Furious styles: The P.A. system
Veteran Atlanta trio gives it another go
It's just after 2 a.m. on a Saturday night inside Midtown's Club Kaya, and people are losing their minds, up in here, up in here. While Biggie, Puffy and Cube spill from the speakers, the dance floor transforms into an undulating mass of humanity. Around the edges, guys look for dem girls with dem tight capri pants. Backstage, the three members of the Atlanta-based rap group P.A., short for Parental Advisory, lounge about, waiting to take the stage and perform songs off of their forthcoming album My Life: Your Entertainment. Mello, his long dreads hanging down his back, munches on fruit, while Big Reese celebrates his birthday by kicking game with a honey. Meanwhile, the quiet K.P. gnaws aimlessly on a plastic fork, his trademark red Atlanta Braves hat artfully twisted to the side.
Sitting around and waiting is nothing new for P.A., who, despite having put nearly a decade into the rap game, will be releasing just their third album. It's been a rough, at times brutal, ride for P.A., but they're still standing.
P.A. grew up in and around Atlanta, and they first met at Jellybeans, a now-defunct East Point roller-skating rink. Eventually, the trio ended up crashing at the house of their friend Rico Wade, where the early stages of the Dungeon Family — including rap groups OutKast and Goodie Mob — were forming. "Ms. Wade kept waking me up," remembers Mello, "talking 'bout I snore too loud."
Though Reese had ambitions of being a drug dealer, rap soon became a more viable alternative. "Too many motherfuckers was getting killed," explains Reese, "and I realized that a kingpin wasn't what I was going to be."
As their Dungeon Family brothers began getting record deals with LaFace Records, P.A. hooked up with Organized Noize and dropped their first album on their own, 1992's Ghetto Street Funk. Soon after, P.A. signed a management deal with the notorious Perri "Pebbles" Reid, who would later be sued by another one of her acts, urban superstars TLC. P.A., however, has nothing but love for Pebbles. "She is, to me, a great person that got a bad rap because the industry is fucked up," says Reese. "The only problem she probably has is that she's controlling, and the only reason she's controlling is that she's been in it, and she knows, 'If I don't have my hands in it completely, somebody's going to fuck it up.'"
After doing some production work for artists TLC and Society of Soul, a minor bidding war broke out when P.A. decided to ink a national deal. In '97, they signed with DreamWorks Records. When it came time to begin working on their major-label debut, the members of Organized Noize were too busy, so P.A. decided to produce themselves.
"We wanted to be out," says Reese. "Everybody was having fun, Atlanta was hot and man, we wanted to do it. And [Organized Noize] were like 'We can do it, but we don't want to rush it, y'all don't want to rush it.' So we were like, 'How can we do it then?' So we said, 'Give us some equipment.' And we took it from there."
Straight No Chase was released in '98, featuring Reese on bass, Mello on guitar and K.P. on turntables. The record was sample-free, which was unusual at the time, but despite the record's surprisingly dynamic sound, it didn't sell well. P.A. returned to Atlanta and begin producing several artists, including Youngbloodz, for their own label, Ghettovision Entertainment.
In the meantime, K.P. held down a job with LaFace Records as an A&R representative. When L.A. Reid announced he was leaving LaFace to take over Arista Records in New York, K.P. was picked to take over the Atlanta operations. "When it comes time to do stuff with LaFace," he explains, "I step back so I can stay objective. For real, all LaFace has to do is maintain what it's built and what it stands for."
P.A. returned to the studio in the summer of '99 to begin work on My Life: Your Entertainment, their third album, which contains contributions from Atlanta artists such as Youngbloodz and Big Gipp from Goodie Mob, while continuing to further P.A.'s unique musical vision. And now, with more experience, a new management team and a new attitude, things have changed for P.A.
"What we didn't do this time is argue with the record company," says K.P. "Every record company looks at it like, 'Oh, that's just the artist getting emotional.' And in most cases that's probably true. So, we had figure out how to step back and listen to someone who's objective and well-thought out.
"What we're trying to do is be the first people in Atlanta to make our own major production situation," K.P. continues, "and do it with Atlanta artists. Ghettovision really is our vision of the ghetto that we know, and people that we know. We ain't trying to be ignorant, and there's going to be a lot of screaming on the records, it's just high-quality ghetto shit."
With that, Kaya's host for the evening, Erick Sermon, introduces P.A. to the screaming crowd, and Mello, Reese and K.P. rush the stage, 10-year veterans who remain largely unknown. But with their work ethic and ever-increasing knowledge, it probably won't be for much longer.
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