E-Feezy is 40 minutes late. Not that it matters. The couch on the second floor of the Marmaduke Building on Fourth Street, where he pays the bills working as a radio personality for B96.5-FM, is comfortable enough. I wait patiently, gulp down what’s left of the Starbucks from this morning, and devour Rolling Stone, wherein Al Gore, Bono and George Clooney remind me, as if I needed reminding, that we live in a screwball country with a screwball president, and that we may be walking around in air-conditioned space suits soon enough if we don’t right our collective ego.
On such a list of worldly doomsday issues, Feezy’s punctuality doesn’t crack the top 50.
I’m about to bail when a glass door swings open, and this redwood tree of a human being shakes my hand and apologizes.
Feezy’s rolling casual in a green and black zip-up jacket, jeans and a silver necklace weighted by an emblem of a baseball player and bat over the words “Heavy Hitter.” He leads me up to the third floor, through a Pacman maze of claustrophobic hallways and sealed rooms marked by station ID numbers, “I’m recording” signs and posters of various rock and R&B stars. We round the sharp corners to his office, and by we, I really refer to him, because I can barely keep up. I don’t think E-Feezy, aka Eric Sanders, ever runs anywhere. He just takes longer strides.
Feezy works in a beige-colored box with no windows that he shares with colleague and longtime B96 jock Mark Gunn. The room is snug for two people, somewhat disheveled, with posters of Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, a couple desktop computers and a stereo component system. Feezy plops down into a wheeled chair, boots up his Sony Vaio laptop and wrestles with one of three cell phones.
You really don’t want this many phones. There’s the T-Mobile Sidekick, on which Feezy answers some of his 500-plus daily e-mails. There’s the Crackberry, aka. the backup. And there’s the iPhone, which mostly stays cocooned in its case. “That’s the bat phone,” he says. “Like, ‘In case of emergency, break glass.’” These phones are the reason Sanders has two managers, an assistant and a publicist.
I ask him where he spins. A man of few words, Sanders slides over to his Compaq monitor and pulls up YouTube footage of him manhandling a pair of Pioneer CDJ electronic turntables in the B96 DJ booth. They’re smaller than a laser disc, but the difference in sound between these and actual wax is damn near indistinguishable.
“You ever DJ on wax?” I ask.
“Yeah,” he says, but CDJs are functional. “They’re lighter.”
He’s been known to take those babies anywhere. Even on vacation, he’ll pop into a record store and buy two CDs to see what aural wizardry he can cook up. A perfect mix — no pun intended — of hobby and profession.
We walk into the control room where another DJ plays a pre-recorded interview with John Fletcher (née Ecstasy) from the New York rap trio Whodini. They’re one of a half-dozen prototype hip-hop acts who stopped in town with the Legends Tour that played Louisville Gardens.
Feezy leaves and quietly closes the door behind him. I walk back to his office. The door is shut. Several minutes tick by, and he finally opens the door, exasperated but free from cellular clutches. For the moment. He has just dealt with a minor complication related to last week’s show by rapper Li’l Wayne at the Gardens. Sanders segues swiftly into generalized thoughts about artists, their handlers and the logistical gymnastics of the urban music world.
“I work with artists from when they’re nothin’,” he says. “Some of them do get Hollywood and act like, ‘Who are you again?’ Then when they’re not on their high roll, they’ll call you back. I’m like, ‘All right, I’m not playing your record.’”
He has that kind of power, and record labels, managers, promoters and artists know it.
“You’ve got so many people coming at you,” he says.
The Sidekick rings again. It’s Rene, Sanders’ contact from Interscope/G-Unit Records. “Where’s your boss at?” Sanders asks, referring to 50 Cent. 50’s in Europe until Christmas, so Sanders and Rene yuk it up for a few moments before Sanders clicks off. “We’re all in the same business.” Sanders’ birthday is Nov. 30 — he won’t reveal his age — and he’s booked a charity bash dubbed the Black Diamond Affair at The Sky Bar at Saints in St. Matthews.
Proceeds from the bash will help buy toys for kids in need, but the megastar power will be hard to ignore, even for a town used to Derby. A-list local, national and, in some cases, international talent will be there. Former UK and NBA hoopster Derek Anderson is scheduled, maybe an NFL player or two, and Sanders’ fellow DJs Kas One and Devine Steele will spin. This is the kind of event Sanders can whip up with a few calls and modest effort, the kind of influence that only comes through persistent dedication.
Sanders was born in Cleveland. By age 13 he was spinning records at bar mitzvahs and house parties. By 14, a high school classmate put him in touch with a promotions department employee of the local rock and hip-hop station 107.9 WENZ. Sanders hung out there every day after school. When the jocks did remote broadcasts at the local mall, he showed up, and they took enough of a liking to the precocious youngster that they gave him an hour radio show on the weekends. No pay, natch.
When he was 21, Sanders answered an open call from Sirius Satellite Radio for DJs to submit mixtapes.
“I thought it was a joke, but I ain’t got nothing to lose,” he says. Sirius wasn’t kidding, and it gave him his own show, “Grindtime Radio,” on Hip Hop Nation Channel 40. “That was my first taste of syndication.”
Sanders is now the host of shows at four radio stations in addition to his Sirius gig: WGZB-B96.5, where he DJs from 7 p.m. to midnight five nights a week; KHTE Hot 96.5 in Little Rock, Ark., WDAI-Kiss 98.5 in Myrtle Beach, S.C. and two shifts at WBFA-101.3-The Beat in Columbus, Ga. All of his shows incorporate the word grind in the title, a reminder of where he’s been and what it took him to get to where he is professionally.
“Sometimes, radio personalities don’t care. They don’t take it seriously,” he says, emphasizing his live, in-studio mantra. “When you’ve been without a job, you don’t like to pre-record. I like to interact with people. My people make my show.
I don’t make my show.”
That could’ve been sufficient. Five stations. National syndication, and unlike some DJs, no second job to juggle. Except Sanders wanted more. That’s where this whole Heavy Hitter business comes in.
At their core, the Heavy Hitters are a group of 36 DJs, artists and record label employees found primarily in urban music. Kanye West is one, as is Funkmaster Flex. Beneath this select company is a hierarchy of crews, called affiliates, who hold sway over much of what’s hot in urban music. When a Heavy Hitter likes an artist, he has the clout, the connections and the ingenuity to turn that frog into a prince. Heavy Hitters can also end careers before they start.
Sanders’ window into Heavy Hitter status opened by way of a New York cat named Enuff, who DJ-ed for the late, great East Coast MC Notorious B.I.G. Sanders met Enuff when he landed a job DJ-ing on the Black Entertainment Television show “106th & Park.”
Sanders had been working his way onto Enuff’s radar for months, handing him mixtapes every day until he got up the nerve to pop the question:
“I wanna be in your crew.”
“No,” Enuff told him. “I don’t even know you.”
Four years later, Enuff tracked Sanders down, and this time, the conversation lasted longer than 10 seconds. Sanders had stations. He had syndication. Basically, Sanders had a resumé.
“Damn, you were for real,” Enuff says. “You been workin’. I’ll call you back.”
“Come to New York. Come to New York Friday.”
It was a Tuesday.
“I spent $1,500 on a red-eye,” Sanders recalls. “I get to New York. I meet with everybody, talking to other Heavy Hitters in the crew. Then I took my ass right back home.”
A couple months later, Sanders was in Louisville when he got the call.
“You’re in the crew.” Suddenly, that hit to his bank account didn’t seem so catastrophic, and he was worrying not about whether he could put his own stamp on hip-hop culture, but how he was gonna handle all of these artists inundating him with promos and imploring him to play their cuts on the air.
“It’s pretty much like a big family,” Sanders says. With benefits. “If I need to get 50 Cent, I can call somebody who’s in my crew, and I can get 50 Cent. I can do a Jay-Z interview. Everybody is placed in places where we can help anybody. It’s major. There’s not one big city that you can’t go in and find a Heavy Hitter there that runs that city. We break records. We make artists who they are today.”
“If you do just something really shady to one of us, we’re in all major markets. If you make one mistake, you might as well just forget every major market. You will not get your record played.”
When he is ecstatic about something, Sanders seizes on it, and lately it’s Nova, a Louisville MC who will be the co-host of Sanders’ charity bash. An artist and producer, Nova wound up on a 50 Cent song, and Sanders has taken him under his wing.
“Nobody knew who he was,” Sanders says, and pops in a CDR and cranks the volume. Nova’s agile, polished metaphors fly from the speakers. “He doesn’t rap about drugs. He doesn’t fall into that. He has a national sound.”
For comparison, Sanders puts on a mix called The Starting Five — five MCs he deems worthy of airplay. Nova’s delivery is instantly noticeable and likable. “If nobody don’t like it, I’m gonna make ’em like it.”
Just what a DJ is supposed to do.
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