With Huntsville and Alabama firmly on music lovers’ and critics’ radars, Southern Hospitality felt it pertinent to trace back the roots of the scene that has given birth to so many future legends. With a little research and help from the spiritual guide, mentor and mouthpiece of the music movement from Huntsvegas, Codie G, we embarked on a quest to speak to the scene’s founding mother, artist, manager and CEO Tam Tam.
The first local artist to get radio play on WEUP 103.1 FM, Tam Tam helped convince the station to pick up and play more music that was hot on the streets of the city. And, well, the rest is history.
In our exclusive, in-depth interview, Tam Tam speaks about Huntsville, hip-hop, Huntsville hip-hop and the role, reality and importance of female executives in the music business.
Whereabouts in Huntsville are you from and what was it like growing up there?
I grew up on Barber Drive in Terry Heights in Huntsville, Alabama. My grandmother Georgia Mae Gopher’s house was on that street and everybody loved my grandmother in the neighborhood because she did a lot of good for a lot of people. If you needed a place to stay or some food to eat, she would make that happen.
All of my cousins were always there while our parents worked. Those days were the most memorable because there were no worries, just playing in the neighbourhood with my cousins and the other children, going to the corner store to buy candy, playing at the community centre – just being a kid.
Drugs were an issue in the community and I was related to most of the dealers so they tried to keep that lifestyle away from my cousins and I. We still saw everything, but having fun was our interest.[audio:05 – Mr Hello.mp3|titles=Mr Hello|artists=Tam Tam]
When did you first see music as being a path you wanted to follow?
Music became my focus in the early nineties. I was always glued to BET when I came in from school. Artists like TLC, Queen Latifah and Salt-N-Pepa inspired me, but when I saw Kriss Kross for the first time, they were so cute and they were in my age group. That made me realise that someone my age could do it. My older brother started a record label and publishing company and started teaching me the game of the music business. I started reading a lot of books from that point and began doing everything I could do to help his company with street team work.
My brother would take me to studio sessions and I would just watch his artists go hard in the booth and I fell in love with the music from that point and started moulding myself as an artist. The producers I worked with taught me how to count bars and about song structure. Once I grasped that concept, I just kept pushing myself to be the best. While my friends were partying, I was in the studio putting in that work.
Tell us about the first record you made.
I was in a group with my cousin Bridgette called Nice-N-Nastee. My cousin was the singer and I was the rapper. Our first record was called ‘Pay Back and Revenge’. I use to get picked on in school for dressing nice and all the guys wanted to date me. That was a song that I was venting on. My payback and revenge has evolved into becoming successful instead of violent.
You were the first female Huntsville artist and one of the first artists to get major radio play on local station WEUP (103.1) with your single ‘Welcome Hot Tamala’. What was the music scene in the city like at that point?
Most of the independent labels were just starting by the time my first single became relevant to radio. My company Big Image as well as others were still in that learning phase of how to secure a bar code, encoding music with BDS, Mediabase, Publishing and so on. I had previously gained a lot of knowledge from working with my brother’s label, Lavish Records. I also learned a lot from other companies who had already gained radio recognition with groups like Public Domain & Freakz-A-Natcha.
What I understood from the beginning is relationships are important. I never took no for an answer and I also understood promotions. Other labels like Slow Motion Soundz, Artillery South and a few other labels were also branding themselves around the same time and are very relevant still today like my company Big Image. I believe my first single ‘Welcome Hot Tamala’ opened the doors for many other local artists to gain radio play because my song did very well in the market.
Very few artists before me had music played on the station, but my first single made a phenomenal impact on the airwaves, which inspired a movement in my opinion. I feel like I made people believe that they could do it too. It was to the point the music director would ask me for my opinion on which local artists they should put into rotation next. I feel like many people don’t realise that I was in on the behind the scenes discussions and how I really played an important part on the early stages of their careers.
I was the one encouraging the station to continue supporting local music. The song ‘Lacs & Prices’ featuring TI became a local favorite on radio based off of my opinion when I was approached about the record. That record was hot in the streets first, so the ground work had already been laid. It made sense to me to add a record like that to rotation. I was making boss moves before I even realised I was a boss. What has been so great about the Huntsville market is that it is so diversified. No one artist or group sounds alike. We have a lot of great talent. I truly see my city and state as the next leading factor in a forever changing industry.[audio:04-slow_motion_soundz-lacs___prices__feat._t.i._.mp3|titles=Lacs and Prices|artists=Slow Motion Soundz ft. TI]
Mello Drama was a group you formed with Brandy and Ray J’s brother C-Dove – how did that come about and what transpired before the group broke up?
C-Dove, who is Brandy and Ray J’s older brother, was introduced to me through my older brother Malcolm. My brother was about to put a lot of capital behind C-Dove’s career. I really don’t know why my brother never gave him the push, but I do know the street money was coming quicker for my brother, which may be why his focus on his label was secondary.
After I met C-Dove, I began hanging out with him and he placed me in the group Mello Drama. We toured a lot and opened up for many major artists. I wasn’t too developed on the mic yet, but the experience played a huge part on who I am today. The group split because some of the artists in the group were having issues with the law, which resulted in time spent in prison. We were young and I feel like the overall grind as a group was not there.
I believe C-Dove’s mother made it too easy for some of the artists when it came to buying their clothes for shows and sometimes things like that can go to your head. I worked for everything I got; I bought my own clothes for the shows, paid for my own food etc. I was selling a lot of CDs for us and I couldn’t do it all by myself.
I found a serious investor and wanted to control my own situation because I had the knowledge with the drive. We all started to relocate and the group just faded away. However, we had some great times together.
Which artists would you say followed your lead and helped to build the scene? Dirty are the first group that spring to mind.
Artists who helped to build the scene are artists and groups like Mike White the Beholda, Laponne, Rudi Deville, Atteze, Slow Motion, 6 Tre G, South Click, Rawlow B (RIP), Po Boi, Boss Up Click aka the new I.W.O, G-Mane, Lil Belly, Mic Strange, Short Change, The Buck Boyz, and Jackie Chain. And that’s really in no certain order but there are also a few more groups to mention that came later like Nicki 2 States, Bama Starz and others, but I feel like these are the people from my area who either helped to build the scene and/or are currently relevant.
Dirty showed us that you can make it to BET if you work for it. A lot of artists and consumers from the state hated on Dirty because being on BET and coming out of Alabama was strange to them – like our own people don’t believe in themselves. But while they were hating, I was the chick who jumped in my whip and drove to their city just to link and network with them. We have several collabs together. In my opinion, Dirty was putting out the most solid projects.[audio:01-dirty-dirty_niggaz-wcr.mp3|titles=Dirty Niggaz|artists=Dirty]
Now, if we go outside the Huntsville area; Lil Chappy, Dirty, Rich Boy, Killa Kat, L-Gin, Attitude, King David, Gucci Mane, Birmingham J, Small Tyme Ballers, Yelawolf, King South and a few others are making a major impact. I wouldn’t really say everybody is following my lead; I have inspired some, but most are just getting with the programme called ‘I Grind’.[audio:King_David_-_iFresh_www.southernhospitality.co.uk.mp3|titles=iFresh|artists=King David]
The Ville is now critically acclaimed and widely considered to be one of if not the next southern city to blow. How does that make you feel as the ‘founding mother’ of the scene?
It feels great to know that my grind is not going unnoticed because I am history in the making and you can’t change history. I am making a huge impact on my state by giving my time back to the RW record pool to teach the next wave of artists how to be more on top of their business and showing them what it really takes to get themselves out here.
I try to give that motivation to these artists because I understand the struggle of not having a Puff Daddy around you or a major label that you can just walk up the street to and give them your music. I am the Sylvia Rhone of my state and I am the Queen of the South. The streets gave me that title because they see my actions. It is my duty to conduct myself in the most respectable manner and to help lead my city and my state as a whole to the top.
Alabama is the heart of the south and we have been looked over for many years, but we still continue to support everything around us as we should and for that I am proud to say I love Alabama for continuing to push even when others consider our voices to be non-relevant.[audio:011.alabama.mp3|titles=Alabama|artists=Jhi Ali ft. Cooley Da Dude and Big P.O.P.E.]
What is it about your city that seems to inspire such great music?
Coming from the bottom and making something out of nothing. Our entire music scene has been independently built from scratch. Moreover, we have the same issues that major cities have but we have been limited on resources that are supposed to equip our children for the future. We have been deprived of many things. Our story will evoke great pain but our success will show much appreciation. And this is why I believe we will dominate across the board lyrically and as business people. A better product equals longevity in the market and most business people understand that.
Does living under the shadow of a space rocket have an impact?
Of course it does, because to me that rocket is symbolic of how far ahead we really are mentally as well as physically. There’s a vast amount of intellects in the city of Huntsville. If you do not allow intellects to channel that important energy into something productive then you see crime go up. Sometimes we feel trapped in our very own city or environment because we are searching for ways to expand our horizons and boredom can sometimes get you in trouble. You see this happen with a lot of geniuses. Huntsville is really big on technology; we’re really light years ahead, it’s just taking the world a minute to catch up.
What’s your relationship and affiliation with Codie G of Slow Motion Soundz?
Codie G is my big cousin. His father and my mother are brother and sister. I look back at how far we have both came from just talking about music to actually being major players in the game. Codie is very intelligent and comes from a great upbringing like myself. Having a person like Codie on your team is a great asset because he thinks outside the box and he is always eager to learn about new things and share those new things or ideas with his people.
Codie does a lot of research and can tell you everything about what he knows to be fact. Some people think on a local level. Codie has always thought on a global level since we were kids. My cousin Codie is the guy I will be able to go to in the next couple of years and say: “I think we should invest $2m a piece into this new product that will change the lives of people.” And Codie will say: “I was already on it, let’s discuss how we can make that $4m turn into $40m.” You always need people like my cousin in your circle.[audio:G.I.H.A.D._and_Eric_Roberson_-_Must_Be_(Music)_www.southernhospitality.co.uk.mp3|titles=Must Be Music|artists=G.I.H.A.D. and Eric Robertson]
Codie told us you have a keen business sense. Could you explain what women should look for out of hip hop as far as ownership goes?
I believe as a woman you should love yourself first and take ownership of who you are. Demanding respect is important in this male dominated industry. Most men actually think that a business woman is more sexy and appealing to them. Women in hip-hop should stop relying on a man to walk them through that door because most of the time that man wants you to pay him that favour back as a sexual trade-off.
If you look at most of the female rappers who have actually became successful, most of them got put into the rap game by a male artist. For example, Biggie and Lil Kim; Jay-Z and Foxy Brown; and recently Lil Wayne and Nicki Minaj. My point is that if we as women gain more knowledge about this industry that we wish to co-exist in then we can control our own destiny without degrading ourselves. The top is waiting on me and I did not have to sleep with any executives to get into position because I am a boss.[audio:06 – Im Hollin.mp3|titles=I’m Hollin|artists=Tam Tam]
Do you feel we need more hip hop women execs?
We need more women executives because a male can never be the true voice for a woman. There are certain things that a woman will be able to effectively communicate as well as execute when dealing with another woman or young ladies who need guidance in this corporate America. If you really pay attention to the game, most men surround themselves with women players.
It’s a known fact that women have more patience and we get the job done. Women have to juggle taking care of the children, the household, as well as maintaining a career. We understand time management. Look at Oprah Winfrey, how much game could a woman obtain from her? Give me one hour in the room with Oprah and I know it will tighten my game all the way up.
Independent versus major? What’s your take on the structure of the industry?
The industry is in limbo because you have major labels who control distribution, but independent companies are controlling the ability to produce the hits. In my opinion, it’s a war between the indie and the major. For example, I am an independent artist that has no major affiliation, but I am getting more radio play than the majority of the artists who are signed to major deals.
Am I a threat to a major as an indie artist? That major label paid to get their entire roster on the radio and I didn’t do that. Now, does my independent company have the financial stability to meet supply and demand at the rate that my fanbase is growing? The major labels would love for my buzz to die down because I’m taking up slot space on stations that they feel their roster of artists should be receiving.
If you get too big as an independent and they see that you are really making money, now they would love to make a move on you and eat off of your plate when they don’t deserve anything for getting you to the level that you are. If an independent company is financially secure, the best move would be to not make a move with a major and go digital on sales and merchandise. At some point, most indies seem to bow down and sign to a major.
Now that independent drive is controlled and you can’t make the moves you use to make. Structuring your own clauses with a major to meet you somewhere in the middle could stimulate the game more, but majors love to have that full control. Majors need to move away from the ‘big fish eat little fish’ mentality. Major labels are the reason why sales are at an all-time low. Other factors are to blame too like piracy and just plain ole bad music. However, if Lady Gaga can sell over nine million units then that should tell you something.
Lady Gaga was discovered through an independent. Majors should allow the independent divisions of their label to control the floor while they just cut the check, sit back and handle distribution. If they don’t have the right independent divisions then they should quickly find them some to run things for them because indies have closer ties to the streets, the DJs and grind the hardest. Signing a deal with a major does you no good unless you come through the door as a priority.
What changes have you made in the ever-changing music business?
I had to change my circle, grow with my new team, expand to other markets, make myself a priority, keep my music different so that I will continue to stick out while everybody else remains the same or copy cat each other, become more internet savvy and not worry about pleasing everybody while leading by example.
What’s next for Tam Tam?
Actually, after a few successful albums under my belt; I want to go more corporate. Sometimes I get bored with just being an artist. I only feel new challenges come on when I get to work with other great artists like Jaz-O. Jaz-O is mentoring me and I really appreciate the opportunity.
A lot of artists are hot but ‘greats’ are born and are either challenged or moulded by other greats. I want to spend more time developing applications for some hot new products that I would like to introduce to the market. Right now, I’m in the process of gaining a few patents on those ideas with my team and then building my first prototype. I love music and will always continue to make music as well as sign me a few artists and help to shape their careers.
Any last words/shoutouts?
If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door…
Shout out to Big G, Yung Platinum, Excursion, Don Brown, Ria Dockery/The Prent Firm, Boss Up Click, Ron White, Jaz-O, all radio stations who support my music, Executive Squad DJs, Alabama, Southern Hospitality, my cousin Codie for feeling like I deserve this write-up, my family and fans and all affiliates of www.bigimageworldwide.net.[audio:U_BOPN-Tam_Tam_6Tre_G_www.southernhospitality.co.uk.mp3|titles=U Bop’n|artists=Tam Tam and 6 Tre G]