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It's not necessarily the conversation that Carter wants to have, but he's stuck, driving in a car for six hours from Jacksonville to Plantation with a reporter who won't let him off the hook. During the drive, which includes stops at the home of a childhood friend, an extended nap, and a lot of hip-hop trivia, Carter is candid and hungover. He misses touring, and he's glad the phone is ringing again.
"Back in '85, '86, I was making more than a $100,000 easily," Carter says. "I was taking in around $150,000 just off touring and hip-hop. And that's 1986 money. We'd be hanging with Mike Tyson, partying at the Roxy with Madonna. And I'll be honest, I shared a lot of that money with other people from around the way or whatever. It wasn't like I wanted to have fun by myself."
By the time Whodini released its Greatest Hits album in 1990, it was a foregone conclusion that the time in the spotlight was finished. By 1994, all three members of Whodini were in Atlanta, where they signed with Jermaine Dupri's So So Def label. A decade earlier, Whodini had given an adolescent Dupri his start in the music business when they let him be one of their dancers. The group had high hopes for their So So Def debut Six, but it was a commercial failure.
Carter stayed in Atlanta for two more years after the So So Def deal wound down, leaving only after a run-in with the police outside of Club 112 that left him with a broken arm. After a subsequent stay in Memphis, he moved to Miami briefly before settling in Plantation a year and a half ago.
Carter doesn't remember when tricks became part of his repertoire, but he delighted fans with antics such as scratching records with his sneakers, Chapstick, and anything else he could get his hands on. "The first time I went to Japan, I started doing tricks with the chopsticks," Carter remembers. "I went and got a dozen of them, took four, put them together, and just started scratching the crowds would go crazy when I pulled that one off. I remember we started doing something in the middle of the second tour where, at the end of the show, the group would pick me up with my feet in the air, trying to pull me off stage like, 'Yo, we gotta go,' and they're pulling me away from the turntables but I'm still scratching the records. We were always giving them something different. That's what made our live shows so fun."
Speaking of tricks, one of the original Houdini's most astounding illusions was making a 10,000-pound elephant disappear. Audiences never figured out exactly how a five-ton elephant vanished into thin air, but it bears a special relevance to this juncture in Carter's career. An obvious topic that most people around Whodini these days choose not to discuss is whether there's still room for the group to reemerge in the rap industry with new material. Their stage shows are tight, but the genre as a whole is hurting. The question is: Would audiences even care? That's the five-ton elephant in the room.
"There's a fantastic market for their music right now," Chuck D insists. "Now is a good time for them to make some music, some videos, and use them as advertisement for their live shows. With today's market MP3s, digital downloading all they need is to play their shows, no different than the Dells play shows, and they'll be fine."
Carter can't argue with that, and, in fact, he's hoping his old friend is right.
"Like I always say, if you could last 25 years and still do what you do and love what you do and still eat without a record out, then you've done something right," he says. "Nobody is making music catering to the older crowd. That's where we're going to step in. Not just for us but to save hip-hop as a whole."