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"What You Know" peaked at No. 3 on the Billboard singles chart, earned platinum certification for shipping 1 million copies, and helped make T.I.'s fourth album, King, his biggest-selling full-length to date.
But "What You Know" turned out to be a mixed blessing. As they achieved their greatest success together, Toomp and T.I. were slowly drifting apart. When the two had worked in the studio together, they argued more and more over creative details. Now, they were hardly communicating; Toomp wasn't really producing T.I. anymore – just providing him with beats.
There also were money issues. After mentoring T.I. as an artist, Toomp hadn't reaped the full financial benefits of effectively launching T.I.'s career.
"I actually took dude under my wing and changed his life. I did the same for Jason Geter," Toomp says. "Me and Tip never [signed a contract] as far as, 'Hey, I'm discovering you, I'm about to change your life. Why don't I get at least 20 percent of something, whether you're doing movies, on stage, or whatever?' That wasn't the issue when I met him. It was the fact that, 'I like your rapping, you love my beats, let's see what happens.' I never did any paperwork."
As he now puts it, "It was a learning process."
Geter, who's remained T.I.'s business partner and close friend since Toomp introduced them in 1999, says he and others tried to create a label and production deal for Toomp with Atlantic Records. But nothing came of it.
"When I look back on it right now – I'm like, for real – I wish we had all sat down," Geter says. "I have no doubt in my mind that he feels the same way. I'm sure he's frustrated ... but at the end of the day, I'm sure he's still got love for us."
In September, after a trip to Las Vegas where he appeared with Kanye West on MTV's "TRL" and at the Video Music Awards, Toomp sits in a spartan, slightly claustrophobic studio in west Atlanta. He's surrounded by equipment, including a mixing console, a pair of turntables and an ASR-10 sampling keyboard. There's a small couch for visitors, and an office chair that Toomp uses. When he twirls around, the chair makes a loud squeak.
He still fixes his own gear, which looks slightly battered from years of use. A wealthy man at this point who says he's "getting into real estate," he likes working behind the scenes, even to the consternation of his staff.
"Now, even with my management, man, they had to get on my case, like, 'We've got to get your face out there,'" he says. "I don't want everyone to know what I do. I like to pull up on the scene and make you wonder, 'Who's dude? Dang, he just pulled up ... who's this? Why did they let him in?' I like that mystique."
Bernard Parks Jr. has been Toomp's friend since the sixth grade and started managing him in 2004. "He's not comfortable taking the spotlight," Parks says. "But if you sit there and talk to him, he'll give it to you."
Few people can claim to have had a legitimate role in Atlanta's ultracompetitive urban music world for as long as Toomp has. He knew Ludacris when he was just Chris "Luva Luva" Bridges, a popular radio jock on V-103 (WVEE-FM 103.3). Long before his 2006 worldwide hit "Crazy," Cee-Lo used to go to Toomp's house as a teenager to watch him DJ. And, years before Lil Jon became the king of crunk, Toomp produced his first hit single, 1997's "Shawty Freak a Lil Sumtin'."
On a BlackBerry message, Ludacris calls Toomp "a man who has overly paid his dues in the industry over the past two decades."
"The thing I respect about him is that in an industry of bullshitters, his word is his bond and he doesn't let negative distractions get in the way of his focus," the Atlanta-based rapper says. "The best work from DJ Toomp is yet to come."
Given the odds, Toomp's ability to stay relevant for two decades is a remarkable achievement. "Hip-hop will retire you when you become a certain age," he cautions. "There's no age on a beat. When you see an artist, you can tell when an artist is getting old. ... But I don't have to perform. I just have to keep my music young."
That staying power has paid off with increasingly high-profile gigs. Between 2004 and 2006, he made beats for Ludacris, Pastor Troy and Young Jeezy, but none of those had the impact of his long working relationship with T.I. Years of cranking out gangsta beats in relative anonymity finally paid off after "What You Know" blew up in 2006. Def Jam, the leading force in the rap industry, offered a production deal calling for Toomp to create 10 to 20 songs for the label roster.
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