Major hip-hop stories seldom begin in Pittsburgh.
They also rarely involve stories featuring both Jay-Z and Nirvana. And, while we’re at it, it’s rare that Penthouse models, underground mash-up tapes, mid-90s Bronx rappers Camp Lo and New Wave geeks Devo all coalesce in one person’s background.
So, meet Pittsburgh Slim. He’s different. And he’s different at a time when the music industry could really, really use something special and unique. And fun.
Pittsburgh Slim—named after legendary pimp/author Iceberg Slim, as referenced in Jay-Z’s “Kingdom Come” (“Where's Iceberg Slim/he was the coldest cat…”)—was always an anomaly. He rocked the 412, literally. Growing up in the Steel City, Slim had a duel career going, rapping from the age of 12 on…and playing guitar in a variety of post-punk bands, all indebted to the warped noise assaults of Nirvana and Jesus Lizard.
Slim had no problems meshing his two worlds. Apparently, the music world didn’t either, as his first group became the ‘burgh’s go-to opening act for some of rap’s biggest names, including Jurassic 5, Nelly, 50 Cent and Ludacris. When they hit town to play the Pavilion or the Arena, Slim and his crew were inevitably the opening act. They even had a local hit or two – songs that somehow got play on alternative, rock and urban radio.
But Pittsburgh can only lead you so far. Despite his group being, as Slim put it, “the Run-DMC of the city,” it was time to move on. So Slim split, spending his time between New York and Los Angeles, recording, re-inventing himself, making mixtapes, searching for both inspiration and a deal.
Slim wasn’t doing what everyone was doing. He was, in his words, mixing “80s pop, some rock’n’roll flavor, and hip-hop beats.” His reference points ranged from Camp Lo to Devo, from Nirvana to Rihanna. “In a way, I’m kind of like a mash-up artist,” he says. “This isn’t traditional in any sense.” He laughs. “I can rap over a Yaz song or a lunch room table beat.”
[Slim actually has a mixtape—Downtown Wednesday Night—that sees him rapping over everything from the aforementioned Yaz to the Rolling Stones, AC/DC, Lenny Kravitz and Metallica. Good luck finding it…but do check out his MySpace page to hear a not-quite-cleared take on “Smells Like Teen Spirit.” As Slim puts it, “Dave and Courtney cleared the sample for me…but the publishing people didn’t. Oh well.”]
Fortunately, the industry was looking for something new. An old-fashioned bidding war erupted. After receiving three offers from major labels, a last-minute request came in from Jay-Z. “On that Friday, he knew nothing about me,” says Slim. “But he heard my stuff, talked with L.A. Reid over the weekend, and came back with the best offer.”
So, what exactly did they hear in that brief time to elicit such response? You can find the results on Tastemaker, Slim’s major label debut. The album reflects his love of classic hip-hop and rock, and features the work of some of today’s hottest producers (Ski, The Apple Juice Kid, and Versatile). “It’s an album of singles,” says Slim. “No album cuts. This is fun shit for the clubs -- I work my stuff at a higher speed than traditional hip-hop.”
One song you may already know is “Girls Kissing Girls.” It’s the one that caught Jay-Z’s ears – and it’s hard not to hear why, given the song’s relatively simple but brilliant concept, its infectious electro-pop beat and, well, Slim himself, who turns what could be something crass into something funny, sexy and, for lack of better description, “I-can’t-get-this-chorus-out-of-my-head.” [The video, featuring Penthouse cover model Krista Anye, is sort of eye-catching, too.]
“That song is the culmination of my years of rapping…and watching Internet porn,” he says (jokingly?). “Look, I’m not raunchy at all – I’m not Girls Gone Wild or some fratboy motherfucker. I’m a champagne sexy kind of dude…I could date a girl who lives in Soho, a Suicide Girl, or an Eryka Badu coffeeshop type. I just had this great idea for a song, that’s all, and I knew where I wanted it to go.”
So, in the end, who is Pittsburgh Slim? There’s no real comparison, but the rapper offers up one thought. “I think my shit will hit across the board,” he says. “I think the last artist to do that was Eminem.” He pauses. “Hopefully, I can accomplish that, too.”
Currently Pittsburgh Slim is promoting his brand new single "Girls Kiss Girls". Additionally, he is recording a new full length LP entitled "Tastemaker" which is executively produced by Ski, Sonny Cheeba, and The Carter Administration. Expect production from Ski, The Apple Juice Kid, Versatile, and more.