KAI RYSSDAL: Whether you're a fan of rap music or not. You've got to give rappers credit for at least one thing. Coming up with some of the most, well, let's just say . . . interesting . . . stage names. Most of us have heard of the big stars. People like 50 Cent and L'il Kim. But you've probably never heard of one of the key players in the industry. Her name is Wendy Day. And she runs the advocacy group Rap Coalition Our reporter's name is Sean Cole.
SEAN COLE: Wendy Day founded the group in New York, moved it to Memphis, now it's moving to Atlanta. She could do her job from anywhere.
WENDY DAY: I started Rap Coalition in March of '92, and . . . I need to turn that off. Sorry. That's my cell phone.
Wendy Day uses 5,000 cell phone minutes a month. She gets 200 e-mails a day. A lot of them from young rappers asking questions like "What is publishing?" If you're not sure what to ask, Wendy Day runs regular panels on the rap business. If you can't make it, you can check out one of her five Web sites.
Wendy Day breaks unfair record contracts, including one in which a middle-man made more than 100 percent of the money. Wendy Day shops unsigned artists to major record labels. Wendy Day established the Rap Olympics through which Eminem was signed by Dr. Dre.
She's basically a cross between Dear Abby and P. Diddy, doling out advice to almost any rapper who asks. Because, while rappers talk a lot about money, Wendy Day says 99 percent of them never recoup the label's initial investment on their CD's.
DAY: It's not set up for the artist to win. They don't really make money from their record deals. They make money from touring. They make money from endorsements. But they don't make money from selling CDs.
So how does a 43-year-old white woman from suburban Philadephia become so prominent in a young, black, male world?
DAY: I came to it as a fan first. [cell phone rings] Oops, I forgot to turn that off. I'm sorry.
A fan who sold ad space for a living. Then worked for a Canadian liquor importer.
DAY: Not Seagrams.
She was making money. But she wasn't happy. So she took a class called "Pop Music Business," which is where she learned how musicians get exploited, with no one around to help them.
DAY: And a big light bulb went off over my head and I thought, Gee, I could be the person to help them. And I ended up selling my car. Cashing in all my stocks and bonds and selling my condo in Montreal. And everything together came to about a little less than half a million dollars and I sunk it all into Rap Coalition.
Everything Rap Coalition offers is free. Day doesn't pay herself a salary. Both she and the group are sustained by her company called "Power Moves" which gets paid to help launch independent record labels. Plus she negotiates one or two new record deals a year. Gets 10 percent of that. I asked she's ever offended by any of her clients' lyrics. She says sometimes. But she has the luxury of calling the artist up and telling him so.
DAY: Probably the person who's received the most phone calls from me is C-Murder. I know him personally. I used to manage him. So I'll hear a lyric and go, "Wait a minute. He doesn't think that way!" [door bell rings] . . . Sorry.
COLE: That's OK.
DAY: There's an artist here.
An artist named Grandaddy Souf. That's S-O-U-F.
GRANDADDY SOUF: How you doin'?
DAY: This is Sean.
SOUF: Hey, Sean.
DAY: This is Grandaddy Souf.
He's imposing but nice, the kind of guy who's always accompanied by his own theme music. Or should be. This is from his single "Run it." The clean version. . . .
Souf is pretty business savvy as rappers go. Says he was reading Day's essays and Web sites long before he met her. Still, he says he only knew the business halfway when he got his first contract.
SOUF: Well, I've run into a lot of what I call "politricks."
COLE: Parlor tricks.
SOUF: No, "politricks," like politics? But politricks. Yeah, I've run into a lotta that!
Like labels using his money to fly consultants in for a meeting.
SOUF: You put him at what hotel? For how much? 399 a night? I mean it's stuff like that. I mean, I'm sure Wendy can think of a lot more than I can, but. . . .
COLE: Are a lot of artists reading the stuff that she writes?
SOUF: Oh, yeah, definitely. And they be a fool and a half plus tax if they didn't.
DAY: I think there's going to be five of us all together, maybe six.
That night we meet up with a bunch of Wendy's friends for dinner, including a 21-year-old producer who calls himself "Joe the CEO."
JOE THE CEO: And she kinda took me in like I was one of her kids or something.
Joe's money comes from running the family car dealership. He's a little more business savvy then he was three years ago when someone offered him a thousand bucks for a song.
JOE THE CEO: A thousand dollars looked good. So I signed and like eight months later found out that the song was about to be relased through a major. There wasn't nothing I could do.
COLE: You had signed away your publishing rights?
JOE THE CEO: Yeah.
And he's still learning. After dinner he tells Day that he wants to get a major label's attention by buying up his own CDs.
DAY: And then after you're done wasting my time. Cause it won't work.
JOE THE CEO: It won't?
DAY: No. I love you, Joe.
JOE THE CEO: I love you too, Wendy.
DAY: Thanks for coming.
JOE THE CEO: See you soon.
In a way, hanging out with Wendy Day is like being in a feel-good movie about the rap business that doesn't end. You're always half-thinking she must have some ulterior motive. But she just really . . . really . . . likes rap, she says, and this is her way of saying thank you.
DAY: I think most kids know that they can't just e-mail Puffy or Master P and say, "Gee, how does publishing work?" And they have to go someplace for the information. Somebody has to share the knowledge, and I guess that's me.
She pops in a CD of one of those kids. Native. The chorus is about money.
In Memphis, I'm Sean Cole for Marketplace.