Chapter 17 – Shell Game

Don’t ask me how one forgets a detail as crucial as telling the guy who gave you $50K to make a Pharcyde record that you’re no longer making a Pharcyde record.

In my defense, Willy did tell us that we had “full creative autonomy,” and I’ve known him long enough to say with absolute certitude that he meant it. Still, that didn’t help me to sleep any better last night.

Informing Willy would be simple. I’d just blurt it out. I’d say, “The Pharcyde are out.” Just like that. Then I’d explain the rationale of why that was, which would be as as easy as saying, “The messenger doesn’t fit the message.” There was no reason to hem and haw about it. Or to parse it. That wasn’t going to change the news. Why fuck around? Really, how I delivered the bad news to Willy was the easy part. It was the where and when of breaking it that was proving difficult.

After considering our options, we all agreed that it would be best to text Willy in the morning in a vague sort of manner, letting him know that the Pharcyde couldn’t make it.

Mixerman: Currently unable to locate the Pharcyde. Kanish, Aardvark, and I attending. 

Seeing as Willy had never met Aardy, he would have no idea what Aardvark meant in this context. The way I figured it, he wouldn’t question it, and as it turns out, I was right. Willy never did respond to the text.

Sevaka pulled into the carpool lane on the 405. The three of us were in the backseat of the Bentley, with Aardy in the middle.

“Let’s talk about the video, boys,” Aardy began. “Starting with the budget.”

“Shouldn’t we start with a concept first?” I questioned.

“I already have the concept.”

“You do? And what’s that, exactly?” I asked.

Admittedly, the video is almost more important than the song these days. I don’t really know why. I mean, I grew up with videos just like everyone else. I’ve just never understood watching music. Personally, I much prefer the art of setting music to film, than creating a film for the music. Like I need your fucking storyline to decipher the song? And half the time the video doesn’t relate to the lyric anyway, which is total crap.

“I’ve been researching this on the Internet,” Aardy began. “There is one thing that goes viral more often than anything else.”

“And what’s that?” I asked.

“Kittens.”

“Kittens?”

“Kittens.”

Kanish flashed me a confused look and then began to openly question Aardy’s sanity.

“I am vehdy sorry, but you have lost me, my friend,” Kanish said.

“Kittens! The clip for the Douchebag Song should feature lots of cute little kittens.”

“And what in Buddha’s name are the kittens doing?”

“They could be doing all sorts of things,” Aardy replied.

“Like what?”

“You know. Cute-little-kitten things. That’s what people love.”

“Are they driving Priuses?”

“Maybe.”

I’d had just about enough of this.

“Dude!” I shouted. “This is what you want to propose to Willy? A kitten video?”

As much as I think videos are bullshit, I wasn’t going to be the one to put that theory to the test. Regardless of my feelings on the subject, a video is most certainly a requirement, and if you’re going to produce a clip, it would be best not to thumb your nose at the audience in the process. As if kittens have anything to do with Douchebags, or even Priuses, for that matter. Kanish seemed keen on alternatives.

“And what of Plan B?” Kanish asked.

“Bollywood!” I snapped. “Let’s do a full-scale Bollywood production!”

“That makes no sense!” Aardy scoffed. “A Bollywood production about Douchebags in Priuses?

“And how the fuck do kittens make any sense!” I yelled incredulously.

“Because kittens are popular!”

“Oh, and Bollywood isn’t? There’s like over a billion Indians, and every one of them lives for Bollywood.”

“Not quite everyone,” Kanish interjected.

Aardy was quick to point out that India wasn’t our target market, and I was just as quick to concede. We probably should have discussed all of this sooner, but we did just finish the track last night, after all. So, it’s not like Willy would expect us to have a video concept locked in. Besides, the budget itself was the more pressing issue.

“Okay, fine. Forget Bollywood,” I said. “How much do you figure we need to make a clip?”

“We only need fifty dollars to make a kitten video,” Aardy replied.

“Aardy. Seriously, dude.”

“Fine. A quarter mil.”

“That’s what I was figuring.”

Frankly, that was probably $200,000 more than we should actually spend on a clip. And although Willy would pay the initial costs to produce it, we would ultimately have to pay back half of that budget. This would leave us on the hook for $125K, to be recouped out of our royalties. The way I figured it, without a solid concept, we should significantly pad our budget. Aardy and Kanish agreed.

Sevaka pulled up to Mel Odious Sound and parked directly behind Rev’s Rolls-Royce, which was sporting more than a few parking tickets. I had half a mind to call the city and see if they might put a parking boot on his front wheel—if only for the picture. C’mon! A Rolls-Royce with a bright-yellow boot on its wheel? That’s pure Internet meme gold.

Willy was waiting for us in Studio W. I introduced Aardy, and as they kibitzed, I sat down in front of the expansive recording desk and loaded the track onto the computer. If we were going to listen to the track on the Bigs in a proper studio, then it didn’t make a whole lot of sense to play the track through the bullshit converters on my phone. That’s fine for consumers. It’s not fine for the guy who’s funding our record.

“It’s too bad the Pharcyde couldn’t make it,” Willy said.

“Yeah. About that,” I replied. “The Pharcyde are out.”

Aardy grimaced, as did Kanish, at the boldness of the delivery. I don’t know why. I announced precisely how I’d do it. And in my experience, you don’t pull lightly at a Band-Aid; it’s best to just rip the fucking thing off. Besides, I was moments away from playing Willy the track. The cat was nearly out of the bag, as it were. It was best to just inform him of the change without apology.

I mean, why should I be apologetic about bringing something great to Willy? Granted, I probably should have given Willy more warning. I could have called him the day after we’d recorded Kanish’s vocal. But you know what? Then he’d want to hear a rough. And I didn’t want to send Willy a rough, because we were assured creative autonomy. Sending him a rough mix goes against the whole principle of “creative autonomy.” Besides, I wanted Willy to get the full impact of a finished track.

“The Pharcyde are out? What happened?” Willy asked.

“Eh. The message doesn’t fit them. Priuses in the Hood seemed problematic.”

“I see. Well, that makes sense. So who is delivering the message then?”

“Funny thing, that. We went out to a hip hop battle and young Kanish here won the big prize. If I hadn’t seen it myself, I wouldn’t have believed it, but the kid’s the real deal.”

“Rap me something,” Willy said to Kanish.

Kanish instantly stood up and launched into a somewhat animated freestyle about Willy and blunts and videos and Bentleys and whatever else was on the top of his head. His rhymes were exquisite and he never missed a beat. Willy was in awe, as he should have been. The kid can flow.

“Wow. You are the real deal,” Willy said to Kanish. “Let’s hear this Song, then!”

Willy listened as he always does. Stoically. Eyes closed on the back of the couch. Aardy, Kanish, and I stood on the side of the room so that we could observe his reaction. Unfortunately, Willy doesn’t tend to move as he listens, which is torture for me. The Song was nearly through the first verse, and Willy had yet to offer us any indication whatsoever of what he thought. Then the first chorus hit.

Just another Douchebag,
Another Douchebag,
Another Douchebag driving in your Prius,
You know you sees us!
How you gonna beat us when you’re driving in a Prius?
You slow down—

And then it happened. We got the validation we were seeking. Willy cracked a smile.

He loved it!

Yes, I realize that proclamation may seem premature. And clearly, I write this knowing full well what happened next. So I’m not really going out on a limb here. You’ll just have to trust me when I tell you that I have never before this day, not even once out of many opportunities, seen Willy smile while listening to a mix. Not even a little.

“Wow!” Willy said the moment the Song was finished. “I just love that track. And the rap! My word. Great idea bringing in Kanish. And great call on the sitar. Whose idea was that?”

I didn’t dare tell him that the idea for the sitar came from Kanish’s father. I suppose his question was rhetorical, because Willy stood up and pointed toward the recording room.

“Let’s convene to my office,” Willy said.

We followed Willy to the beanbags, and we were all sure to jump just a little higher in the air before plopping down into them this time. These were high-quality suede beanbags with exquisite stitching. They could take my two-hundred-pound flop without bursting. Willy pulled some Stellas out of the SkyMall fridge, popped their tops with a lighter and handed one to each of us.

“Cheers,” Willy said as we all touched bottle necks and took a swig. “What’s your stage name?”

“MC McKay?” Kanish asked trepidatiously.

“I’m quite sure we can do better than that. And yours, Mixerman?”

“Mine?” I chuckled momentarily until I realized he was serious. “Why do I need a stage name?” I asked innocently.

“You can’t rightly have a hip-hop act without a DJ. And I’d much rather market a hip-hop group than an Artist.”

“But I’m not a DJ.”

“You are now, old boy,” Willy replied with a chuckle. “Oh, come on, now. This is only for marketing purposes. We’ll find some young kid to play the part of Mixerman, of course.”

“Really?” I said in surprise. “How young?”

The concept most certainly piqued my interest. I could squeak out another forty years in this business if I could reinvent myself in my twenties.

“Try this on for size,” Willy said as he gestured dramatically with his hands like he was spelling out words on a marquee high into the air. “DJ Mixerman and MC Knish Knosh.”

“Ooh,” Aardy gushed. ”I like MC Knish Knosh!”

Everyone agreed that MC Knish Knosh was money. DJ Mixerman, on the other hand, wasn’t working, mostly because some dickhead in Europe pinched the name Mixerman some years back, and slapped “DJ” in front of it. As it turns out, he doesn’t get much play on the Internet, but then, you have to be pretty dumb to steal a popular name these days. I mean, I absolutely crush him on every search engine on earth; as a result, it seems his career is languishing. As much as I’d really like to teach him a lesson and take the DJ moniker too, I do believe he’s sullied the brand. I much preferred to distinguish myself, and DJ Mixerman wasn’t cutting it.

“You know,” I said, “since everyone seems to be a Producer these days—I think I’d rather be known as DJ Producer Mixerman. How ’bout that?”

“I like it,” Willy replied. “But how about we freshen it up a little and make it . . . DJ Produsah Mixerman.”

“Produsah?”

“That’s right. DJ Produsah Mixerman. It’s got a nice ring to it, yes?”

“Well, I think that’s just great!” Aardy exclaimed. “DJ Produsah Mixerman and MC Knish Knosh Too.”

“That’s fantastic!” Kanish burst out.

It was a ridiculously long name, and after all that I had half a mind to go back to plain old Mixerman, but we’d made such strides in the negotiation, I couldn’t bring myself to gum up the works. Besides, now that I’ve gotten used to it, I kinda like it. Particularly the Produsah part of it. Producer is so prim and proper and professional sounding. Produsah makes me sound more like a hack. And these days hack status has clear benefits. I’d even go so far as to say that the term Produsah has a certain hack cachet to it.

“I guess I can live with DJ Produsah Mixerman,” I acquiesced.

“Excellent,” Willy replied. “So, here’s what I want you guys to do. Make a video. Come up with a concept that will generate some Views, and then market it virally as a hip-hop track by DJ Produsah Mixerman and Knish Knosh Too.”

“And what about radio?” I asked.

“Radio and Spotify come after you manage to blow up the Internet with this song. That’s the plan, anyway.”

Wait! What? I was stunned. What just happened? That wasn’t the plan. The plan was for Willy to get us on radio, and then we would blow up the Internet. Not the other way around. How could this be? I mean, if the track and the video go viral on the Internet on the strength of our efforts, we would get radio airplay, regardless. And we most certainly didn’t need Willy’s Label to get our track onto Spotify. There are Indie Distribution avenues for that. Anyone can get their song on Streaming. So what the fuck does Willy bring to the table?

“Does a quarter million work for the clip?” Willy asked.

Oh yeah. That.

“I believe this will be perfectly acceptable,” Kanish replied.

“Excellent. Leave me your bank details, Mixerman. I’ll have cash deposited later today. The contracts should be ready for your lawyer to redline later this week. Do you guys have a concept for the clip yet?”

Aardy opened his mouth as if to speak. Kanish left nothing to chance.

“We’re still working on it,” Kanish interjected.

“Work fast.”

Willy adjourned the meeting and ushered us to the studio exit before offering one last bit of advice.

“You only get one shot at this, boys. Be clever,” Willy concluded as he shut the door.

Before I could even say, “What the fuck just happened in there?” I was accosted by the Rev, who was looking unusually frazzled.

“Zerman!” Rev said. “We need to talk. Alone.”

“I’ll meet you outside, guys,” I said.

Kanish and Aardy excused themselves. The Rev stared them down the hall and out the door. I’m not sure I understood the purpose of the secrecy. It wasn’t like I would hide any of our conversation from my partners, but the man looked nearly possessed, and I thought it best not to test him.

“The El Capitan has a Billionheir!” he whispered.

“What! Where the fuck did the El Capitan get a Billionheir?” I bemoaned.

“India. Isn’t that where everyone gets them?”

“No shit, Rev. How did he come to get his very own Billionheir?”

“Well, you know how these things happen.”

“No, I really don’t,” I replied in irritation. “And if I did, I wouldn’t be asking the fucking question, that’s for sure.”

“You don’t gotta be sore. I mean, you know, I was having dinner with the El Capitan, and I don’t know, I might have been a few scotches in . . .”

“You told him! Dude! You promised that you’d keep this shit on the down low!”

“I know! I know! But I told him about it before I got my own fucking Billionheir! How was I supposed to know there were so many Billionheirs looking for Internships?”

“You’re killing me, Rev.”

“I talked to him, all right? Everything’s gonna be fine. The El Capitan isn’t gonna tell anyone.”

“And what about GQ? The two of them eat breakfast together practically every day.”

“Funny you should mention that,” the Rev replied.

Funny I should mention that? Funny I should mention that!

“What the fuck does that mean?”

The Rev fidgeted uncomfortably as he stared down the hall, avoiding eye contact with me at all costs.

“Motherfucker!” I exclaimed as the Rev cringed. “GQ got a Billionheir too!”

“Not yet! It’s on the way!”

It’s on the way? What do you mean, it’s?”

“I mean he’s—he’s. GQ’s Billionheir is on his way! Okay?”

I dropped my head into my hands in exasperation and spun myself a circle. I wish I could say this was all for dramatic effect. For some reason, spinning in circles calms me.

One of the Interns was now rubbernecking from the reception area. I’d managed to make a scene, and the spectacle needed to end presently. There was no reason to continue beating the Rev up over this shit. All I could do now was attempt to stop the bleeding.

“We gotta take this upstairs,” I hissed.

The Rev and I hastened through the Hard Rock Cafe–like hall of Gold and Platinum records, up the grandiose stairway, and straight into his lair.

“I really think you’re overreacting,” the Rev said as he immediately shut the door behind us.

“Okay Rev. You’re right. But tell me this. Are these Billionaires’ Heirs going to be Interns?”

“I doubt it,” the Rev replied.

“Then what are they going to be?”

“You know.” The Rev said pointing back and forth between us. “The same as what we’ve got going.”

“Wait. Why did you just nod your head toward the door?”

“’Cause, you know, that’s where Willy is.”

“Where Willy is?

Oh my god!

“Does the El Capitan have a deal with Willy too?”

“Don’t be silly!” Rev exclaimed.

I breathed an enormous sigh of relief.

“The El Capitan and GQ signed with Marv Ellis over at Armageddon Records.”

For those of you who haven’t read The Daily Adventures of Mixerman, Marv Ellis is one of the original Music Moguls. A Mogul’s Mogul, as it were, and where it comes to Moguldom, compared to Marv, Willy was small potatoes. The two Moguls were also the best of friends, which makes one wonder, or at least it made me wonder—were they somehow in cahoots?

I was feeling somewhat dejected over the news, and nothing good was going to come out of beating Rev up any longer over it. The damage was done, and I was deeply regretting ever having flaunted my Billionheir.

“All right, Rev. Well, thanks for telling me.”

“You’re not sore, are you?” The Rev cringed.

Well, my ass is a little sore where you keep fucking me, but other than that!

“It’ll be fine,” I said diplomatically.

Aardy and Kanish were waiting patiently for me in the Bentley. I slid in next to them.

“What was that about?” Aardy asked immediately.

“Two more Billionheirs are in town.”

“What!” Kanish and Aardy yelled in alarm simultaneously.

“Who are their Produsahs?” Aardy asked.

“The El Capitan and GQ,” I replied.

“You must tell me,” Kanish insisted. “Who are the Billionaires’ Heirs? I know them all.”

“That’s what you’re going to have to find out, my friend.”

As shocked as we were by Willy’s admission that our marketing plan relies almost exclusively on the viral sharing of our video, we were now completely distracted by the arrival of two more Billionaires’ Heirs. What’s more, we were talking about Billionaires’ Heirs in front of Kanish as if he weren’t one of them.

We made one final attempt to brainstorm clip ideas, but there was no recovering from this hellacious day. We would have to regroup tomorrow, after some much-needed sleep.

“This is all shit,” I said, pointing to our brainstorming wall filled with lists of video concepts.

Whether it was shit or whether it wasn’t made no difference. I was done.

“Good night, guys.”

“And what of my lesson?” Kanish asked.

“A Billionheir in hand is worth more than two in the bush,” I replied.

“This makes no sense, as you are fond to say. What does it mean?”

“It means we’re still good.”

For the now, anyway.

Mixerman

Chapter 18 – The Futulism of Feudalism
Share. Retweet. Pinup. Post.