Bombing Maneuvers

Bomb Records' David Paul single-handedly created a successful hip-hop magazine, launched artists' careers, and rescued the DJ from obscurity. Now what?

Getting around David Paul's Noe Valley apartment isn't easy. Simply walking through a hallway means maneuvering past dozens of cardboard boxes filled with records and compact discs. Reach the cramped bedroom and you'll find the center of operations for Paul's Bomb Hip-Hop Records. Here, the label's staff waits just past the door marked "office" by a mundane black and gold sign. Present today are the A&R representative, accountant, marketing coordinator, and publicist for this influential label, which is set to release 12 full-length albums this year alone. (By comparison, rap powerhouse Loud Records, home to the Wu-Tang Clan and others, is scheduled to release only seven.)

All these jobs are held by one person. Wearing black jeans as dark as his hair, along with a matching black T-shirt emblazoned with the Bomb logo, Paul explains, "I'm Bomb. I'm the mail person all the way up to the CEO.

"The computer, the fax machine, and the phone. That's pretty much all you need to do a business. You need that and a local post office, and you got somewhere where we can send out UPS packages. That's all you need."

Thirty-one-year-old David Paul has been a hip-hop trendsetter for 10 years; his projects have defined genres and jump-started now-legendary careers. But there's little evidence in his home of an inflated ego. Bomb Records is run out of the apartment in which he grew up with no help, no car, one phone line, and very little money. The office itself is an organizational consultant's nightmare: It's rife with breakdancing videos, storage boxes piled five feet high, crates holding thousands of records, and a decade's worth of rap magazines. The walls are reverently plastered with photos of graffiti art, album covers, and a collection of 45 rpm singles from the likes of Art of Noise, LL Cool J, and Mantronix. Lying on the bed is a paperback copy of Fredric Dannen's music industry expose Hit Men.

David Paul made his first foray into the music industry in 1985, when he became a mobile DJ. Spending many evenings glued to his radio, Paul became enamored with the electro-rap sounds of Egyptian Lover and megamixes from local KSOL DJs Big Bob and Michael Erickson. But Paul wasn't just listening; he was carefully analyzing and taking notice of their advancing DJ'ing methods. "They weren't only playing rap," Paul says. "They were flipping the beats backwards and using fades."

Those listening sessions inspired Paul to become a college radio DJ for City College's KCSF. After making record label connections through the station, he created The Bomb Hip-Hop Magazine, a 10,000-circulation monthly that ran from 1991 to 1996. It began, as most of Paul's projects do, quite modestly.

"I started doing my top 40 to send to [San Francisco-based music industry and chart magazine] Gavin and wrote a paragraph with it about what happened that month," he explains. "It accrued to one sheet front and back, just like The Source did when they came out. The first real issue was actually done cut and paste. Typing on a typewriter, shrinking it down on a photocopy machine, cutting the paragraph, and gluing it together onto the sheet. It was pretty raggedy."

Eventually expanding to about 30 pages, the magazine covered the East Coast rap scene as other magazines did, but it also gave much of its space to a burgeoning West Coast rap community. A then-little-known Los Angeles trio named Cypress Hill was interviewed for The Bomb's debut issue; subsequent editions featured everyone from Ice Cube to the Roots. Although ad sales were hard to come by early on, Paul gained consistent revenue by employing clever tactics with record labels. "I'm sure that other magazines use this trick, but you find big labels like Tommy Boy and be like 'Yo, I'll give you a free ad.' Because if other labels see that Tommy Boy's in there, they'll start running ads," he says with a wide grin.

Although Paul didn't consider himself a journalist, he had an uncanny knack for finding writers who would later flourish in many areas. Examining the former rap monthly's masthead reveals an astounding list of contributors. Among those writing for The Bomb were rapper Peanut Butter Wolf, Los Angeles producer Kutmaster Kurt, DJ Shadow, and the late head of Hollywood Basic Records, David "Funken" Klein. The magazine also served as a breeding ground for future journalists, including Billy Jam (XXL); Cheo Hodari Coker (Los Angeles Times); Jeff "DJ Zen" Chang (San Francisco Bay Guardian and Solesides Records); Joseph "Jazzbo" Patel (Rap Pages); and Spence Dookey (Gavin).

The Bomb was also notable for releasing "flexidiscs" as inserts in various issues. Acting as the informal beginning to Bomb Records, these were the same type of paper-thin 45s that used to come with children's books, or punk rock fanzines. In March 1992, the first flexi included a song by a then-unknown Charizma & Peanut Butter Wolf. Soon after its release, their track inexplicably spent a week as the most-added single on the Gavin rap chart. The second flexidisc contained a track from Dan "The Automator" Nakamura, years before he became recognized for his work with Kool Keith's Dr. Octagon project. "I just thought it would be something cool and different to do," Paul says. "Those were the people that I knew. A lot of those people disappeared, but a lot of them are still around. Like Chris [Peanut Butter Wolf] has Stones Throw and of course, the Automator, he blew up."

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