There’s no Hip-Hop Hall of Fame, no archive of hip-hop history in Washington, D.C., but there are record stores. They may be few and far between these days, but they exist, and you don't have to be a crate-digging producer or a hipster to hop into a record store and find something dope.
On my trip across country, I made a stop in the Bay Area and stayed with some friends in SF. Nathan lives in Berkeley, just a few BART stops away from where I was staying, so I hopped on the train and went out to see the bearded one. After touring the Cal campus and seeing a few hippies, we stopped by the famous Amoeba record store. I was in heaven. They have more vinyl in the hip-hop section than my local record store has total; it’s amazing! Anyway, we spent a good hour there mostly nerding out and laughing at covers from the '80s. Amongst the jokes though, we came across something really interesting.
Unplugged? Lil Wayne? Did Lil Wayne do an Unplugged?! Yes, but that’s not what this was. This was a group...called Unplugged...labeled “Cash Money’s first R&B group” and they had a song featuring Lil Wayne? What?!?! I’ve never heard this one! I prided myself on being the Lil Wayne expert of my dorm sophmore year; I thought I had heard every Wayne song ever, but I didn’t know about this one. Shit, I didn’t even know Cash Money had an R&B group, and the record's notes also mentioned an album coming in summer of 2001. Hold up. What? I was clueless and so was Nathan. Between the both of us, two reasonably well-versed rap nerds, we had no idea what this Unplugged business was all about, but we were both now obsessed with finding out the story. We couldn't have dreamed at the time just how deep that story would run.
Once I got home, got settled and shook the rust off, it was time to do what I do best, absurdly investigate random rap shit. I set out, determined to learn the whole story behind this mysterious Lil Wayne record and what happened to Cash Money’s forgotten R&B group. It wasn't that long ago, how hard could it be?
Surprisingly hard. I searched for Unplugged “Anything You Want” but only came across a song titled, “Official Feat. Lil' Wayne - Anything 4 U.” I was skeptical that this was the same record, but once I hit play I knew it right away. This was it. That beat, that glossy, radio ready R&B/hip-hop sound screamed early 2000 radio song. I could hear this at my middle school dance right after Blackstreet and Next. Obviously the person who posted the song mislabeled it. The song was called “Anything You Want,” not “Anything 4 U,” and the group was Unplugged, not Official. I was off and running.
Except when I went to research this Unplugged group, I couldn't find much. That’s because in 2001, after being signed to Cash Money they were renamed Official. Once that was obvious, the flood gates opened. Take a look at this MTV article from 2001.
Cash Money Records CEOs Bryan “Baby” Williams and his brother Ronald, a.k.a. Slim, hope to add to their list of millionaires with their first R&B act, Official. The down-South label plans to release Official’s debut, Telling Our Story, on August 8, and the Philly-based unit of Ralph Boykins, Edward “Edie Kane” Pack, Kairi Guinn, Solomon Boyd and Damon “Stormy Dai” Miller. The quintet didn’t start recording overnight, however. Official first hit the road with the Cash Money clique on their many tours (including five outings in 2000), and they had a few things to learn as well. “It took us three or four months to get in the studio,” Edie said. “They had us learning what to do on video sets and what being in videos was like. You might catch a glimpse of us in [B.G.’s] ’Bling Bling’ video if you look real hard.”
So I looked real hard at B.G.’s "Bling Bling," but it’s pretty blurry. No real answers there, so I went back to square one and the clue I needed was already in “Anything You Want." I had missed it at first, but there it was. Listen closely to Wayne. In the beginning and in the last half of his verse, he refers to his label mates as Unplugged, not Official. That's insane. You mean to tell me on the group’s debut single, nobody at Cash Money realized (or cared) that Wayne was using their old name? Really?! We should have known they were doomed from the start.
It took some digging to find out that Finkle is Einhorn Official is Unplugged, but now that I knew, what could I find out now knowing they were one in the same?
From the sound of that article, they had been working with Cash Money for a few years, so I set out to see what Cash Money was up to at the time. In January of 2000, a year and some change before Official was officially Official, Cash Money made a movie called Baller Blockers. Basically, it’s like Get Rich Or Die Trying only much more low budget and starring B.G. instead of 50 Cent. It’s reflective of that era, when straight to DVD, behind-the-scenes street movies were a pretty popular method of getting a buzz. The movie is amazing, and by amazing I mean so awful, so low budget, so terrible, it’s amazing. You can buy a brand new copy for a cool $129.46 on Amazon, or you could just watch it for free on YouTube. I highly suggest the latter. It features some really great scenes with Wayne, Birdman, Slim and a few other faces you know and love.
I could spend hours pouring over the amazingness of this little gem, but that’s another article for another time (stay tuned). For now, it’s all about Official. What do they have to do with perhaps the greatest cinematic achievement since Citizen Kane? Glad you asked. Naturally, there was a Cash Money soundtrack to go with this Cash Money movie. The Baller Blockin soundtrack features cuts from Weezy, B.G., UGK and a little group called...Unplugged. BOOM! I had found even more of their music.
If you’ll kindly take a look at the tracklist for the soundtrack you’ll see that Unplugged (AKA Offcial) has two songs on the soundtrack. The first is “I Don’t Know” and like “Anything You Want,” it features a young Lil Wayne.
The second is a Unplugged/Official solo record, “Don’t Cry.”
We’re not done yet. Unplugged had one more song before they made the switch to Official. In December of 2000, just a few months after the September release of Baller Blockin’, they were featured on Lil Wayne’s second album, Lights Out, specifically on the cut “Break Me Off,” which also features the Big Tymers.
So within within a year, they had released four songs - three of which came with Cash Money’s future attached - had vinyls pressed and even had a full page ad in the July 2001 issue of The Source. A name change, a Lil Wayne-assisted debut single, an official announcement and an MTV article? They were ready.
And then....they disappeared.
If they were primed to go, what the hell happened? Where is the album? I can't find it anywhere, I don't think it ever even dropped. Suddenly I was in another black hole with more tabs open than a trendy Manhattan bar. I needed to get the whole story. If they couldn’t tell their own story, I wanted to be the one who did. So I set out to internet stalk and internet stalk I did.
I turned over every stone for any information about the original members. Searches for Ralph Boykins, Edward “Edie Kane” Pack and Solomon Boyd came up empty. I found a lead on Kairi Guinn, a phone number on his resume published online, but it turned out to be a dead end. A call only resulted in a lady very confused about how I got her number. The group's producer, Damon “Stormy Dai” Miller, seems to be the only one who has internet presence, but it's not a good one. Stormy Dai is the only member of the the group not from Philadelphia, according to that MTV article he hails from Ohio. Well, I came across this 2009 court document from the court of appeals in Lucas County, Ohio, for one Damon Miller. Next, I searched even more and found this article from 2008. Yikes. In just a few short years, Miller went from being the next big thing in R&B to serving time; this story took a heavy turn. I was ready to makes some jokes about their furry hooded sweatshirts, drop some nostalgia bombs and call it a day. I wasn't ready for a fall from grace story. Still, out of hope it wasn’t actually him, I wasn’t convinced. It could easily be a different Damon Miller in prison. That’s when I stumbeed across a Facebook page for a music group called Felonation, which lead me to their website and a bio:
Felonation Musik Group was founded by Jeremy "F1" Phillips in January 2012 while serving his 6th year of an 8 year sentence for a first degree drug trafficking charge. With the help of his close friend, super producer, and ex-Cash Money Records artist Stormy Dai, F1 set out to do what everyone said couldn't be done ... make quality music while incarcerated and get it out to the streets.While Stormy Dai is currently serving a 25 year sentence for a crime he didn't even commit, F1 is preparing for his highly anticipated homecoming in the summer of 2015. Until his release, we will continue to distribute the music that so many risked their jobs to get to the streets.
So...yeah...that's him, and that’s where I’m at now. In all my research I've only created more new questions than answers. How can it be that a group of people seemingly disappear from the public eye so easily? Not one trace of them anywhere. I also couldn’t help but think about the way Cash Money looks now. With Lil Wayne’s current situation and Young Thug’s deal, we’ve seen how Birdman operates. What if Official was the first example of him displaying his absolute power? How easy would it have been to shut down the Cash Money R&B venture and simply move on with no Twitter, no TMZ, no DJBooth there to document every single step of the ugly process? What happened to that album? How did the go from the next big thing to fallen off the face of the earth in a matter of months? Where is this album?
I'm still searching for those answers. I'm working to contact all of the group members, get the story straight from the people involved and just recieved the following message from the contact for Stormy Dai:
"Yes i can, give me a little bit since hes currently locked up and they got shipped out to different facilitys for making music behind prison walls. but i will be in contact with you next week and will be able to give you more info on how to get at him. thank you for your interest in stormy dai and the felonation movement respects you for this very much.”
It all started with an idle trip to the record store and jokes, and now here I am, facing a future in which I'm interviewing a man in prison about how he came so close to a completely different life, and where things went so wrong. If and when that interview does happen, I'll be sure to piece it together and post it here. There have to be so many of these stories, countless Officials lost to the fog of history. I won't be able to tell every story, but I'm going to try to tell this story.
[Lucas Garrison is a writer for DJBooth.net. His favorite album is “College Dropout,” but you can also tweet him your favorite Migos songs at @LucasDJBooth.]