CONTAC'S RIDE IS in desperate need of pimping. The side mirror of his 2002 Nissan Altima has been smashed off.
"Did that happen recently?" I ask.
"Uh," he says, smiling hesitantly.
"The reason I ask, there's a cracked mirror on the street around the corner from Digital City Music."
Contac opens the driver side and laughs. That might well be his mirror, he says. Digital City is where he's worked since 1997, when the West Broadway CD store was still called Classic Records. His wide, gentle features soften as his 5X frame piles in.
"You got to excuse the car," he says, clearing the passenger seat of toys and CDs and tossing them on the baby seat behind him. "I'm a family man. I've got three children." He pronounces the word chirren.
"Got a newborn that's almost two months old. That's why I got to drop the car off to my girl, so she can get the kids, go to Bible study, and everything can go on like a regular Wednesday."
Today is anything but a regular Wednesday for Contac, whose curled braids are still wet. In a few hours, on November 9, 2005, he opens for Atlanta's Young Jeezy, one of the biggest names in rap music, at Myth, the palatial new club in Maplewood. Contac has never been there, or not exactly.
"I been to it when it was a Just For Feet, years and years ago," he says. "I remember when they was going out of business. Everything was on sale, man. Cats was coming back to the Classic Records with shoes for everybody. Like, 'What size you wear?' Everybody had the same K-Swiss."
Like most Contac stories, this one touches on themes close to his heart: community, resourcefulness, and humble good humor on the north side of Minneapolis. Born in Connecticut and raised "over North," Contac is the local rapper everyone knows in his neighborhood, with three albums to his name reflecting the Southern styles favored by customers at the store. "He was the first person in Minneapolis to really start doing bounce and crunk," says B96 host Chuck Chizzle, who grew up with Contac. "And when it wasn't popular to do so. Hand-to-hand, I think he sold something like 4,000 copies of his first CD with no internet sales, no advertisements, nothing."
Contac is also the only local rapper to have collaborated with Kurupt of the Dogg Pound and Lil Jon. He's opened for Black Robb and DMX, and some think he'll headline the big venues himself one day. "But I'm still at the record store," says Contac. "The same place you could have found me five, six years ago. In my mind, I ain't did nothing."
He starts the engine and pulls out of the parking lot, nosing toward the intersection of Cedar and Riverside. We're leaving Contac's home base when he's away from the North Side, the West Bank recording studio he opened nine months ago, ATM ("All for the Money" or "All for the Music"). Located above the Red Sea, where Contac hosts Tuesday hip-hop nights with his partners in ATM, Sandman (Onyx Johnson) and A.K. (Arvesta Kelly, Jr.), the studio is a haven for first-time recording artists. As we speak, a teenager named Come Up is back at ATM laying tracks for a forthcoming CD with his older brother, Get Down.
"We charge $30 an hour, but at the same time we give them input," says Contac. "Because we didn't have studio access when we was coming up. Nowadays Sandman is certified to work Pro Tools." Sandman, who put out his first CD when he was still a senior at North Community High School, has since earned a degree in production from IPR, the Institute of Production and Recording. He's from the North Side, says Contac, while A.K., a former basketball star at Cretin-Derham Hall, is from St. Paul.
"We're trying to bridge the gap between Minneapolis and St. Paul," says Contac. "Breaking bread in ghetto terms is making money together."
Meeting this soft-spoken businessman, born Londell Anderson, you can't help noticing how different he is from the outsized "Smeezy Weezy" persona of his music. Contac's latest album of rippling, clacking party jams, Anutha All Nighta (Lazyeye Entertainment/ATM Recordings), contains his catchiest refrain yet in the line: "I'm the king of the city, man/You bitches bow down/Hail to the king." (He pronounces the last word kaaayng.) The humility evaporates on CD.
"I have to ask," I say, glancing at the baby seat, "when you say you're a pimp on the album, is that for real?"
Contac smiles, and turns to me with his lazy eye.
"It's like this. I'm not no gangster. But I got gangster ways. The average person rapping ain't no pimp. If you was a pimp, you wouldn't be rapping. I just keep it real nutritious, you know what I'm saying?"
"Actually, I have no idea what you're saying."
"Exactly!" he says, laughing. "You know what I'm saying?"
We both laugh at this. Plenty of rappers are coy about criminal activities mentioned in lyrics, but Contac seems genuinely sheepish about being wholesome in real life. "I'm not married," he says. "I've been with my girl for 10 years, but don't tell nobody that." (He later gives permission to print this.) "If I was like B2K, they wouldn't be telling everyone that they married. But at the same time, I am a family man."