It’s been a year and a half since Da Entourage hit it big with Bunny Hop. Its latest CD, Entourage 2, was re-released on Universal Records as part of a reported $5 million deal, and it’s kept the Lafayette rap group hopping.
June 25, 2003
Red Boy Records’ headquarters on Evangeline Thruway is just another brick building, but for the members of Da Entourage, it’s the beginning of a hip-hop empire.
On the heels of the regional success of its first compact disc, Entourage 1, (Inside Acadiana: Hopping to the Top, Jan. 30, 2002), the group recently signed with Universal Records, home to the Cash Money and No Limit Record labels and acts like Master P, Juvenile, 504 Boyz and Nelly. Universal recently re-released Entourage 2, which also contains “Bunny Hop,” the successful single from the group’s first CD. The disc comes in two flavors – a clean version and one with explicit lyrics.
Inside Red Boy Records, the wood walls are stained dark and trimmed in black. Beneath three leather couches that form a horseshoe in the middle of a large room lies new, red carpet. A refrigerator and stove sit in an adjoining room. Tomosa “Toemas” Griffin says, “This is our home away from home.”
Griffin is 20 years old and the youngest member of Da Entourage. His cousin, Travis “Alley Cat” Zeno, is 21 years old and sits next to him on a couch. Their longtime friend, Paul “Bunny B” Brown, is 23 years old and the third member of the group. Damon “Red Boy” Spencer, 25, once a visible member of the group, has lately stepped out of the spotlight to take care of the group’s business affairs and to run his company, Red Boy Records.
A lot has changed for Da Entourage since their “Bunny Hop” debuted at No. 3 on Billboard’s Hot Rap Singles Chart in January 2002, including signing a deal with Universal on Mardi Gras day in New Orleans.
Griffin says, “People look at you differently and expect more out of you. It’s cool, though.”
Zeno says, “Some people think this happened overnight, but it’s a struggle. You’re getting pulled from every side.”
“It’s a constant grind,” Griffin adds. “We hustle and work for this. If you’re a basketball player, you’re looking to go to the pros, you know what I’m saying? Why do you think we work so hard? Red stuck his neck out and helped a brother out. The same way he struggled, we struggled. It’s like family over here.”
And like a family that’s hit the jackpot, there’s been some celebrating. Spencer plastered his Ford Excursion with images of Da Entourage, turning the vehicle into a mobile billboard. Zeno bought a 2000 Lincoln LS, Brown bought a 2003 Ford Expedition and Griffin bought a 2003 Dodge 1500.
Life’s been sweet lately, but there’s still work to do.
“We’re not buying houses, yet,” Spencer says. “We’re still grinding.”
According to Da Entourage’s Web site run by Universal Records (www.daentourage.com), Entourage 1, Entourage 2 and the “Bunny Hop” single have sold more than 40,000 copies. In January, while Spencer was trying to negotiate a major record label, Southwest Wholesale in Houston, the distributor for Red Boy Records, closed its doors and filed for bankruptcy.
“It’s difficult,” Spencer says. “It’s always difficult when you’re a young entrepreneur, but I’m excited about the deal with the Universal Records.” The group’s second CD, Entourage 2, had been released on Red Boy Records in July 2002 and was later re-released on Universal Records in May 2003, with two versions of “Bunny Hop.”
Spencer says the deal with Universal is for five records. In a press release issued by Red Boy Records, the deal is described as “a 5 million dollar distribution deal with Universal Records.” Spencer won’t discuss how the money breaks down or how much of it was up front. “I’m from the streets,” he says, smiling. “We won’t talk about that.” However, he does admit that the new cars, recently renovated studio, updated recording equipment and his billboard-like vehicle are a result of the deal with Universal. Repeated calls placed to Universal were not returned, but the company’s Web site does list Da Entourage on its artists roster.
Spencer says Red Boy Records signed with Universal because they felt that the company was already familiar with Louisiana’s hip-hop scene, because it handled No Limit Records and Cash Money Records, both based in New Orleans. Spencer says Red Boy Records has retained creative control of the music it produces, while Universal “gives us their stamp and their machine.” Spencer says that with Universal’s 25 percent share of the worldwide music market, it’s only a matter of time before Da Entourage’s talent is recognized on a full-scale, national level.
Da Entourage knew it had a catchy song on its hands with “Bunny Hop,” but they realized that they needed a hook to get the song to the broadest audience possible. It’s one thing to get a radio station to play a song, but it’s another to have people crowd the dance floor when they hear the first few notes of the song.
Da Entourage devised a simple dance, appropriately called the Bunny Hop, to go along with their number. They taught it to whoever would give them the time of day. When they went to locally owned record stores to stock copies of their CD, they taught the steps to managers and customers in the stores.
Todd Ortego owns Music Machine in Eunice and also carries Da Entourage’s records. He says their CDs have sold above average than the rest of his stock, particularly for a local group. Ortego is also a disc jockey on the weekends, catering to social functions like weddings, family reunions and company parties. He says he still gets requests for “Bunny Hop,” nearly two years after its initial release. Ortego readily admits that “I’m in this small – apparently exclusive – club of people who have never done a line dance,” but he says the dance must be what keeps the requests for the song coming.
Da Entourage had also staged a contest, called Hop ‘Til You Drop, to promote “Bunny Hop.” The song was played repeatedly beginning at 10 a.m. The last person standing won $1,000. In Houston, by 6 p.m., there were still five people left, but Spencer says that when dancers began to pass out, the police and fire department shut down the event.
Spencer also attributes the group’s success to “street teams,” a loose network of mom-and-pop record stores and local promoters who hit the streets to get the word out on the record, the song and the dance. Spencer says he realized that if he was ever going to get Da Entourage to sign a major record label deal, he was going to have to prove the group’s mettle in the streets first. He knew that if there was a groundswell of requests from the streets, then radio would have to play the tune.
John “Mojo” Kinnitt, program director at KRRQ 95.5 FM in Lafayette, says “Bunny Hop” is still played on KRRQ. When he began working there in October, he says the song was playing six or seven times a day, but now the station only broadcasts the song two or three times a day. He says, “The catchiness of the song and the dance is what makes it so appealing.”
Kinnitt says that Da Entourage’s latest single released from Entourage 2, “Hood On Da Map,” was recently placed in KRRQ’s rotation. “This next song has a Southern flavor,” he says. “It’s that bounce music that’s so popular here in the South.”
Spencer says that “Bunny Hop” is still being played in major markets throughout the South and beyond, in “Houston, Dallas, Memphis, Atlanta, California, Honolulu, Florida, the Carolinas, from Texas to Florida.” But before the song made it into larger markets, it had to reach a larger audience than just southwest Louisiana.
Lamonda “L-Boogie” Williams, program director for New Orleans’ Hot 104.5, KNOU-FM, says “Bunny Hop” is “a huge record for this market. Any time you play it, the dance floor will flood with people doing the Bunny Hop. It has become a New Orleans tradition. People play it at weddings, parties and cookouts.”
Williams says that although the song has been popular in New Orleans, “It’s always challenging for a group to show its versatility when their first record is a novelty. I compare it to child stars. It’s tough to break out of that image. It’s tough to grow outside of that. Not that it’s impossible, but I think it’s more challenging.”
She says that if the rap group’s tenacity is an indicator of its potential, they should be able to break away from the novelty of their hit single and prove themselves as greater talents. “It started in the streets and moved to radio airplay,” she says. “That’s how they got their deal with Universal Records.”
Shirani Rea, owner of Peaches Records and Tapes in New Orleans, says that even though she started carrying the record more than a year ago, she still sells copies of it today. She says the whole group came in with their record and gave her a demonstration of the Bunny Hop to convince her to stock it. She estimates that she has sold more than 300 copies of Da Entourage’s CDs.
But not everybody in New Orleans is singing praises for Da Entourage. Greg Hardison runs and maintains satchmo.com, an extensive Web site for news and information on New Orleans and Louisiana music. He says he had heard the buzz about “Bunny Hop” before he had even heard the tune. Hardison says that he still hears the song played on the radio, but “if you’re not listening to local R&B stations, you’re probably not hearing about them.”
“I thought it was catchy,” he says, “but I don’t think it’s as big as some of the stuff that’s coming out of here. It’s catchy – no doubt – but I’m surprised at all the attention they’re getting. I don’t see them being the next Cash Money (Records) or Juvenile, but being signed by Universal is nice. It’s a good start.”
Spencer isn’t listening to any critics. “Three words,” he says. “Buy the album. Here’s two more words: tune in. Here’s some more words: MTV, BET.”
The group will soon be shooting a video in Lafayette for the single “Hood On Da Map” to be broadcast on BET and MTV. They have begun scouting locations for filming in the McComb, Veazey and Azalea Park neighborhoods in Lafayette.
Spencer is also in the process of planning a local fan appreciation party in Lafayette and coordinating a tour for mid-summer, “Deep South Connected,” with national acts, which he wouldn’t disclose at the time of this interview.
His near-term goal for Da Entourage and Red Boy Records is to “immediately increase production with a full-scale staff.” He recently hired John Ford as vice president of operations and Dawanna Andrus as executive secretary. In the long run, Spencer says he hopes “to be an outlet for talent in this city.” He says he hopes that the influx of money from Universal Records will help put Lafayette on the map of the hip-hop world and attract more dollars to the area. Spencer is also looking to “diversify investments” by purchasing an existing clothing line.
Zeno and Griffin don’t seem concerned with the critics either.
“Go get the album,” Zeno says. “It’s in stores, and it’s jamming.”
Griffin says, “My answer is the same as Red’s. The proof is in the pudding.”