Twenty-six-year-old Robert Hardiman, otherwise known as Realla Rezob, stands outside the Walgreens at 39th Street and Broadway in a plain white T-shirt, the straps of a backpack looped loosely over his slim shoulders. Inside the bag are dozens of CDs tucked into yellow envelopes with slips of white paper detailing the contents.
Hardiman sells these mixes for $5 each and packs them with songs by the same artists whom 16-year-old girls breathlessly request on urban radio: Akon, Cupid, T-Pain and Hurricane Chris. For this mix, Hardiman has also sneaked on his own song. Called "J's," it's an anthem dedicated to Nike Jordan shoes.
When an employee in a Walgreens vest comes outside, she doesn't run off Hardiman for soliciting on store property. Instead, she smiles in recognition and goes back inside to get her purse.
Even though he hasn't recorded an album, Hardiman is well-known on the local hip-hop circuit — mostly because of his tireless efforts to sell homemade mixes on street corners.
Hardiman wins over customers with his easy smile, his come-hither eyes and the tale of his latest success. His song "Smashin'" — a hyperactive, danceable beat with a hook that goes Big wheels on our ride, lookin' fly/We smashin' state to state makin' tycoon moves/In our customized whips when we dips on through — was recently included on a collection of songs at SnoopDoggDemo.com, a Web site that offers music for free download.
Hardiman entered "Smashin'" in a Snoop Dogg mix contest after seeing an ad on the Internet.
"I had to send them $250," he says. "But they still chose it over, like, 250 million other songs."
Though Snoop Dogg's photo was on the Web site, the contest didn't appear to be sanctioned by Snoop Dogg or Geffen Records, Snoop's label. (Several of the site's pages simply read "Coming Soon!")
Still, Hardiman figured the $250 was money well spent. Even if the site didn't stick his song in the middle of a downloadable mix of music, he believed that the site's operators might remember the track and use it for a future mix.
But he didn't receive any hard copies of the CD, something that similar companies promise and deliver. Hardiman might have been better served by simply uploading his song to a MySpace page for free — which he eventually did.
Meanwhile, last month, SnoopDoggDemo.com went dark.
Dewayne Holmes, who works for Geffen's Midwest urban-promotions department, says he is unfamiliar with the Snoop Dogg demo site. "There's a lot of frauds out there, so people have to do their research before they commit to something," he says.
Rappers bump fists and advise one another to stay on their hustle — keep writing rhymes and making beats, keep logging hours in the recording studio, keep selling mixes out of car trunks.
But a swarm of other hustlers waits to skim money from the naïve and the uninitiated. They'll talk novice rappers into paying for slots on tours that fall through or charge a premium to let them open for national acts visiting Kansas City or fleece them for airtime on local radio.
Some of these hustles are illegal, others simply unethical. But all are hurting local artists.
In Anti-Crew's short career, the lucky breaks have outweighed the unlucky ones. The two MCs, Matt Peters and Jeffery Shafer, formed their hip-hop duo in 2000. They rocked mics at the Peanut at Ninth Street and Broadway before they could legally drink at the bar, and they had recorded an album, The Progressive Movement (which earned positive reviews in The Pitch and The Kansas City Star), before they graduated from Lincoln Prep Academy.