By Melvin Baez
‘A young artist finds business-savvy is crucial to succeed in Hip Hop’
It’s a Thursday night in Worcester, and Paul Rochette, a.k.a. Paulii Rot* (pronounced as ‘Rotten’) is walking the canal street area lined with bars. They are filled with people he is trying to turn into fans. His slender frame is draped in street fashion clothing and his hat is tilted upwards enough for you to see the truth, dedication, and determination radiating from his eyes. He is articulate when he speaks and alert at all times, making note of every person or car that comes, but never breaking thought. This trait is why Paulii Rot* is steadily climbing to the upper echelon of Worcester rap; by being constantly aware of the competition, but always thinking of his next move.
The world is drenched in opportunity; that’s how Paulii Rot* sees it. At 24, Paulii is already a music industry veteran; he is his own artist, manager and everything in between. He is doing everything from recording and performing on spot domestic dates of the 2012 and 2013 international Vans Warped Tour, to getting offers to speak at Berklee College of Music. Paulii is unstoppable.
In the 2005 Kanye West song, “Diamonds from Sierra Leone (Remix),” Jay-Z quips, “I’m not a business man, I’m a business, man.” It looks like Paulii Rot* shares the same sentiment. In an industry that is shrinking, Paulii has found ways other than rapping to generate income. By networking correctly, making connections with people that believe in the Paulii Rot* business, and simultaneously applying what he’s learning to earning more attention as a musician, Paulii is constantly finding new techniques to expand his brand.
But like most businesses worthwhile, Paulii’s career started out of love and chance, before he knew that there were moves to be made. At the urging of his friend, a 10-year-old Paulii began rapping for fun, and then never stopped, developing his rapping all the way through middle school. Paulii rapped on the bus and battled rappers in class, but still, it was for fun; it took his deaf father to show him the true power of music.
At thirteen, Paulii was riding down the street with his father when What’s Luv?, a song by rapper Fat Joe and songstress Ashanti, came on the radio. Because it was one of the very popular songs of the time, it was in heavy rotation. Paulii remembers, “[The] song came on and [my Dad] was like, ‘Wow! This song is very popular!’ It made me understand that even though he’s deaf, you can still understand rhythm and beat, and notice what’s going on.”
Five years down the road, still enthralled with a deep appreciation and love for the art form, Paulii decided to build a makeshift booth in his friend’s basement after he graduated from high school. This is where Paulii first began to record and learn his voice, never with the thought of turning rapping into a career, he says, but more about doing something while he figured out his future.
Six years later and Paulii Rot* has used his love and determination to create and take chances, while never slowing down for anything. Paulii has recorded excessively, networked non-stop, started The Sweet Factory! (a photography/ videography/ sort-of-umbrella company), done countless local shows, gone on the Vans Warped Tour (twice!), become a street representative for internationally known, top selling independent artist, Tech N9ne, and has interned and become a representative for the wildly successful online clothing retailer, Karmaloop.com.
Paulii credits some of his business knowhow to the experience he has gathered by advertising for shows, album releases, and merchandise for Tech N9ne and his label, Strange Music, while still helping maintain a strong online presence. Although it isn’t a paid job, Paulii sees something more valuable and says, “It is building me a beautiful resume and I’m building amazing rapport and friendships with other Strange [Music] affiliates and label mates.”
But Paulii isn’t waiting for a handout; instead he is applying all the tactics he is acquiring towards his brand. By adopting the guerilla style approach of marketing, Paulii is tactically spreading his name around personally and on websites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Soundcloud. Paulii does make it clear that he has other strategies that help him garner attention, but when asked how he does things differently, he coolly responds, “Those are the secrets I can’t tell you.” After exploding into laughter, he quickly suppresses and adds, “You can put that in there,” with a smile and a half chuckle.
What Paulii can say is how he managed to get a position as a representative for Karmaloop.com, an online retail company that focuses on street wear culture. Founded by Greg Selkoe in 2000, the company has grown tremendously; they were projected to have more than $200 million in revenue in 2012.
In August of 2012, fresh off the Warped Tour, Paulii acquired an internship at the company’s location in Boston when he emailed Greg Selkoe directly. He explains that, “[He] set me up to come in for an interview and after that, I had an internship for any position I desired – starting at the bottom of course, but I had access to all the resources I needed to move forward.”
Being an intern landed Paulii a position under Clarissa Lion, who at the time worked in Merchandise Operations, where she worked closely with the company’s 400 plus vendors that included brands such as Adidas, Converse, and Vans.
When asked about Paul, Clarissa had nothing but praises. She said, “Paul’s natural networking ability and unique personal style lent tremendously to the atmosphere there. He’s a genuine, laid-back guy – but he has passion and voice.” Clarissa also adds that, “He never acted entitled. I see him as someone who’s unstoppable. That goes for his music too. He’s talented, original, and understands the music industry.”
But before wowing the staff at the Karmaloop offices, Paulii was already on track to having one of his best years. At the beginning of the year, Paulii turned things up a notch to expand his passion; he had poured all of his savings into a new home recording studio and decided he would begin to learn how to film and edit, in yet another way to become more self sufficient. What Paulii didn’t expect was to lose both of his jobs to some legal troubles, but being as ambitious as he is, he quickly capitalized.
While contemplating what to do next, Paulii found out through social media that Worcester’s own rapper, Quite Nyce, and producer Louie Gonz would be going on the 2012 Vans Warped Tour, an international music festival that is now going on its twentieth year and has boasted previous acts like Kid Rock, Dropkick Murphys, and Eminem. Upon discovering this, Paulii took advantage and contacted the fellow musicians, offering his filming services so that he could sharpen his new craft. They accepted.
Some would be grateful for the opportunity and not think on a larger scale, but not Paulii Rot*. After a few days on the tour, Paulii found the source he needed to get to and networked himself into a position to perform in Boston every single day for the rest of the tour.
After his 2012 run, Paulii made certain to stay in touch with the tour manager, guaranteeing that he would have an available spot to go back to when the 2013 Vans Warped Tour kicked off. And although Paulii’s monetary compensation came from the sale of his own merchandise, he feels that the solidified connections he’s built, like the one with the tour manager, have given him the security and confidence that he could “[tour] three months out of the year if [he] wanted to, for the rest of [his] life.” That is worth its own weight in gold. Because aside from the tour manager, Paulii feels that he has made some connections that will come in handy whenever he decides to embark on a solo tour. “I got people to call, places to go. I got food to eat, a place to sleep, a place to shower, a place to shave; everything.”
But before taking over the country, Paulii must take over the home front, a feat he doesn’t view as daunting, “Because everybody in Worcester over saturates themselves; everybody is playing the part of being the ‘main rapper.’ So I’ve been just separating myself the whole time; and just kind of doing what I want to do. Like, ‘I’m not a rapper dude, I’m just a kid that f*cking skateboards and I just rap too, I also happen to record and put sh*t out.”
Paulii also sees the lack of unity in the city as a problem. Because everyone is fighting for themselves and their immediate peers to be the prominent clique in the city, they are sacrificing the chance of having a major Hip Hop community. Paulii is adamant that some sort of community is important because, “without the support of the other groups in the city, you’re still sh*t in your city. We could create a whole f*cking industry here and people don’t even realize that. [It’s] because they’re so caught up in their own sh*t that they don’t see or care to see that that’s what it could be.”
Although critical of his peers, Paulii is still quick to give praise to people or movements he supports, like “[rap group] GrindHouse, a lot of their shit is f*cking awesome. My boy, Graffiti Fresh is making some noise, DeepBlue [Productions], as always, they’re doing their thing.” Paulii also makes special note of the talented local rapper Killa T for his networking techniques, and is also quick to point towards other talents in the city, like jewelry line, STR&NDS.
Being aware of the city’s talents is where it stops for Paul. He explains, “I have to focus on what I’m doing. I can’t be focused on every single f*cking rapper in Worcester, or else I’m going to be caught up in what they’re doing, and then I won’t have time to focus on my sh*t because I’m so caught up in their sh*t.” Paulii thinks if he instead focuses on himself and the people around him, everything will fall into place soon enough.
Paulii believes in his formula because it has always seemed to work for him. Staying focused and determined has even led him to a new venture. While working one of his side jobs, Paulii encountered an Audiologist that was so intrigued by Paulii, that she offered him an opportunity to speak to her class at Berklee College of Music. She wants him to speak to the students about, “Being an entrepreneur, not giving up, and learning this business side of it like the back of your hand.” Paulii thinks it’s an important thing to know because, “there’s always a way in and a way out; there’s a way to circulate the money that a lot of people don’t know about. And I figured that part out.”
And as far as Paulii Rot* is concerned, at this early stage of his career; he already feels like he’s made it. “When people come up to me, normally the top questions they ask are, ‘Yo, when’s the next video, when’s the next show, when am I going to hear the next song, when are you having a mix tape out?’ If they already look at me as someone as a musical figure- that’s already making it.”
But satisfaction doesn’t stop Paulii Rot* from wanting more, and it’s no problem if there are obstacles. Paulii says, “that’s the way I’ve done everything all my life, is kicking doors in and just being like, ‘Hey this is what I’m doing, and if you don’t like it, I’m doing it anyways’.”
For more on Paulii Rot* visit his Facebook, Twitter, Soundcloud and YouTube.
See below to watch the music video for Paulii Rot*’s song, Fuerza!