For Love and Money

Cali Agents' Rasco and Planet Asia are underground rappers who want to go platinum. You got a problem with that?

Any attempt to do so though must be timed perfectly and carried out with a special mix of business and artistic savvy. Asia, who spent over a year weighing his options before settling on a mega-budget solo deal with Interscope, is taking the transition as carefully as possible. In the opening lines of "Neva Forget," he almost seems to be warning himself of the potential pitfalls of such a move: "I heard you went platinum on your first album/ But tell me this/ Why is it now I heard you only sold about 200,000/ Now what's that telling you/ That your fans was never down/ Got you wondering now/ Maybe I should have stayed underground/ But you can't come back/ Because real rap fans they hate you/ You overdid your image/ Now you can't stay true."

In an even more self-conscious move, Asia's titling his final project before his major label debut Last Stand. After many years of dues-paying in the hip hop wasteland that is Fresno, he's moved to the bay and is now hoping to expand his listening base without alienating his grass-roots following. Through it all though, he's dead set on not catering specifically to any demographic, particularly the backpacker clique.

He often wonders how true a lot of the more politically minded fans are, given their claims of martyrdom to the culture and the so-called original elements of hip hop. "'They're gonna ride the next man's dick just as hard," he observes. "And the next man might not have the same amount of skill, and they just ridin' his shit because he's saying he's hip hop and he's saying he's underground or whatever.

"But we're not trying to shit on the backpacker fan like that either because we're backpack cats too. We're real cats though. Basically it's a balance -- we're trying to tell motherfuckas you can't be too much of anything. You can't be too much a patriot or none of this shit because all this shit is illusion anyway. Taking this shit like it's the most high or something -- hip hop's not the most high."

For both Rasco and Planet Asia, the critical line between artistic legitimacy and industry servitude is drawn over the issue of creative control. Compromise doesn't entail moving a certain number of units, but in listening to people pointing at pie charts when deciding how to present oneself to the public, either in terms of sound or image.

"If I do something and it feels like me and it goes commercial," Rasco says, "then I'm not going to fight that. I want to sell a million records, I'm not going to even lie to you -- I'd love to have a million people listening and supporting what I do. But at the same time, what did you do to get those million is what matters."

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