Karma Response Unit Records is a growing indie hip-hop label based in Philadelphia that over the past ten years has become a highly respected David amidst a sea of Goliaths. Label founder Happ G came up with a plan in 2009 to release nine projects in ’09 and then ten in ’10. The thought was a good one, but it was a little too much to handle. “I got to the point where ’09 was quickly winding down and I had to say look, that’s ridiculous, 19 is ridiculous.” While the nine in ’09 didn’t happen, Happ G has KRU Records all set to release ten projects in 2010 and this week he sat down with RapReviews to talk about the bold endeavor, as well as the time he used dental floss to promote an album, and his predictions for the next decade in music.

Adam Bernard: Why don’t you start me off with a brief history of KRU Records. When did you start it and who did you start it with?
Happ G: I started Karma Response Unit on July 4th of 2000. Myself and some other close members of my family were having a pretty bad summer in 2000 and one day I was just driving down Broad Street and I was like “aw man, we need the karma response unit,” just thinking about like a karma ambulance. I had been looking for a label name because I had this label up in New York with someone else and long story short there was a little falling out, so basically I was looking for a fresh start with something new. As soon as I said the name I felt that it was deeper than just a name, I felt like I understood the concept on a deep level. At the time I was just getting my feet wet, I had been making beats for a couple years. Me and my boy Scandal were the group 40th Dimension, so really the label, in the beginning two years, was a vehicle, cuz I knew I wanted to release our own records and I understood that it’s good to have a label as well as a group. Over the years it’s grown into a more significant thing besides just that one group.

AB: What were some of your early releases?
HG: The first thing on KRU Records was the “Super Scandalous” single, which dropped, I guess around late 2000. Then we dropped the “Zip It” 12 inch. After that we dropped The Crop Report, which was the first full length album on KRU Records. I mastered that album on 9/11. That was a pretty surreal experience.

AB: When did Jake Lefco become your lead artist?
HG: We put out the “Headphones” 12 inch in 2006 and his first full length album, And You Are?, later that year. We dropped the follow up to that, Missing Trooth, in 2008.

AB: What would you say your greatest success story as a label has been so far?
HG: I think the dopest thing, in my opinion, was that we placed opening theme music on these MTV2 shows called Video Honeys and Video Honeys: In Action. I went through a big learning experience learning how you actually get paid off of stuff like that. I had to get a cue sheet for those shows. The cue sheet has a listing of every single musical bump that’s used in a show, and that show had a ton of them. It lists everybody’s composer, writer, credits and the publishing companies and the amount of time they use it and whatnot, so here it is and it says Snuff, “Countdown” instrumental as the theme music, 30 or 40 seconds, then it goes into some Gangstarr song, then it goes into a Wu-Tang song, I look down, there’s DMX. There were no other people on that cue sheet that were even close to being an independent label or artist. That moment of looking down, and whether I felt like really in my gut at that moment that we belonged or that we sort of snuck in the back door, looking down and seeing our names mixed in amongst that company felt pretty incredible.

AB: I can imagine. Speaking of incredible, tell me about your plan to release ten albums in 2010.
HG: You know, I have to clarify that, it’s not ten albums, it’s ten projects, but they are all at least EP in length. Most of them are full length, but I do just want to clarify that. The first three projects are Side Effect’s album Cabin Fever, Karma Response Unit’s B-Sides 2000-2010, which is gonna be a collection of b-sides, remixes, rarities and exclusive stuff, and then there’s my own Happ G project, not that I’m rhyming on it, but it’s a producer’s project featuring a lot of guests. They’re all coming out March 9th. It is a challenge, and as I get to the end ones there’s still some figuring out of details, but it’s a good personal challenge and it’s got me one week into 2010 really focused and buzzin.

AB: How are you going to ensure, if you’re droppin that many albums, that they all get the proper promotional push?
HG: I’m gonna push them all individually, but I’m also pushing the ten in ’10 idea as a surge that people should pay attention to on the whole. My hope is that it will be more impressive as a series lumped so close together. They’re also in friendly competition with each other. It’s a calculated risk. Even if at the end of this year things haven’t panned out exactly the way I need them to, financially or otherwise, I can be proud that I personally tried to do something by putting these ten things out this year. I’m really proud of these projects, there’s some really good stuff on them.

AB: Didn’t Duck Down group some albums together in the past?
HG: Duck Down did something called the triple threat a few years ago. I think that was with Sean Price’s Monkey Barz, the Buckshot and 9th Wonder album, and the Smif-N-Wessun album, where they had the three covers that linked together with the real dope cover art.

AB: Speaking of marketing concepts, you’ve had some really interesting promotional ideas in the past, like the Jake Lefco dental floss. Anything like that in the works right now?
HG: I don’t know that I’ll ever top that idea. That was sort of the perfect storm, and I have to give a lot of credit to the section of Ego Trip’s Book of Rap Lists on clever promotional items. It just so happened that popped into my head while we were finishing up work on Jake’s Missing Trooth album, so the dental theme just kind of revealed itself. It was that, or toothpaste, or toothbrushes. If you come up with any great ideas, or if any of your readers come up with any great ideas, we’re still battin ideas around. I don’t know… what do you do for ten?

AB: How about you get in touch with the Perfect 10 models and create a Perfect 10 in ’10 promotion.
HG: That would be interesting. That would attract some people.

AB: I hear one promotional avenue you’re using this year is that you’re going to be hooking people up with free music. How are you working that?
HG: We’re giving away a free mp3 every week through our newsletter. All people need to do is click on the 411 link on KRURecords.com and sign up for it. We’re using that to promote the back catalogue of stuff that’s always available as well as some of the upcoming stuff and a handful of exclusive stuff that won’t even be released. I also have one specific project, Happ G’s 44 remixes, that will be available as a free download in four parts.

AB: Finally, what kinds of changes do you foresee in the new decade when it comes to the music industry?
HG: That’s tough to say and it’s scary because these last changes have been crazy. Ultimately, though, people are still gonna buy music in some form or another. They may not buy a CD anymore, they may buy somebody’s t-shirt, they may buy the branding of somebody by going to a concert, or paying for some download. I’m encouraged by the fact that vinyl sales were up last year. I know that’s sort of the throwback thing, but I’m hoping we get to the point where CDs become a throwback thing and they start coming back again and people start to see there is a value to a physical product.

AB: I will ALWAYS have the physical product.
HG: I personally believe in the CDs. All these projects, even the ones that are just digital, there’ll be a few hundred CDs, it’s just a question of if you’re really gonna press a few thousand of them and really invest in that. I personally would love to see a return to that. I would love to be a part of seeing a return to that because honestly that’s people valuing the quality of music whereas now everybody’s attention span’s real short, myself included. The internet’s to blame that. You don’t have to open an encyclopedia anymore, you Google it, you get your quick answer and you move on, and that’s sort of the mentality with everything a little bit more. I don’t want to sound like the crotchety old dude like “back in the day,” but I remember back in high school we used to sit around and listen to albums, all of us together, and now music is isolated, you listen on an iPod, you skip through stuff. Whatever happens with the technological side, I’d love to see a return of people making albums where you can tell they put thought into them. I’d also like to see people returning to chillin out a little bit and having a little bit of an attention span and listening to an album. Damn, I sound like a crotchety old man here. {*laughs*}