With a mixtape earlier this year and his first full-length out now, you might assume rapper Scotty Coles is a newbie. But while he's still getting his name out with appearances at Pittsburgh clubs, the 22-year-old California University student's no stranger to the game, having honed his music and production skills behind the scenes for ten years. He's also been behind the scenes in a different way: The North Hills area, where Coles grew up, isn't particularly known for hip hop. "It's kinda an MTV-type section," admits Coles. "Whatever's on MTV, that's what's cool, that's what's in." But all those years of relative seclusion have proven to be solitary refinement rather than solitary confinement: Coles is jumping into the ring swinging.
Coming from the North Hills, how'd you get started rapping?
My older cousin, he's a DJ -- DJ Sean-Ski. He's been doing stuff forever, and I have some other cousins that were into rap, and they got me into that. I was kinda an oddity out where I live. Like "Oh, he's a rapper, oooh!" It was quiet up there, there wasn't really too much stuff going on, so I was able to stay focused on what I was doing. That's something positive about living up there.
With your album Big Statements, you're really flying solo -- handling the production, artwork and promotion in addition to the rap. Ever wish you had a collaborator?
I definitely wish there was another set of trained ears to help me out when I'm in the process of making music. Like an engineer or something, to give me a hand. ... See, I don't have all that money to be dishing out to people when I can do it myself. I'm a graphic-design major, so why pay someone this amount of money when I can do it myself? I have recording equipment here -- why pay this amount of money to get songs done when I can do it myself? If I had the money to do it, it wouldn't be a problem. But ...
... but school's expensive.
A nice surprise on your record was "Smiling Faces," which samples the Undisputed Truth classic. Is there a story behind that?
People tend to act a certain way towards you, and then behind closed doors, they feel another certain way. That's why I got with the whole "Smiling Faces" thing. It's really nothing personal -- I'm not directing it at anybody, anything like that -- I just had the story and the idea when I heard the song and just put it together like that.
And with "Richard and James," you're narrating a series of adventures. But it's not really a story about two dudes, is it?
If you think of "Richard" and "James," the shorter names for it is "Dick" and "Jimmy." I say that at the very end. So it's kinda like the dick is talking to the condom, in a sense. I'm basically just reinforcing safe sex, and I just kinda put a different twist on it. It has a message, but I was just being goofy that day.
I heard you and your team have been selling records in Baltimore and D.C.
We took a trip up to New York this past summer. It's the birthplace of hip hop, so you might as well see how they do it up there. We banged on a few labels' doors, got the normal shut-downs, all the stuff that comes with the territory. But we sold a couple CDs out there, and we've taken it down to Maryland.
Are you selling them on the street, or in stores?
Quite frankly, I like doing the hand-to-hand stuff. People can actually meet me, and I can let them hear the music right in front of me and see how they react to it. Back when I was still [known as] Quiet Lam, we used to go to North Park -- a lot of people used to hang out down by the lake house. Go there, drive up, pop the trunk and start selling the CDs. We started taking it Downtown, down to Station Square, selling it down there, and on Fifth and Wood.
A lot of your music -- and the press you've received -- emphasize you as this totally professional, together guy. But you're having some fun, right?
I'm not a robot or nothing, if you know what I mean! I go back to Pittsburgh, go out to the clubs, have fun, some typical stuff. But my main thing I want to focus on is music. I've been doing this so long, I'm not gonna start slacking now.
Scotty Coles. 10 p.m. Fri., Nov. 17. Tequila Willies, 1501 Smallman St., Strip District. 412-281-3680 or www.pghnightlife.com