June 1, 2008 / 5:05 AM / 9 years ago

Florida rapper Plies keeps it "Real" on 2nd album

NEW YORK (Billboard) - Rapper Plies says he's plenty aware of the hip-hop marketplace's short attention span, which is why he's releasing his sophomore album, "Definition of Real," less than a year after his 2007 debut, "The Real Testament."

Due June 10 via Slip-N-Side/Atlantic, the release is heralded by the single "Bust It Baby Part 2" featuring Ne-Yo. The track is No. 2 on Billboard's Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart after just 13 weeks, making it a clear summer hit.

"I strategically work with who I respect as a fellow artist," Plies says. "I met Ne-Yo in California and he told me how big a fan he was of my work and I told him the same about him. Then he blessed me with the 'Bust It Baby Part 2' chorus, which has been the quickest-growing record in my history. I can't thank him enough."

The new album also features guest turns by Trey Songz, the-Dream, Keyshia Cole and J. Holiday.

Born Algernod Washington, Plies was raised in Fort Myers, Florida. The MC was attending the University of Southern Florida in the late '90s while his brother, Ronell "Big Gates" Levatte, was launching hip-hop label Big Gates, and soon found himself in front of the mic.

While struggling to teach one of Big Gates' artists the hook for a song, Plies recorded his own as a demonstration. But Levatte heard it and was impressed enough to offer Plies a deal. He soon broke through with mixtapes that were sold hand-to-hand around Florida and garnered the attention of Slip-N-Slide Records CEO Ted Lucas. Lucas signed Plies in 2004 and two years later brokered a distribution deal with Atlantic for his albums.

'SHAWTY' SCORES

Mainstream recognition arrived in summer 2007 with the single "Shawty" featuring T-Pain, which offered a radio-friendly hook more in the vein of R&B. The track reached No. 2 and No. 9 on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs and Billboard Hot 100 charts, respectively, while "The Real Testament" has sold 498,000 copies in the United States, according to Nielsen SoundScan.

These days it's quite an accomplishment for a rap song to place that high on the charts; Lil Wayne's "Lollipop" recently became the first rap song to reach No. 1 on Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs in almost a year. Hip-hop tracks represented only 34 percent of the top 10 songs on the Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart since January 2007.

And with another hit swiftly climbing the charts, Atlantic is shifting the Plies brand into high gear.

"'Bust It Baby Part 2' has grown a life of its own," product manager Dionne Harper says. "We're going to do a reality show branding the term, a clothing line and a calendar. It'll all be an extension of the 'Bust It Baby' movement and give people insight into Plies and his environment."

Last time around, Plies shot videos for eight songs, which were released every week shortly after "The Real Testament" hit stores. "100 Years" and "Runnin' My Momma Crazy" have collectively amassed more than 4 million plays on YouTube, and Plies' MySpace page, where fans can also view the clips, touts more than 35 million views. Another seven videos were recently shot to help introduce the new album.

As for the "Bust It Baby"-themed reality show, the webisodes depict numerous women competing for Plies' affection, akin to VH1's "Flavor of Love." The rapper is in talks with VH1 and Oprah Winfrey's Oxygen Network for distribution. Mobile company partnerships are still being negotiated.

But despite his success, Plies maintains that he views the entertainment business through wary eyes. "I never want to think this is the only thing I can do," Plies says.

Reuters/Billboard

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