It all happened so quickly. Or so it seems. One day Sheed, Meany and Fat were grease monkeys at a makeshift garage in their Bowen Homes neighborhood, the next they were swiftly-rising hip-hop stars, progenitors of a growing musical movement they call ‘‘hood rock.’
But like most overnight successes, Shop Boyz’s rise to fame took many years. Cousins Demetrius “Meany” Hardin and Richard “Fat” Stephens grew up with best friend Rasheed “Sheed” Hightower in the notorious Bankhead area of Atlanta, the stomping ground of some of the city’s most successful hip-hop artists (T.I. and D4L, among them). They worked on cars, hustled, did whatever they could to make ends meet and when their work was done for the day, they turned to their true passion: making music. Their unique, groundbreaking style didn’t go unnoticed. It wasn’t long before a local producer named Richard “Fire” Harris stepped up and offered to make beats for the group -- free of charge. Fresh on his heels was an ear-to-the-street businessman named Brian “Bingo” Ward who took the guys under his wing, put them in his studio and recorded a bevy of songs on them, among them the group’s hit single “Party Like A Rockstar,” a clever, hook-driven joint that is as much about living life with fervor as it is getting your party on.
Within four months of its release, “Party Like A Rockstar” set off a frenzy of activity at radio and clubs throughout the southeast and spread like wildfire across the country. The electrifying song with its contagious hook appeals to the spirited, carefree rocker in all of us – from school children and working class dads to hard-core hip-hoppers and blue-haired, Mohawk-wearing Punk Rockers. From note one, excited fans begin strumming air guitars, crowd surfing and building mosh pits that rival those of any major rock concert. “Rock stars party freely,” says Sheed. “They don’t hold back. That’s the way we like to party.” And it’s the way they like to make music. The guys say the hook to “Party Like A Rockstar” was stuck in Meany’s head for weeks. When he finally shared it with them, they knew it was different, that it was edgy and unlike anything else in the clubs or on the radio. It was the perfect introduction to their unique brand of music. “I think our sound is different,” says Sheed, “because we would listen to what everybody else was doing and we thrived on not doing what everybody else was doing. We didn’t want to be just like them and that’s not disrespecting them but we want to create our own lane, not follow somebody else’s path.” As for their definition of the newly-created sub-genre known as ‘hood rock, Sheed says, ”It’s got energy and a rock feel to it but at the same time it’s all about rocking the club, getting the club charged up. We don’t want to say crunk because we’re not followers of the crunk movement. We’re trying to have our own sound that’s still energetic.”
But in an industry that often encourages imitation over innovation, Shop Boyz knew that coming from a fresh perspective could be risky; still, they were willing to take the plunge. “Sometimes people are afraid to take risks,” says Sheed. “Meany came to us with that hook. He wasn’t scared to say something to us and take that risk and we weren’t afraid to get behind him on it.” And a popular deejay at Bankhead’s famous Pool Palace wasn’t afraid to put it to the test in the club. “We’re just glad that DJ T-Rock decided not to second-guess our music,” Sheed says. “It grew so fast that we were really chasing behind the song,” Meany adds. The song quickly transformed into a phenomenon and took on a life of its own, garnering airplay from Georgia to Texas to New York and everywhere in between. It wasn’t long before Shop Boyz found themselves and their label, ONDECK Records, negotiating a joint venture with Universal Music Group, a move that would truly catapult them beyond their southern boundaries and afford them the opportunity to test their brand in unfamiliar territory. The verdict: a hit is a hit is a hit.
Like their Bankhead brethren, Shop Boyz project a sound and image that appeal to their street comrades but, at the same time, they shun over-the-top vulgarity and shy away from glorifying street life and the trials that accompany it. “We from the streets,” offers Fat, “so if you’re from the streets and I’m from the streets, there ain’t too much I don’t know about. I don’t wanna hear about you not having gas for your car when I can’t pay my rent. I want people to go on another level….If you say you sold drugs, I did too at one point. You stole a bike; I stole a bike at one point too. We come from Bowen Homes and Bowen Homes, at one point, wasn’t the place to be and it’s still like that. But in our music, we don’t have to talk about that. We can take it to another level.”
Shop Boyz’s debut CD, “RockStar Mentality,” is a sampling of the creativity and diversity that go into each and every song that this creative collective churns out. Whether they’re flossing and having fun on a track like “My Car” or showing respect for their ladies on “She Knows,” Shop Boyz tell new stories in new and exciting ways.“Rain Dance,” a sure standout, is bound to inspire some new moves on the dance floor. “It’s a lot of energy,” says Meany. “I think people are gonna like it because you gotta dance to it. It’s another movement.” And a group favorite, “Rollin’,” is a track the guys swear is actually hotter than their blazing “Party Like A Rockstar.” “It’s so next level,” says Meany.