Music: Pimpin' Ain't Easy

Czar*Nok, Cincinnati's first Rap group to sign with a major label, talk about doing it 'That One Way'

Jonathan Mannion

Cincinnati-bred duo Czar*Nok anticipate that their major-label debut, That One Way, helps put the Cincy Rap scene on the map.

When baby Snoop Dogg was learning to form sentences, Max Julien, the quintessential mack (The Mack, Cleopatra Jones), was the first to utter, "Yo' bitch chose me," and laid his pimp hand down in Hollywood. Given that, if he christens your album with an intro rap, you could catapult to pimpin' status just by association.

"This is Max Julien, aka 'Goldie.' I wanna tell you about my family from Cincinnati Oh-high-HO!" he announces, before he delivers a one-minute rap so vivid it could be a movie trailer. A crack of thunder nearly drowns out distant howls of police sirens; crispy AM Soul croons underneath a persistent, tapping snare as if demanding, "Open up and listen." Goldie raps on.

"I wanna tell you about two baby boys in a hood like yours," he says, introducing Forest Park's own aspiring hustlers, Czar*Nok, who are Hayczar (also Jimmy Haze), 28, and E-Nok (also Huey P), 27. As Cincinnati's first Rap group ever signed to a major label, Capitol Records' duo Czar*Nok shares the Queen City's code of the street — "That one way" — a vernacular that means, "by any means necessary." Sharing Capitol's Urban Music roster with names like Snoop Dogg and Chingy, the tunnel-visioned method of "that one way" worked well for Hayczar and E-Nok. It's also the title of their anticipated debut album.

Haze makes it clear: "That's what Cincinnati is gettin' off right now — we gon' be on this map, by any means necessary: that one way." While buzz around Cincinnati is still building, it's impressive to see how far they've come in only a matter of months. In February, some noticed Czar*Nok's song, "Beauty Queen," on the Coach Carter soundtrack. By July, anyone who watched BET noticed "Pimp Tight" rotated among Bow Wow and R Kelly. And thanks to J. Jesse's charismatic video that catches the pair strutting in razor-sharp suits in front of Coconut Grove, locally, people can finally match faces with the music.

"The love is changing because people are getting to see what the grind is getting us," Hayczar says.

"We appreciate all the coverage and support, 'cause it's a grind," E-Nok says. "We still got a long way to go, so we gon' need the city to be behind us — all the way."

Traditionally with urban music, the best way to know if you've got a hit is to head straight for the 'hood and listen to the sounds emanating from car stereos, open windows and children singing. Although these are signs that can go unnoticed, sometimes they're a better gauge of the streets than Billboard, which currently has "Pimp Tight" at No. 64 on the Urban Singles chart. In their hometown, the streets are listening to Czar*Nok.

Before Czar*Nok pushed their weight toward Capitol Records, E-Nok says they traveled and performed whenever possible.

"We hardly was ever here, even before the deal with Capitol," he says, as he describes going to large block-party festivals like Freaknik that attracted carloads of people who drove for hours to people-watch. "If Freaknik was jumpin', we was there tryin' to get shit crackin'. Even though this was our homebase, we was always hittin' the road."

Both inspired by the self-narrative, "hustlin'-in-these-streets" flow and Funk-inflected music of duos like UGK and Eightball & MJG, their drive eventually caught the attention of a man they'd known and admired since they were children, Los Vegas, CEO of the locally owned and operated, Locdown Records.

"I had a gig at Enterprise that I was workin' real tough and Los Vegas pulled up one day and I sold him the CD for $10 and, like, the next day, it went down," Hayczar says. In two weeks, Los Vegas built the guys a recording studio, paid them an advance of $3,000 and took them to Nashville to begin showing Hayczar and E-Nok off to other industry representatives.

Soon Los Vegas helped them "flood the 'hood" with promotional mix CDs, and one featured a track recorded with Bun B of UGK that DJ Diamond (of WIZF) helped break to nightclub audiences. The pair also performed regularly at area spots like Illusions (Annie's), The Ritz, Cicero's and InTown. Once signed to Capitol, they traveled to spot-dates with national acts like T.I., Choppa and The Franchise Boyz.

That One Way reflects the multi-faceted Midwest sound. E-Nok says that like Twista, one of Chicago's most cross-genre artists, they plan to represent the Midwest and still appeal to listeners from coast to coast. Hayczar and E-Nok's fluid, push-and-pull flow balances heavy, head-busting tracks like "Throw Me That Pack" (featuring the original underground kings of Crunk music, Three 6 Mafia) with the sensitivity of old-school harmony and one of Kanye West's patented, punch-in-punch-out Soul loops on "Time To See."

Although That One Way tends to drip the glamorous life, Hayczar and E-Nok relate with the economic frustration seen in neighborhoods all over Cincinnati, especially in places like Forest Park, where well-manicured homes can fool people into believing that poverty only exists within the inner city. "As far as the 'hood in Forest Park, they been havin' Section 8 as far back as I can remember," says E-Nok. "Muthafuckas are strugglin' out there; everybody's house ain't big. It's a lot of homes out there where ain't no food in the refrigerator."

But to encourage other rappers who want to be in their shoes, Hayczar says, "Having a good rap partner or some good niggas with you, that always gets you closer to your goals. You can't do nothin' in this world by yourself. Especially starting in a business like this. And that's one thing that me and 'Nok did; we was always there for each other. If one person is feeling like it's over for the music, the other person's gotta pick him up, you know what I'm sayin'?"

CZAR*NOK's That One Way hits stores Aug. 30.

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