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, 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 (Wyclef Jean, Toby Gad and DJ Toomp, among others). "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 Kiss 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 could date a girl who lives in Soho, a Suicide Girl, or an Eryka Badu coffeeshop type. I'm not a douche bag. 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. "There's very few artists out with that appeal, but I think I can accomplish that, too."