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South Beach's famous Lincoln Road promenade, with its clean sidewalks, chic designer boutiques, and smartly dressed tourists, seems a long way from the rough-and-tumble neighborhood of Liberty City. But it is here in the offices of SoBe Entertainment, hidden away in a nondescript white office building a few doors down from the Van Dyke Café, that Poe Boy Entertainment is convening a first press day for its signature artist, rapper Angela "Jacki-O" Kohn. The setting that the 3-year-old record label chose, a stark contrast from the neighborhood in which it was born, reflects a desire to achieve success in the music industry no matter what the cost.
For the past three years, the fledgling urban music company, led by 32-year-old Elric "E-Class" Prince, has fought to overcome a host of overwhelming odds, from the death of E-Class' best friend in a shootout with police to a distribution deal with well-known indie label Rufflife Records that went horribly wrong. Along the way, it has collected a host of allies in the music business as well as some unlikely foes. But it wasn't until the release of Jacki-O's debut single, "Nookie," in May of 2003 that Poe Boy finally began to taste national acclaim, win a major-label distribution deal with Warner Bros. Records, and perhaps become a successor to other legendary Miami rap imprints such as Luke Records (mastermind behind 1980s superstars 2 Live Crew) and Slip-N-Slide (home of current hit-making rappers Trick Daddy and Trina).
Which makes Jacki-O hot. She's so hot, in fact, that an appointment to talk to her turns into a 40-minute wait. When she finally walks into a conference room set aside for her with three publicists, including Alex "Poochie" Bethune, one-third of Poe Boy production team the Execs, she's stylishly dressed in a Dolce & Gabbana black jersey with matching jeans, augmented by a string of Chanel pearls. Though far from a typical grand entrance, her entourage is the first sign that there's more to this scene than meets the eye.
"OK," Poochie announces after everyone is seated, "let's have a good interview." Unfortunately, that proves to be impossible with three overprotective publicists carefully vetting every question. They even bristle when Jacki-O is asked how old she is, although that may be a concession to her vanity. "He wants to know how old I am," she laughs to Poochie.
"Let's not get into the personal stuff," he replies.
Jacki-O describes her hit single, which was originally titled "Pussy" until commercial considerations motivated Poe Boy to change the "clean" version to "Nookie," as a message of female empowerment that will encourage women to enjoy their bodies without submitting to domineering men. "I don't see nothing wrong with me saying, 'I'm a girl, I have nookie, it's good,'" she says. "But me being a woman, you get to a point where you're, like, 'What can I do to make this man like me?' Just be yourself. If he don't like you because of that, fuck him."
She says she wrote it when producer Gorilla Tek gave her a beat CD, a collection of instrumentals for her to rhyme over, sometime last May. Her ears honed in on one slinky, sensuous track titled "Horny Toad." "I thought, 'That's a nice, funky track. It would be nice if we did something with a Southern twang to it,'" she remembers. "We came up with 'Nookie. '"
A few days later, the funky, freaky romp was blasting from the radio and at local strip clubs. On Memorial Day weekend, the Poe Boy street team cruised up and down Ocean Drive, playing it at top volume from a boom box as they made their way through the throngs of college-age revelers, and hip-hop venues in Hollywood and Fort Lauderdale took up the beat. "The strip clubs was eating it up, the clubs was eating it up, the streets was playing it, so it was like... yeah," she says, smiling.
Naim Ali, an A&R executive for Warner Bros., fell under the power of "Nookie" during a business trip from New York City last June. "I went to the club at 3 or 4 in the morning, and they were blasting the Jacki-O record 'Nookie,'" he says during a phone interview from New York. "The dance floor erupted." Impressed, Ali eventually signed Poe Boy Entertainment to a multimillion-dollar distribution deal in August.
Warner's industry muscle ensured that "Nookie," which was already garnering respectable airplay in other radio markets such as Detroit and Chicago, would make the rounds of the New York rap world. As regionalized as hip-hop has become -- two of the genre's biggest acts are Eminem from Detroit and Atlanta duo Outkast -- the Big Apple is still the culture's chief tastemaker. After Poe Boy signed its deal, the label began organizing industry meet-and-greet parties in Manhattan. On August 23, "Nookie" entered Billboardmagazine's hot R&B/hip-hop singles and tracks chart at number 78. Meanwhile, influential Miami station 99 Jamz (WEDR-FM, 99.1) spun the track nearly every hour, turning "Nookie" into a corporeal, inescapable presence.
Now, Poe Boy is assembling a strong team for Jacki-O's debut album, Poe Little Rich Girl, including multiplatinum wunderkind Timbaland, Red Spyda (who has made beats for bullet-riddled superstar 50 Cent), and Cool and Dre (local production duo who has worked with P. Diddy and Fat Joe). "Poe Little Rich Girlis me. People that don't know me will get a chance to know what I'm about," she says. "Just the hard street life... that's what Poe Little Rich Girlis about."