'Hidden Beach' discovers Atlanta

Jazz/rap series explores Dirty South's sounds

Seven years ago Hidden Beach Recordings started nudging hip-hop closer to — believe it or not — elevator music, with "Unwrapped," a successful series of instrumental versions of popular hip-hop songs.

And this week, the imprint has finally found its way down South.

On Tuesday, it released "Unwrapped Vol. 5.0: The Collipark Cafe Sessions," its first instrumental of (mostly) southern hip-hop songs, including Atlanta rapper-actor Ludacris' "Splash Waterfalls" and fellow local act Lil Jon & the EastSide Boyz' "Get Low."

"The South, specifically Atlanta, has been our top market for the 'Unwrapped' series," said Hidden Beach president Steve McKeever. "From our first week sales on our first ['Unwrapped'] project. We [sold 8,000 copies] throughout the country — which is remarkable for an instrumental album that didn't really have a major name on it, no video, no heavy advertising and all of the other things that make records a success.

"But of that 8,000, 5,000 of those sales were in Atlanta," McKeever continued. "So we could have taken out of the rest of the country's sales and it still would have been No. 1 on the jazz charts — because of Atlanta alone. Your city has embraced us like no other. I mean, [V-103 morning announcer] Frank Ski launched into this kind of crusade for this project, from the beginning."

Days before the release of "Unwrapped Vol. 5.0," we talked to McKeever's Atlanta collaborator, Michael Crooms — a.k.a. Mr. Collipark and DJ Smurf— about their new project ...

Q: Your publicist is pitching this as being "the CD for the hip-hop generation with car seats." You have seats for your kids in the Escalade. What CD are you playing in it?

A: The "Unwrapped" CD. Honestly. I would think this project was great if I had nothing to do with it. ... It is for our generation. You know, we grew up with hip-hop, but we're raising kids now, too. We need things we can both listen to in the car. And besides that, this reminds people of how musical hip-hop can be. Because, I'm sad to say as someone who used to be in the band, there aren't a lot of reminders of that in today's hip-hop.

Q: Before the success with Soulja Boy, you were probably best known as the executive and producer behind the Yin Yang Twins. A few weeks ago, that Grammy-nominated rap act was playing the relatively tiny Peachtree Tavern. Surprised?

A: I'm not trying to be funny, but they're not relevant anymore. I think they've faded into hip-hop history. ... In a year's time in this business you can go from being [on top] to nothing. And that's my biggest driving force — the fear of being irrelevant.

Q: What were your thoughts when you heard Ice-T told Hip-Hop Weekly that Soulja Boy had "single-handedly killed hip-hop."

A: It's sad because I really look up to Ice-T, and Ice Cube, just to have come from where they came from to become businessman and actors. ... But at the same time, here is a black boy who has made history [with digital sales of the single 'Crank That (Soulja Boy)'], and a black man is attacking him. ... What he's doing and how he's doing it is more ignorant than any record Soulja Boy ever made.

Q: When you saw the YouTube video of "MARTA Girl" using Soulja Boy's lyrics to verbally threaten an elderly woman, what did you think?

A: Somebody sent it to me as joke, and I didn't see anything funny about it. That kind of stuff makes you look in the mirror. As fun as our intentions were, seeing it come back to you that way, you have to do a self-check.


"Unwrapped Vol. 5.0: The Collipark Cafe Sessions"

11 a.m. Friday at Circuit City, 1165 Perimeter Center. Atlanta saxophonist Mike Phillips performs at the family-style barbecue.

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