It’s been two years since the Gray Kid (aka Steve Cooper) linked with World’s Fair management. A steady stream of live gigs in Los Angeles has built his reputation, but it was a parody video that catapulted the artist onto a national scene.
His “PaxilBack,” recorded with fellow L.A. musician/artist Daniel Stessen, has received more than 30,000 views from high placement on such sites as YouTube and Revver. In an ode to the popular anti-depressant, the Gray Kid croons about losing his rent check to “them Pfizer cats” in his best Justin Timberlake impression.
But he’s not out to knock the pop star. Rather, he just wants to show the world that he can strut and dance and rap and sing like the best of today’s megastars. And even better, he can do it on the cheap.
“The parody there is not necessarily meant to be derogatory,” he says. “There are merits to that song. I don’t think pop is a bad word. Pop music is what I want to make. I think there’s a way for something to be in the same peer group as Justin Timberlake and bring people to new [musical] inventions. I’m like, ‘Hey, we’re over here doing that stuff every other day, bro.’ “
Indeed, the success of the “PaxilBack” parody has accelerated label interest in the Gray Kid. So much so that manager and Definitive Jux CEO Amaechi Uzoigwe says World’s Fair is debating whether to make the Gray Kid’s debut CD available at traditional retail or just wait for a label deal to be inked. Right now, the Gray Kid’s “5,6,7,8” is available only on iTunes and CDbaby.
The 11-track album, which slaps together hip-hop with indie rock and R&B (think a bit of Beck, a bit of Buck 65), is loaded with DIY singles. Check the Prince-like falsetto of “Lonely Love,” or the big-band samples that carry “$$$Clip.”
“He’s not Justin Timberlake, he’s not Beck, he’s not Damon Albarn,” Uzoigwe says. “He’s the Gray Kid. Beyond that and further affirmed by the huge success of the ‘PaxilBack’ video, he’s becoming a force of nature on his own, and we’re rethinking our entire approach towards releasing his music, and if a traditional major label is even the right answer.
“We’ve had HBO book him to perform in Las Vegas, Johnny Walker ask him to perform at an exclusive event in Miami and all kinds of other requests. He’s consistently playing live, his album is selling on iTunes and via mail order, and we’re seeing the kind of demand for him that a lot of signed acts aren’t getting.”
The Gray Kid got serious about rapping when his parents bought him a beat machine for his high school graduation, and he went to New York after graduating from the University of Virginia. But it’s been the last two years in Los Angeles where he’s made his connections even if he has not been able to drop his day job as a writer/editor of public policy reports for a Washington, D.C.-based consumer group.
He says he’s following Uzoigwe’s lead on the label meetings and has already “gone through one or two big ones” that weren’t the right place. “But I haven’t caught many monster breaks,” he says. “I could really use Peaches to take me on tour, just something where I could break even for six months.”