and I stepped all the waaay back out the room. Finally, my colleague had sense enough to pipe down and chill. That’s when things chilled and after a few farewell fuck you’s Jerry left. I will never forget this night. I remember telling my colleague you need to chill with that tough shit cause it WILL get you killed!
The third most hectic moment at Fat Beats was when one of the artists that we regularly dealt with came by to pick up a check for product sold.
Now this whole time I am in my office doing what I do. However, I get a call from a colleague panicking that he was kinda scared for his life. Immediately, I am like what’s up??? He says that so & so artist came by to pick up a check. However, Joe the owner wrote the wrong amount. So when he handed the check to the artist he got upset quickly. When I say the word upset I am putting it waay mildly! He said the artist was like “where the fuck is my money.” The guy keeps sayin it, but with the most I will kill you look he had ever seen. My colleague offered to go have the check recut with the right amount, but the artist all of sudden calmed down and just asked that he receive his money next week. The artist just left without making anymore noise. Now this artist is DEFINITELY DEFINITELY not someone you wanna fuck with it. I don’t care who you are down with or who you are.
Right after this, my colleague called me to say can you call blah blah cause I wanna if he is cool. I am thinking what did you do now??? He thought he was going to die there and he was afraid to leave the office cause he thought dude was waiting for him outside. So I called the artist and asked what just happened. He was like your man at Fat Beats almost caught it today and that I was to make sure shit is straight the next time he comes for check. Whew, I am like sure thing brother. Afterwards, I vouched for my colleague and tried to clear him of any potential deadly situation.
Another hectic situation at Fat Beats was when there was a war between Rawkus and Fat Beats. This war began in middle of 99′ and lasted until early 2000.
Now this is a long story so I will try to shorten it. Back in mid 99′, Joe and I decided we needed financial capital in order to expand. We were starting to have competition i.e., Landspeed, Buds,Caroline Distribution, etc. They were all able to give away more $ to artists for P&D deals. Especially, on 12″. So Joe whom had a relationship with Steve Rifkind the owner of Loud whom had reached out to him about a possible partnership. We had several meetings with Steve and all his financial guys. I am mean we were genuinely interested in partnering with a great brand as Loud.
Somehow Brian and Jarrett at Rawkus (the two heads) found out we were having meetings with Loud. They called us to have a meeting. I should also mention that from 1997-2000, we were Rawkus’s exclusive worldwide vinyl distributor. When Brian and Jarret came to meet with us they in not so many words explained that if we were to ever think about partnering with Loud that they would pull from us. Furthermore, they heavily suggested that we let Rawkus buy Fat Beats instead. Now at the time we selling thousands of copies of Rawkus 12″ and LPs. In fact, just to give you some insight of how much. We sold 30,000 copies of Common-1999 12″ in one day! We were moving numbers on vinyl that no one today would even imagine. Needless to say, we made a lot of money from Rawkus. If they pulled then we would be seriously hurt.
After the meeting, Joe and I were understandably shook! We had to decide whether to blow off Loud or Rawkus. If we blow off Loud we could potentially ruin a great relationship and financial opportunity. However, we blow off Rawkus we immediately risk the future of our business by losing our number one vendor. Decision decisions! We decided at the end to go with neither. The decision to pass on Loud was made a little easier for us because we had started to hear rumors that they were not doing too well. The decision to not go with Rawkus was based on our mutual distaste for Brian and Jarrett at the time. We both felt that they were arrogant and that they would be hard to deal with.
When we decided to say no to Rawkus that is when they started the War. First, they started making up fake invoices of stuff that they said we owed them and refused to pay. Total bullshit! Once I and our account shut that down then they went after DJ Eclipse the manager of the Fat Beats NYC store. They tried to lure him away from Fat Beats with a promise of lots of money and a brand new car. That didn’t work so then they came after me. They called me in for a meeting about the possibility of me running the distribution for them. Man, they offered me the world and I have to say I was totally interested. However, as I was leaving the meeting, Jarrett says to me “And oh, Amir if you see any woman here and I mean ANY woman here you like…you can have her straight up!!” Up until that point I was ready to consider leaving Fat Beats, but when they said that I was like nahhhh. I mean I felt insulted like I was a typical black man they were used to dealing with. I am sorry not the kid!
So after those attempts didn’t work they called the next week to say they were pulling from Fat Beats. That’s when the most financial hectic situation began for us. By the way, they did it after we had already pre sold the first Jurassic 5album for them. I remember sitting there like what are we (really me) going to do. At that point, I was basically holding down Fat Beats Distribution so people were looking to me for answers on what do we do next. What I did is that I called PB Wolf because I knew he was moving from San Jose to LA. In addition, I knew he was unhappy with Nu Gruv Alliance and was looking for a new home. So I flew to LA and invited him to dinner. I made my case of why he should go with Fat Beats exclusive worldwide for all his vinyl releases and a month later we had our next Rawkus!
Back in 1999, I was the first one to give Frank and Dank a P& D deal. I have to admit that I was introduced to J Dilla by character named Ramos.
Now if anyone has been in the music industry for a long enough you know whom I am talking about. Anyway, Ramos came to me with two records featuring Frank and Dank with Jay on the beats. I was definitely like yes! Before the deal was signed, I asked Ramos to bring by Jay so that I could meet him. I mean I was a fan too you know! Plus, both these 12″ were going to be on Jay’s new label McNasty, and I wanted him to be there to say it is ok to pay Ramos the advance money. He agreed and Jay made it know that I should pay Ramos whom would be running McNasty. By the way, I was offered “Fuck Da Police,” but Joe the owner didn’t wanna pay for another 12″ no matter how dope it was. I still am to this day fucking pissed!!!
Anyway, the two Frank and Dank 12″ did ok sales wise. They didn’t blow the world away, but I also didn’t lose a ton of money. However, a year later when we had moved to Brooklyn I had got a call from Frank and Dank. These dudes start yelling about how we never paid the advance and that they were coming to kill me. Now I had had plenty of death threats at Fat Beats before so I wasn’t backing down. I was like “word my address is 50 Bridge Street blah blah.” I later faxed them the cashed check that we wrote Ramos as proof that he had received the money.
So about two years later, I am at the Knitting Factory with my new girl and we are just chilling upstairs. All of sudden this guy that I worked with says to me, “I got someone I want you to meet.” i am like word. I go back in the artist chill room and I immediately run into Frank and Dank! Now I also had a Heineken bottle in my hand and I remember saying to myself “I will at least crack one of them over the head before I catch it.” However, to my surprise they both were like man we just want to apologize for all that was said. They had found out Ramos had robbed them of the money. They also wanted to do more projects with me at Fat Beats. That was DEFINITELY a big whew moment!