Sheek Louch, Super Mario and his D-Block soldiers are cruising around the technicians' convention in Las Vegas. "You the one," the DJs shout. "I get so much industry love," boasts Sheek. "The streets want it now." As 'hood legend has it, once the tallest of the LOX trio started blazing mix tapes with his freestyles, people started asking about a solo project. He was #1 on every DJ's mix tape. The silent ex-Ruff Ryder started to think, "They must really want a Sheek project." So Sheek was like, "OK," and he and NYC's Hot 97 Cocoa Chanelle delivered the goods, his first single "OK" off his full-length Walk With Me.
"Jadakiss did his. Styles did his. I never planned on doing this. I was good with The LOX, helping Styles and Kiss with theirs. I really wanted to start the label, D-Block and get that jumping, purchase a studio, get some artists and get behind a big table like this," Sheek explains, sitting at a large table in a conference room at Universal Records' midtown Manhattan offices. "The solo thing wasn't in my plans, but the streets were asking for it."
With Styles locked down and Jadakiss popping up on many remixes, Sheek has always been on permanent DL. Quiet in interviews, Sheek's more business-minded than ego-guided. "I'm on that 'let-me-get-in-the- back-of-this-and-make- something-bigger-happen-than-on-stage everyday.' I wanted that other kind of big check that I see these cats walking around here in suits with," Sheek points out, nodding at the execs in the Universal office halls. "Just watching the Puffs and these cats making big moves, I started to realize they getting the real paper. We rapping but they getting them chips. Making big things happen. They got the big houses and big cars and we get our advances. They getting the real percentages of everything. It wasn't no Einstein. It was simple mathematics."
So Super Mario walked Sheek into a bunch of meetings. The plan was to sell their idea of D-Block the label, with Sheek's solo project as the first release, then J-Hood's. Only after they sat with Charles Suitt (Lost Boyz, Canibus) at Universal Records did they find the perfect fit. "They made us feel real comfortable about our music," shares Sheek. "They understood our music and what was going on in the streets. A lot of labels wanted our label and my solo project but we turned them down. The money was there but they didn't understand the vision."
The blueprint: D-Block belongs to the LOX and their crew. There are no A&Rs. Everyone executive produces, a.k.a. molds their projects. First up, Sheek's Walk With Me, which chronicles his whole path, career, ups, downs. Sure, Joe Budden wanted the title for his debut, but Mario hollered at Clue and Skane and, good lookin', Joe switched it up. To Joe, the phrase wasn't as deep for him as it was for Sheek. Sheek enlists Alchemist, Twinz, Rocwilder, Green Lantern and Cocoa Chanelle as producers. "I didn't go the route of the Neptunes," Sheek relays. "I don't want my album so manufactured that you can guess what song is coming next. If you had a hot beat, I'm going to get at you. Some producers, like the Neptunes are stars themselves. I want something to complement each other. That's how I went about this album." Then comes J-Hood, then another LOX CD and on and on.
Sheek is no rookie to this rap game. What's he learned from his LOX life? "The whole Puff situation, of course, that was a learning experience. We got there. Big was there. Craig Mack. Then getting off Bad Boy, because that was unheard of at the time. Puff goes hard. He's strong in the business world with lawyers. To be that young and to have to go through lawyer work and paper work that you really don't understand. It was critical for us. We were nowhere near to go to war with him with money, and you don't want to sit in court with him." As proof that Puff's an excellent paper gangster, scan the credits on Sheek's current publishing and you'll find Justin Combs Pub. (named after P. Diddy's son) listed. "He still got his hands all over us," sighs Sheeks. "He still touching us up. He's still feeling on us from far. We learned a lot dealing with Puff. We're off [his label] but everybody got their hands in everything. He got some of our publishing. He's ready to give back a lot of it 'cause we've grown and progressed. He's willing to negotiate right now. I did a remix on the Loon album for "What You Want." He's with it. He's also with Universal right now. There's no beef with him. It's all love. I'm proud of him. He's proud of us."
Sheek, besides trying to get over to Japan and successfully distributing D-Block baby tees, is focused, man on taking that Roc-A-Fella money, and making D-Block the next Def Jam. "I'm trying to grow this label. They say you only have a three-year run. So I want to grow and be around, be a major on that map. Right now I'm learning a lot because I'm CEO and rapper on this label. Everything's not going to go your way. You're going to have to meet in the middle of something. You're going to give and take. You're going to come off on top and sometimes on the bottom. But you have to keep going strong. Keep bangin' out and do what you have to do."