Certainly record labels aren't confused. Dart Parker, director of A&R for Eminem-founded Shady Records, said: “I definitely rely on Fake Shore Drive as part of my overall scouting network. I check it out a couple of times a week.” And Sickamore, director of A&R for Def Jam, said: “Andrew is super-credible, and a lot of people, a lot of journalists, can be bought off so cheaply now. But Andrew, he's only talking about what he cares about. Frankly, I'd rather it be (a fan). At least I know it's coming from the right place.”
On a late winter morning, Barber and Howard sat behind their desks, scrolling through their computers, waiting for Young Chop, who was coming in to shoot an MTV segment with Barber. The Fake Shore offices are comically spartan: a remarkable Brantley-painted, graffiti-inspired mural along one wall; a talking Master P doll; some rap posters; a plaque certifying Twista sold 500,000 ring tones; and, in a glass case, custom Fake Shore Adidas given to Barber by Adidas after he co-sponsored an event with Common and Derrick Rose. The rest is: Two glass desks with nothing on them but two Apple laptops, two phones and two speakers.
Howard, 23, was hired by Barber because Barber used to ask trivia questions for Fake Shore contests, and Howard, who briefly ran his own (admittedly minor) rap site, always replied first and with precision. “The funny thing is,” Howard said, “I got into rap by following Fake Shore. Before that, I was way more into pop.”
There was a knock.
“Chop!” Barber yelled.
Young Chop, a mountain of a 19-year-old with a baby face, walked in smiling, breathing lightly.
“Took the stairs?” Barber said.
“Yeah,” Chop said, slumping into a chair opposite Howard, who closed his laptop and shook hands.
“Last time we saw each other,” Barber said, thinking, “you were with 50 Cent, (Young) Jeezy … You still live here?”
They talk as if they've known each other for years, not just the past 12 months; they talk about label commitments, meeting on Facebook (“One day I'm messaging Chop, next he's on a plane to Los Angeles”), Chop's asking price ($1,000 a beat, on the low end), his Twitter account, Lil Wayne's house.
Chop mentioned having breakfast at Diddy's mansion. “Hey, I had breakfast at his house, too,” Barber said. “You at his house in New York or L.A.?”
“Miami,” Chop said.
“How crazy is his Miami place!” Barber said.
“Never know who's gonna be there,” Chop said.
“When I was there,” Barber said, “Fabolous was, like, wading in his pool in leather trunks.”
Barber grew up outside Indianapolis. Initially, he wanted to work in radio. But after graduating from Indiana University, he couldn't get hired in radio — couldn't get a reply from record labels, either. “It felt hopeless,” he said. So he went into ad sales and started Fake Shore partly to fill the gap in his career that was intended to be about music: “But with a day job, I couldn't post as much, couldn't go to as many shows as I liked,” he said. “The first four years (of Fake Shore), I was out really late at shows, getting up really early for meetings. It was a double life: Rap at night, setting up projectors for business clients during the day.”
David Drake, a staff writer at Complex, started the nationally focused rap blog We Eat So Many Shrimp a few years earlier than Barber started Fake Shore. “Back then it felt like there were just five of us (rap bloggers),” he said, “then Andrew arrives and smartly sees an opening: Chicago's so weirdly divided in many ways, and such a huge city without a media machine like New York. The rap scene needed some place to orient itself.”