At this point in their career, it's safe to assume Orlando hip-hop production duo the Runners are sitting next to your favorite rapper right now. On this muggy Saturday afternoon in Miami, Dru Brett, 22, and Mayne Zayne, 21, are in the studio blaring the next hot single that no one has heard yet. Nodding his head next to them is Lil' Wayne, the hottest A-lister since a certain Def Jam president retired, and it's still early.
"Birdman's on the way," says Brett, referring to the Cash Money Records co-founder. It's fair to say no hip-hop artist in Central Florida has ever had a day quite like this, and the Runners are only working — they cameo in music videos on their days off.
A mere three years ago, the Runners were formed in Orlando when Brett and Zayne, friends from preschool, agreed to enter the world of music production in which computers and ingenuity combine to create a backdrop on which a rapper can go crazy.
"We knew we needed to get hot really, really quick and we knew Orlando was a great place to start," says Brett. "If we had started in Miami, I don't know if we'd be where we are today."
They happened upon a style that combined today's white-hot, chopped-and-screwed Houston sound with the grandiose and gritty sound of yesterday's New York, and found a champion in local radio star DJ Nasty, who inched the door open just enough for a couple of struggling kids.
"Nasty knew what we had was gold so he didn't have a problem putting his name on the line," says Brett. "Before that, we would send over the same records and they wouldn't get listened to."
The first major artist to take notice was Fat Joe. Coming off the biggest hit of his career with "Lean Back," he was willing to turn over any rock to find his follow-up magic. He saw something in the Runners and purchased "Does Anybody Know," a sped-up rocker beat, in the hopes that the duo was his ticket to another smash. He was half-right. They were only moments away from creating their breakthrough, but it would end up in the hands of another hefty MC: Miami's Rick Ross.
Painting an insistent picture of Miami as darker and infinitely less flashy than is assumed, Ross and the Runners created a behind-the-scenes Florida masterpiece. "Everybody had ‘Hustlin','" says Brett. "T.I.'s people had `the beat`, Young Jeezy … no one was biting on it. Rick Ross grasped it, and he ran with it."
In a few short months, Brett and Zayne would become one of the most commercially successful hip-hop acts ever to come out of Orlando, and they don't even rap.
"‘Hustlin'' made Rick Ross," says Tom Breihan of the Village Voice. Breihan's blog, Status Ain't Hood, maintains a resolute finger on the pulse of hip-hop, and he likes what he's heard from the Runners. "It turned `Ross` from a second string gangsta-bounce guy into an honest-to-god contender.
"Ninety percent of the reason is the beat, which is hard and busy and cinematic and epic; it makes everything around it sound bigger," says Breihan. "You hear these things in a club and they just rearrange your brain."
And the Runners keep running. In the next year, they will get a second shot at a Fat Joe chart-topper, as well as providing music for Beyoncé, Ludacris, Cam'ron, Miami up-and-comer DJ Khaled, and Lil' Wayne protégé Currency. They insist their sound, sometimes criticized for its transparent Houston influence, is evolving as we speak.
"People have no clue about our R&B side," says Brett. "You'll hear a change. "I don't think we'll ever be able to step back and say, ‘We made it,' until we're at the very top of the game," insists Brett. "We're nonstop workers. We're hustlers."
Nearly a week has been spent down South collecting and perfecting the songs that will surely saturate radio months from now, and Lil' Wayne leaves happy. The Runners, full of youth, hunger and elaborately detailed plans for a future no one can ever plan for, are lost in thought. In a business that sees a new sound — and along with it the bandwagon — an average of once a year, the Runners can either enjoy their time on top and hope to carve a niche, or continue to progress and join an extremely elite group of super-producers.
Staring this daunting task in the face, Brett says to Zayne energetically, "We need more singles."firstname.lastname@example.org