AP Daddy's summer vacation
By Carly Carioli
SEPTEMBER 7, 1999: Since taking over as the booking agent for the 3000-seat Palladium club in Worcester -- one of the very few area clubs that regularly books black hip-hop acts -- Jon Peters estimates he's had calls from at least 20 different would-be promoters looking to do business. He'd turned all of them down until a couple of months ago, when a particularly insistent company doing business as AP Daddy Productions persuaded him to rent them the room. Although Peters had his reservations, AP Daddy paid up front and added an extra $1000 as a guarantee that their show -- which was to feature Inspectah Deck and CappaDonna of the brilliant but elusive hip-hop cabal the Wu-Tang Clan -- would draw at least 1000 fans.
AP Daddy Productions, it turned out, was a business recently formed by a handful of teenagers. Originally from Covina, California, they were encamped for the summer in Cambridge, where one of their number, Steve Jeppson, a Harvard undergraduate, had landed a summer job at the Harvard Lampoon. None had even the slightest experience in concert promotion, hip-hop or otherwise.
The story gets even better. After Peters rented the Palladium to AP Daddy, Jeppson called him back with an additional offer. Jeppson claimed to have a bankroll of $800,000 and a hold on the 90,000-seat Los Angeles Coliseum. "He told me for their second show, they wanted to do a hip-hop festival and have me to book the talent," says Peters. "They wanted to do the whole Wu-Tang Clan. They just went down the list of everybody, and they said, 'We'll give you five grand for every one you can score for us.' " Peters passed.
The principal members of AP Daddy are Jeppson, 20; Abel Alvarado, 19; José Sosas, 19; and Mark Davis, 19 -- though, almost like the Wu-Tang themselves, AP Daddy swelled to include a loose web of nearly a dozen cousins, friends, and classmates. With or without Peters, they resolved to put on what would be, if successful, one of the biggest hip-hop shows of all time.
But first came the test run at the Palladium. The idea had originated simply as a way to make some summer money. High-school wrestling buddies Alvarado, Sosas, and Davis were staying at Jeppson's Cambridge apartment for the summer. They fashioned themselves entrepreneurs and had already tried acting as middlemen in deals involving antique porcelain figurines and home computers. Jeppson and Alvarado were working as street-level promoters for a couple of Lansdowne Street clubs, and they quickly noticed the dearth of live hip-hop in Boston. "We decided that we would throw a hip-hop show for a starved market," Jeppson explains.
Jeppson and Sosas hounded labels for the names of the agents representing their favorite hip-hop performers, then hounded agents with phone calls, faxes, and proposals. They phoned every venue in Boston from the FleetCenter on down, and they were turned down everywhere except, eventually, the Palladium. So they turned their attention to securing contracts with CappaDonna and Inspectah Deck. Jeppson and Sosas made two trips to the Wu's home turf -- Staten Island -- to visit CappaDonna and his agent, Mike Caruso, who seemed to take a shine to the young promoters. "He showed us around Park Hills -- that's the projects down there," says Sosas. "We signed the contracts, he took us out to dinner, and we stayed overnight."
"The next morning," recalls Jeppson, "they wanted us to get tattoos and all kinds of crazy stuff. We ended up not getting tattoos but instead having gold teeth [caps] made with 'AP' engraved on them. They really liked that."
The contract they hammered out in Staten Island allowed AP Daddy to present a "Wu-Tang Weekend," including a Friday-night freestyle-MC competition at Boston's Paradise; an in-store signing the next day by Cap, Deck, and the Wu-affiliated Killarmy, who were on the bill as well; and the show itself at the Palladium on Saturday night. Better yet, AP Daddy came away from Staten Island with a tentative plan to put on a concert by the full Wu-Tang Clan at the LA Coliseum, with Caruso offering to act as the pivot man in the negotiations.
On returning to Boston, Jeppson rang the Coliseum. "He acted like we were some big-time guys," recalls Sosas. "He told them that we had the whole Wu-Tang Clan under contract and that we wanted to do an all-day rap festival." Three days later -- even though AP Daddy had yet to put on a single concert -- they got the go-ahead. "We called Mike Caruso," says Sosas, "and we told him, 'All right, we've got the Coliseum -- let's do it.' But we still didn't really think it would happen. Then a couple days later Mike called back, and he was in a room with five or six [Wu-Tang] members, and he told me, 'I'm talking to [Wu mastermind] RZA, he wants to do it, he wants to call it Wu-Tang 2000, and he's really excited about it.'"
With a tentative agreement in place, AP Daddy set about putting together a support line-up featuring some of the biggest names in hip-hop. By mid August, they claimed to have signed contracts from Eminem, Outkast, Busta Rhymes, the Roots, Cypress Hill, the Fugees' Wyclef Jean, and Redman to perform at what they were calling the "Healing Hip-Hop Festival" on October 30. A spokesman for Cara Lewis, one of the biggest agents in hip-hop, confirms that she was in "the initial stages" of working out a deal with AP Daddy.
How did a bunch of undergrads get their hands on more than three-quarters of a million dollars? The Palladium's Peters says AP Daddy told him they'd talked their relatives into pitching in $100,000 each. In essence, the Palladium show would just be a dry run. Even so, Jeppson wasn't taking any chances: to prevent a last-minute cancellation, he'd arranged for Sosas to drive to Staten Island, pick up Cappa and Deck, and deliver them back to Boston on Friday night. AP Daddy's "investors" weren't taking any chances, either: one of them -- namely, Jeppson's father -- flew into Boston to observe.
On the afternoon of the show, CappaDonna, Inspectah Deck, and Killarmy showed up to sign autographs at the hip-hop clothing store Hip Zeppi in Downtown Crossing. The Wu members and their entourage promptly demanded hundreds of dollars worth of free clothes from the store. "It was a disaster," admitted Jeppson several hours later. Eventually, the store owners caved in and gave away a bunch of clothes to the group, with AP Daddy footing part of the bill.
Given that he didn't pay for them, they're barely even Deck's pants. But Caruso's on the phone from the Wu-Tang's Cambridge hotel room insisting that if someone doesn't swap the pants for a larger size, Deck won't have anything to wear to the show tonight. Jeppson and Alvarado, back at the apartment, are incredulous. But Sosas, AP Daddy's representative at the scene, gets on the line and confirms that Deck is currently in his underwear. Sosas commandeers one of the two limos waiting to take the Wu to the Palladium and makes the exchange.
It has started to dawn on Alvarado and Jeppson that perhaps they, too, are about to be taken for a ride.
Later, in the Palladium's ticket office, Jeppson's sister sits at a desk with cash stacked in neat piles while AP Daddy's Mark Davis takes money (tickets are a steep $30) through the box-office window. Hovering over the two is the imposing figure of Caruso. His hair is twisted into tight braids and plastered to his head underneath a bandanna; he wears work boots and large black overalls, and two perfect rows of gold-capped teeth lend a treacherous glint to his face.
At 10:30, the line outside the club, which had stretched for more than a block up Main Street, has dried up. There's somewhere in the neighborhood of 1000 people inside, but fewer than 200 of those paid at the door. Most purchased tickets in advance through Ticketmaster and other retailers. AP Daddy will collect that money in a few days, but right now that means they've got a cash shortage. AP Daddy have only a little over $3000 on hand -- not enough to cover the remainder of Wu-Tang's fee, which is due in full in cash before Cap and Deck take the stage. They're supposed to go on at 11.
Jeppson hits the streets in search of a bank machine and returns with a stack of 20s. "We're all set, right?" asks Jeppson. "Yeah," says Caruso. "I'm just worried about you guys." Caruso then becomes more congenial, telling Jeppson that the chances are "really, really good" that Method Man will agree to appear at their LA show. It is apparent at this point that AP Daddy are going to lose their shirts tonight. But once they've resigned themselves to the loss, there's nothing left to do but enjoy the show, which goes off almost perfectly -- CappaDonna and Inspectah Deck perform an invigorating and lengthy set, with Jeppson, Davis, Sosas, and Alvarado looking on from stage right. "This started out as a way for us to make money this summer," says Jeppson. "But it snowballed into us wanting to try out a bunch of shit in preparation for the big [Coliseum] show -- hotels, limos, video, media -- and we ran up a lot of bills. It's like 'Putting on a Show 101.' And you gotta pay money to go to school."
A few days later, AP Daddy cancel the LA Coliseum show.
"Wu-Tang's cool and we all got along," says Jeppson on the phone from Cambridge. "But from a business standpoint, they're almost impossible to work with, especially on a big show."
After the Palladium show, Jeppson discovers the Wu-Tang have run up a few hundred dollars' worth of room service on the hotel rooms AP Daddy secured for them. The final straw, though, is Jeppson's discovery that members of the Wu's entourage sold a stash of tickets and VIP passes to fans waiting in line outside the Palladium on the night of the show and pocketed the cash, cutting the take at the door on a night when AP Daddy were already losing money. Worse, the Wu did so in sight of one of AP Daddy's main "investors." "They tried to sell tickets and VIP passes to my father," Jeppson says ruefully.
At least AP Daddy can say they got taken to school by the best. It's a crash course lesson in hip-hop they won't soon forget. "Every one of us will agree that it's a hell of a summer vacation," says Jeppson. "It beats the shit out of being over in Cancún, drinking every day out on the beach. We have stories from this we're going to remember forever."
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