IN THE BEGINNING
The year was 2005 and I had spent most of my days at the domestic terminal of the Lynden O Pindling International Airport (formerly Nassau International Airport), with a machine that was used to wrap luggage and cargo in plastic. I was also employed as a baggage handler for a local charter company. It was at the airport where I would find my passion for music. My father came to this conclusion that I was headed down the wrong path with some of my life's decisions and he decided to intervene, as any responsible father would. I never lived with my father and I probably don't keep in contact as often as I should. Regardless, somehow we've managed to maintain a close relationship to this day. He took me to Florida in 2002 and he bought this machine, which was probably one of the first of it's kind, from a cuban guy who had built it himself. Paps negotiated a ten year contract with the Nassau Airport Authority to have the machine stationed in the domestic terminal and conduct business. My father had handed me my first and very own business, he called it Safe and Secure Wrap. At the time though, all I saw was open opportunity for fast money at a port of entry.
I stayed at the airport for five years and become very familiar with airport personnel and store owners. One store in particular, "Mr. D's CD's" became a lunchtime hangout for myself, a cleaning guy by the name of David Hanna and a security guard whom I knew only as Kio. The store's owner, Nat Saunders, would always welcome us with a CD of hip hop instrumentals, which he would load into his player and we would cypher for one full hour until lunch break was complete. No food, no water, just..... BARS. Talk of this "lunch break cypher" began to spread through the airport until eventually, other airport personnel and even the occasional traveler would pop in, spit a few quick bars and head out. I remember two young men in particular, only by their street names. The first one I recall was nicknamed Zoe Star, and was employed at one of the local charter companies, Western Air. He was an underground rapper in Nassau, which was news to me because I didn't even know there was any type of platform for hip hop, much less underground rappers, in the Bahamas.
As far as Bahamian rappers were concerned, I was only familiar with the names "Muh Bui Dem" and "Funk Squad". Muh Bui Dem were in my opinion, the originators of the "Muddoe Flow", a style of rap incorporating the Bahamian dialect. They had recorded a single called "Ovaseas" that made it to the local airwaves. This was a huge accomplishment at the time because the radio stations were not playing songs by Bahamian rappers at all. In fact the term "Bahamian rapper" was almost non-existent. The Funk Squad was a group of rappers who I had seen open for DMX at a concert in Nassau. I didn't consider either of these groups underground and I figured they were the only groups representing hip hop in The Bahamas. Zoe Star proceeded to educated me about an underground rap scene in Nassau that I was completely unaware of. He then introduced me to the second young man, a reggae artist from Great Harbor Cay who was called "Scar", rightfully so because he had a long scar on his face. Both of these individuals had passed through the doors of Mr D's CD's and cyphered with myself, David and Kio. They were both impressed with the lyricism displayed and invited us to attend an even bigger cypher, at a place called Digiwave Recording Studios.
I was hesitant to accept the invitation at first, it took about a month or two before I made it out to this underground cypher. Not because of fear, more so because I thought it would have been a waste of time. It wasn't until a few weeks after the invitation, as I was driving my car one day, listening to the radio station as the host was promoting this new Bahamian rap artist. I'm hearing the radio host talking about "... this is the hottest rapper in The Bahamas.... D-Bo". I turn my radio up to take a detailed review of this new rapper. I could remember thinking to myself, "He's nice, but he ain't better than Muh Bey Dem. In fact, I could beat this cat rappin'!". I also thought to myself, "Bahamian rappers are getting radio play? This is good".
I ended up making arrangements with Zoe Star and Scar to attend the cypher after I was informed that it was really an audition for a chance to get your raps featured on the radio. I knew then that this was the beginning of something great.
IN COMES THE POET
Every Tuesday night, Digiwave Studios became a meeting place for underground rappers to showcase their skills, many of whom came with some very heavy street credentials, I felt right at home. Scar took me there for the first time, it was there where I was introduced to quite a few talented rappers. Ovadosa, Baigon, Krypto and Roman Redd just to name a few. Digiwave Studios was also the place where I first met the world renowned Bahamian artist Jamaal Rolle. Back then he went under the rap name "Anthrax" (and he was good). I can remember some nights there would be 40 plus rappers in the building looking to audition for a spot on the radio. The top radio station was and still is 100 Jamz. A radio host by the name of DJ Reality (one of the original members of the rap group Muh Bui Dem) had a show that would air every Saturday called the PHAT SATURDAY show. I should mention here that Reality was fighting long and hard for Bahamian rappers to get rotation on the radio. He had a small 5 minute segment called the Phat Saturday Cypher (which he still has today), where he would showcase the top performers of Tuesday night's audition at Digiwave. There were usually only about six or seven slots open, so if you were one of the 40 plus audition members on a Tuesday night, you knew you had to bring the heat.
It was my first night and I was ready. As I observed other rappers who walked in the recording booth before me, I felt as if I was better than most of them. Then Zoltan Johnson, the studio's owner and one of the top hip hop producers in the country, turns around and looks at me... "Who next.... you?" as he pointed at me. I went into the recording booth, did my thing, then me and Scar left. I don't even know if I made the audition that day, I didn't return to the studio until three weeks later. What I do know is that upon my return to Digiwave, I was greeted at the door by a gentleman I came to know as Rich " The X Factor". He looked at me as though he wasn't sure, trying to place the face. "Hey bro... what you name?", to which I replied "Poet". Rich nods his head in agreement, "Yea it's you, look here bro", inviting me inside the studio's control room. Rich called out to Zoltan, "Hey Z, this him right here, the poet" . To my surprise they were waiting for me to show up at the studio again, so I guess I can safely assume that I had made the first audition.
I began to make a name for myself at Digiwave as one of the better lyricists, on par with the likes of the Ovadosa and Baigon, who represented an underground rap organization called TEKK ( The East Koast Killas), an organization that I myself had represented considering I resided in the eastern district of Nassau. It seemed as though we were all on the Phat Saturday Cypher just about every weekend. I was educated on the history of Bahamian hip hop by these two gentlemen. They taught me about the Bahamian hip hop founders and personally introduced me to quite a few of them.
Digiwave holds an enormous amount of memories for me, it was the first place I remember seeing the popular Bahamian DJ, Selecta Chronic and the Legend himself, Papa ShadowFox, the greatest Bahamian rapper ever to hold a microphone. It was also at Digiwave where I first met DJ Reality, who would later tell me that if I had shown up before D-Bo, I would have been sure to land a record deal with Klapboard Records.
Klapboard Records was the record label D-Bo was signed to and the first Bahamian owned record label that I'd ever heard about. Reality was a part of Klapboards management team, along with Rich. I was introduced to D-Bo some time later at the studio, he was a humble, quiet guy, in my opinion, a bit different from the man you heard on the radio. I was asked to feature on a track called "Where I Come From" for D-Bo's album, "My Mother, My Money, My Music". I was also asked to join Klapboard records alongside D-Bo and another talented young rapper, now international producer, Dennis "Offshore" Brown. I was excited for both opportunities, and although I never signed any official paperwork, I was considered a Klapboard artist.
THE BLUE DOOR
Klapboard released and promoted D-Bo's first album and mixtape and it seemed as if things were headed in the right direction. Unfortunately there wasn't enough funds in their budget to promote another artist at the same time and things didn't seem to materialize the way they had anticipated with D-Bo. Although they did manage to land him some sort of deal with Slip N Slide Records, I think ultimately Klapboard had invested more than they had profited, which had left them in a predicament. Personally I was grateful for the opportunity to feature on D-Bo's album, it was good exposure for me. Thanks to DJ Reality and his Phat Saturday cyphers that would play on the radio, I had become a familiar voice over the airwaves, although a far cry from rotational spins.
Ovadosa took me to another studio called the Blue Door, the funny thing is, I passed this place almost everyday and had know idea it was recording studio. It was a two story building, the side of it faced the main road. It was all concrete on that side, no windows, just this one blue door that almost seemed out of place. At the time it was the recording home of the Bahamian reggae superstar Mdeez. I had crossed paths with MDeez during my high school days and on another occasion years later, at the DEU headquarters in Nassau. He and a local rapper known as Biggety were in custody on drug related charges and so was I (separate incidents). We met yet again at The Blue Door where I was introduced to the studio's owner, Ian "Biggie" Cleare, who was impressed with my ability as a rapper. The Blue Door eventually became my recording home and Biggie would be credited for producing my debut single, "Street Kredit". Street Kredit was my first song to feature on radio stations.
I was so excited at the thought of radio play at the time that I was totally oblivious to the business side. The only thing I wanted to do was make more music. Biggie and MDeez became my big brothers and mentors as I began to take music a lot more seriously. The reality though, is that we were outcasts in our own home. The most influential people in the local music industry wanted nothing to do with what was later termed "242 artists". They wouldn't even refer to us as Bahamian artists, saying that our music wasn't Bahamian, therefore they wouldn't support it. One of these influential people was in fact my father, Ronald Simms.
The Bloor Door became a family of talented musicians and artists, inside the walls of that building is where the musical revolution truly began. Anybody who was somebody among "242 artists" back then, had to enter the Blue Door at one point in their career, for whatever reason. Tada, Julien Believe, Sammi Star, Christian Massive, Big AC, Billy Steelz and Daddi Whites, just to name a few. In all honesty though, it wasn't until the arrival of Kenneth "Kemis" Moncur, a computer genius, and Rory Bowe, known by many as "Padrino", that the 242 artists truly began to stamp their footprint in Bahamian soil.
There are many names that can be credited for the birth of hip hop in The Bahamas, names like Charlie Brown, Reality, Papa Shadowbox, Mad Brad, Mystic Elite, Funk Squad and others. There are other names though, names that should be credited for breaking the airwaves and setting a standard, bridging the gap between the radio stations and the rappers. I'd like to think that my name is certainly among them :)
Kemis was a computer whiz kid who had moved back to the Bahamas from florida. Padrino was an awesome producer who had moved back from North Carolina. I met both of them at the Blue Door studio. I was introduced to Padrino by Daddi Whites, whom I had known from the streets (don't mind his color, he has his credits).
I can't remember exactly how Kemis and I met, but I'm glad we did, because of him you can read this, as I've acquired quite a few of his skills over the years. Kemis worked quickly, setting up Myspace accounts for myself, MDeez and a few others. Kemis was a graphic artist, he was a promoter, he was a hustler. He saw an avenue he could create for revenue while helping to promote Bahamian talent and he did. He was always thinking, he worked his way right into a programming position at a local radio station and eventually as a radio personality. He had begun to work closely with MDeez, through online promotions and live events.
Padrino came home as a producer with something to prove, and prove he did. He was the man responsible for Daddi Whites rise to Bahamian stardom, producing Whites debut single "Stunna Shades" and following up with Whites smash hit "242". There was something about Padrino's style of production, it was different, unique, crisp. He made other producers pay attention, and he undeniably set a standard. The bar was set, and so was the stage. "242" was a hit, with rotational spins everyday.
I remember a song called "A Day In The Life" by Mr. Deeds, featuring MDeez, Sammi Star, Sosaman and Tada. Daddi Whites and Padrino followed up Whites smash single with the radio friendly song "Bapes" featuring MDeez. I was hearing 242 artists everyday on the radio and I didn't want to be left out.
By this time I had given up the wrapping business and left the airport, not really by choice, but that's another story. I was driven by an unparalleled passion, but the process of making music became harder for me. Biggie was in and out of The Bahamas, he was traveling more frequently. Everybody else was too busy perfecting their craft and working on their project to catch this new wave.
Padrino paid a visit to my house one day and expressed an interest in working with me. He proceeded to tell me his plans for this new studio and record label, "Whitehouse Records" and how he'd like me to be a part of it. I was thrilled, as by this time Klapboard was nonexistent and Padrino was quickly becoming the most sought after hip hop producer on the island. On top of that, the cost to record and mix just one single was costly back then, imagine a full length album. If I didn't want to cover the full cost on my own, I needed him.
We never made an agreement on paper, just verbally, but we went to work. By this time, my everyday rider was "Sluggz", a rapper who had relocated to Nassau from Freeport. We met through a dear departed mutual friend, and I invited him out to the Digiwave cypher. Sluggz displayed a hunger equal to my own, we both joined up with Padrino and Daddi Whites, along with another aspiring artist who was known as Shiraz. Sluggz wasn't just my partner in rap, but also in crime. We would hustle together on a daily basis. I was influenced by many street characters in my home town and I was no stranger to the "road code". I had a friend, now deceased, who would smuggle drugs between Jamaica and The Bahamas on his go fast boat. In 2008, I wrote a song about a trip on his boat, a 36 foot Contender. Padrino loved the song, he wrote a hook for it and made the beat. We called the song "Get Dis Paper". It became a smash hit on all the radio stations. It was the first time Bahamians had heard a song about a criminal tradition that was almost unspoken of in The Bahamas. It was risky.... but damn, it was good!
The radio stations were throwing some support behind us now. Radio personality "Randy C" aired a show every morning called the "Bahama Hot One's" on 100 Jamz, featuring music from Bahamian artists of all genres. I received a call one day from Randy C. The call was in reference to an event that was being promoted by 100 Jams and Heineken, dubbed "The Heineken Green Hype", the first "242 artist" showcase. of its kind. I was being invited to perform alongside a group of my peers. Everything seemed to be lining up perfectly, Randy C had asked me come in at 100 jams for a radio interview. I decided to use the opportunity to promote my next single which was also produced by Padrino, called "Leave Dat Girl Alone". This became my second radio hit, some may argue that it was an even bigger single than "Get Dis Paper". I had two hit singles to perform at the Green Hype event, which was filled to capacity with screaming fans, the feeling was surreal. I was an artist..... or was I?
The Green Hype showcase was my first live performance, and the reception was overwhelming. I was in amazement as the crowd sang along with my songs, line for line. Every artist on the lineup delivered incredible performances. At the time it seemed the Bahamian music industry was about to explode, and I felt privileged to be a part of the movement.
The phone calls started to pour in. Dj's wanted dub plates, radio hosts wanted dropsand interviews, promoters wanted performances. Out of nowhere it seemed, there began a silent struggle between two music groups who were at the top of their game, Whitehouse Records and STYPEZ Music Group. Although neither side admitted it, there was some tension between the two. Whitehouse was run by Padrino and his partner, a spoilt rich kid called who called himself "Roy Millions". Their roster included myself, Daddi Whites, and Sluggz. Padrino was the producer, but he was also a rapper as well. STYPEZ was run by Zoltan Johnson, the owner of Digiwave studios, and his then partner, known as "Charlie Brown". Their roster at the time included Mdeez and Sosaman.
Whitehouse also began to have some internal issues right after the showcase. Padrino decided on an extended vacation to complete his album, which left the other Whitehouse artists stranded. Originally Whitehouse was supposed to release Daddi Whitez album first, followed by my album and then Sluggz. Apparently the plan had changed and nobody informed me. That didn't sit well with me, at the time I was one of the hottest rappers in The Bahamas and I was about halfway through my album, which by the way was never released.
Even with all the publicity, there was still an ongoing fight for respect. We had managed to gain the respect of the radio stations and just about every popular DJ in the country. This was just the beginning, next came the promoters. I was among the best artists in the country, promoters wanted live performances at their parties, night clubs and concerts. I had two hit songs and that was it. How long could they last? I didn't have enough material to perform a full set, I was content with a performance fee of $250 - $300 for my two songs. My performances were at night clubs and parties, but I was getting paid.
There was a feeling among many artists in The Bahamas at the time that somebody was sure to make it big, the talent was overflowing. We had talent on an international level, we just needed the exposure. Funny thing about that word, "exposure". Concert promoters loved that word, it was their favorite word. They would schedule a Bahamian artist on their concert ticket to open for an international act, most of them insisting that they shouldn't have to compensate the Bahamian acts for their performances because it was "good exposure". On one hand they were correct. On the other hand, however, remained the fact that good exposure won't pay for studio time. In fact, exposure is what led the promoters to the artists to begin with, after the artists have paid out of pocket to record the song the promoter loves so much.
I refused to perform at these concerts. In my opinion, my performance fee was minuscule in comparison to that of an international act, inclusive of airfare, hotel and transportation accommodations. In fact, I've only opened for one international recording artist in my career, it was a birthday party held at a nightclub for the radio personality know as the Natural Empress. That night I opened for Jamaican reggae sensation Wayne Wonder.
I observed on many occasions promoters exploiting artists to the tune of no payment. The most notable was an event at which international recording artist Lil Wayne was scheduled to perform. Reports claimed the superstar was paid some $300,000 to perform alongside Jamaican reggae superstar Buju Banton. A number of top Bahamian acts were scheduled to perform that night, but promoters refused to agree to a payment for the local acts, most of whom pulled out. Those who pulled out were replaced with artists of, in my opinion, a lesser caliber at the time. Karma is a bitch though, and for whatever reason, Lil Wayne, who was in fact on the Island, didn't perform. It turned out to be a complete fiasco.
My exploitation came not from promoters really, but rather through publishing and so called agents, or managers, or whatever they called themselves. I had yet to understand the concept of music royalties. I was encouraged by someone to sign up as a writer with a performing rights organization. I signed up with PRS and I knew that I was entitled to some money, somewhere, somehow. I just didn't know how to go about collecting it.
My time at the airport allowed me to connect with people from all over the world. One such person, a Cuban lady residing in Miami, became my "employer" for a three year period. My job description included monthly trips between Nassau, Miami and Cuba. Right before one of my scheduled trips, a personal friend called to ask if I would take some seafood with me to his sister in Miami. He was a senior figure in the Kemp Road area, a big homie who was well respected in the streets. He had always been a fan of my music, always encouraging me to continue. He had instructed me to deliver the seafood to his sister's home and have his sister call their cousin to come and see me. Apparently this cousin had ties to Slip N Slide Records and the big homie wanted me to meet up with cousin while I was in Miami. I did as instructed and met up with the cousin, who had asked for a demo of my music, which I didn't have at the time.
The cousin informed me that he was a very busy man and that I was only afforded the opportunity to meet him because of the channel that I had come through, my big homie. "The same way you got at me today, get at me when you get back, and bring a demo", he said. "Ok cool", I replied with curiosity, "By the way, what exactly do you do for Slip N Slide?" I asked him. He replied with just one word, "Everything".
A series of unfortunate events however, had rendered me incapable of returning to Miami. I never met up with the cousin again. I found out years later from D-Bo, that the man I had met was actually the big man behind the scenes of Slip N Slide records and the label's true owner..... a Bahamian by the name of Solomon "Sox" Hepburn.
By this time I had become frustrated with Whitehouse Records and felt the need to move on. Charlie Brown, whom I became affiliated with back in the Klapboard days, had become like a big brother to me over the years. I knew him from the beginning, although he lived in Fort Lauderdale, somehow he was always around. I even tried to mediate a truce of some sort between Charlie and Padrino, to no avail (they both swear it was never any conflict though). Charlie and I were always excited to work together, we had done so in the past and we still do, to this very day. Our bond had far surpassed music though. As I was an adventurous young man in my 20's, I found myself in a very uncomfortable predicament with some Cubans in Miami. Miami wasn't safe for me at the time and I needed to find my way home. I remember taking a train to Fort Lauderdale and calling Charlie for a place to crash overnight, until I could make arrangements to get home. I remember Charlie calling me after I had returned home to ask what the hell I did. Apparently some spanish speaking people were calling his house continuously, asking for "Wrong" lol. I made the mistake of making a call from Charlie's home phone. When I asked him his reply he said he kept telling them "wrong number" (GOOD ANSWER!). To this day, I never told Charlie what that was all about, some things are better left unsaid. Unbeknown to him, he had saved my life, as I had nobody else to turn to. So Charlie, if you happen to be reading this..... thank you.
Charlie wanted me to work along with him and Zoltan over at Stypez, and for a short time I did. I didn't feel as though I was a good fit though, as Stypez was producing a lot of commercial content. I was rapping about the streets and the struggle, they wanted me to rap about women and parties over what I thought was corny tracks. The man even made me record a reggae song, could you imagine?
I didn't realize what Charlie was aiming to do at the time. He wanted to create something new. A unique sound maybe, but I couldn't appreciate the thought at that moment.
As time passed I grew more and more frustrated. It appeared as though I couldn't make the type of music I wanted to, in the time frame I wanted to do it in. To make matters worse, music that I had already recorded seemed to be vanishing into thin air. Producers were losing files, hard drives were crashing, the disappointments were rolling in one after the other. Behind the scenes were no different. International Record companies had caught wind of this new wave of talent in The Bahamas and were fully prepared to conduct some music business in the country. Corrupt government officials seeking a percentage of profits from the record labels halted that process. It was rumored that one of the big international record companies was seeking to set up an office in The Bahamas. Government demands were outrageous though, as government officials were more concerned about the development of their personal bank accounts than the development of their country's music industry.
I was incredibly discouraged, so I decided to take a step back to focus on some other things. My eight year relationship was coming to an end as my then girlfriend was about to become my ex. I needed a change of atmosphere. I enrolled myself into a marine navigation course and ventured into a new career as a licensed boat captain.
In December of 2009 I relocated to Central Pines, Abaco, where it took me three years and a criminal court case to adjust to the island. In 2012 I was employed as a ferry boat captain. There were no recording studios in Abaco worth mentioning at the time and the local music scene was limited to performances at the island's resorts, mainly live band performances. Nevertheless, there was undiscovered talent in Abaco. The likes of NuGrade, a talented young songwriter and upcoming producer from Murphy Town, and Issachar, a rastafarian reggae artist from Dundas Town. Although the talent may have been there, the resources for quality recording and production wasn't.
I still felt a passion for music, but opted not to focus on the pursuit of a music career unless I had all the necessary resources at my disposal. I worked as a ferry captain up until 2016, when I was placed on sick leave with a back injury. By that time I had already began construction on a recording studio of my own. I used my time off from work to complete the studio and resume recording. By 2017, Serafina Recording Studio was officially open to the public and I was seeking to reach out to some local talent on the island. Even before my studio was complete, I had begun to research details of the music business at the world famous university of Youtube, after it dawned on me that I had only received one royalty payment in my whole career as a recording artist.
The age of the independent artist is now upon us and every recording artist should pay attention to the music business now more than ever. The introduction of social media marketing has enhanced the game and in some cases even leveled the playing field. All this knowledge had been sitting online all this time. How did I miss this? How many other Bahamian artists are there in the same predicament? Why hasn't anybody in The Bahamas spoken about this before?.... Or have they? If so....where the hell was I?
I wasn't even behind the 8ball.... I was off the damn table.
After careful research I began to fit all the puzzle pieces in the right places. Now I'm signed up as a writer AND a publisher and I've registered all my work. I've created a PayPal account to receive my online payments and buckled down to understanding the keys to social media marketing and paid promotional ads. I now have my own website (as you can clearly see) and I've also recorded an EP, available for release in the latter part of 2017.
I'm presently in the process of expanding my studio's services to include video production and artist development. I've taken on Asher Simmons, a young rapper from Guana Cay, Abaco, with a message in his music. Asher was officially introduced to the music scene with a radio and video release of his debut single "Look Outside Your Window" featuring myself.
My aim now is to educate and inform aspiring independent artists not only in The Bahamas, but around the world, about the importance of registering themselves and their work properly, promoting their music online, creating their own websites, monetizing their website pages and their music and making a living by doing what they love. Please take some time to check out my crash course for independent artists, a basic introduction to the music business, with instructions on how to register and market yourself and your works correctly.