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Houston's Chamillionaire rides free

Photo: Courtesy photo, License: N/A

Courtesy photo

Everything that's great about Houston rapper Chamillionaire can be found in a single video he posted to Ustream last January. On the streaming service (it's like YouTube, but live), the 32-year-old architect of "Ridin'" spoke directly to fans (and media) about rumors that his relationship with Universal Records had soured and that his forthcoming Venom was on the fritz.

"We know there are Justin Beiber's of the world and Lady Gaga's of the world and they are perfect in their lane," he said, diplomatically. "They are excellent at what they do, but all of y'all know that I am not that person."

A likely story from a Texas rapper, considering the Dallas and Houston communities cater to artist solvency much more than other cities. In other words, making Texas rap that is even remotely mainstream isn't necessary, a fact made clear by 2002's Get Ya Mind Correct. The album, self-released by Paul Wall and Chamillionaire, sold over 100,000 copies, a highly profitable figure when sold independently.

But being unwilling to go "pop" was just one of Chamillionaire's many reasons for parting with Universal. Though he glazed over specifics, he painted a darkly comic picture of artist-label relationships. "Probably 90 percent of all these artists [in the industry] are owing the record company a lot of money," he said on the Ustream video. "So the guys that are jumping with the chains and the bottles and the whips and the rent-a-cars, they owe the record company and have to pay [them] back."

Chamillionaire spoke extemporaneously (which is intellectual kryptonite for most musicians), plainly discussing the terms of his label departure (he gave up all rights to Venom) and calling upon creative fans to send their credentials to him as he prepared to deliver a string of mixtapes in 2011. He offered to take a chance on as-yet-undiscovered producers, vocalists, musicians and graphic designers and to pay them so long as they could work with him quickly, and he discussed plans to give away commemorative plaques associated with his deep catalog of mixtapes. He mentioned that he was a little tired of the usual mixtape method of rapping over other artists' music — mixtapes are somewhere between a covers and remix album in that they feature new verses over (at least locally) established music — but that he would gladly record more if that's what fans wanted.

Several times he used the word "content" to discuss his work, which is the dirtiest of words among creative professionals (those that understand the word's business connotations, anyway). He was speaking as a businessman. Forty minutes of this, Chamillionaire giving the rap version of a fireside chat, asking fans to not just support his new business ventures, but also participate in his artistic process and giving them the benefit of the doubt in accepting their creative advice. Moreover, he delivered the message with the urgency of a Navajo Code Talker transmission.

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