“We’ve been doing this a long time, we’ve never changed our philosophy or business model,” Paperchase co-founder Dwayne Cross tells me, on a typically rainy Melbourne day. A former Harlem Globetrotter (yep, you read right), Cross runs Paperchase with business partner John Denison. Moving to Oz to continue his hoop dreams, he went on to become a distributor for that bastion of ’90s hip hop clothing FUBU, before being bitten by the music bug. “To see Good Vibrations with Ludacris and Erykah Badu and Nas, and [having] Kanye West headlining Big Day Out shows us there’s a change in the market.” Possibly their biggest and most eclectic event to date, the four-city Supafest 2012 tour will see Diddy, Ice Cube and Lupe Fiasco head down under this coming April. In addition to the previously announced Rick Ross, Trey Songz and Kelly Rowland, Cross promises another five or six names still be added to the bill.
Bringing music superstars and fans together for one big love fest is all well and good but what has Cross all excited, or super excited as he said several times, is the latest Paperchase venture, the Supafest Search for a SupaStar. That’s a lot of supas. A combination artist showcase-concert, the concept picks up where the standard TV talent show format has fallen off in the urban department, providing a major platform for the flourishing Aussie hip hop and R&B scene. “Being in the position I’m in we get hundreds if not thousands of demos and videos from people who want to be the opening acts on Supafest. Because they’re hip hop or R&B artists they feel like they don’t have a chance on Australian Idol or X-Factor or any of these shows.” Several years in the making, the energetic Cross says, “I’ve literally been working on it for the past five years. It’s only become possible now because we’ve had the time and resources.”
The online talent search will be determined by public fan voting before a panel of celebrity judges come in for the semi-finals. It will all culminate on the Supafest tour itself, where the selected artist or group will find themselves on the main stage supporting the international stars on all four tour stops. Getting the star treatment, the burgeoning star will receive a private dressing room, return flights from their hometown to each show and luxury hotel accommodation. While there’s no provision for a massive entourage of hangers-on, the performer is entitled to four Bling Ring passes for their family and friends in each city. “Every year we get more and more enquiries. There’s some crazy, crazy talented kids out there. I thought it would be a great way for us to give people a legitimate chance. We’ll put them in a place right away, put them on Supafest, put them in a limo.” Biggest of all though is a record deal through TOWW/Paperchase Music. Not sitting on the shelf waiting for their time the successful applicant will be taken straight to the studio to record a song, which will be featured on the Supafest 2012 compilation album alongside Diddy and company. “We thought it would be a good opportunity. We want to support local talent. I’d love to see 20,000 people come out to see a local artist.” If all goes to plan this new initiative could see the discovery and creation of a plethora of new stars. Just being involved and associated with the event, even if you don’t reach the finals, can be invaluable as the aforementioned TV talent shows have proven.
Creating a brand associated with delivering big names and building up good will among punters has been integral, Cross explains, to their success and the platform they have now created. “We try to look at as many angles as possible because that’s the only way you’re going to build a brand.” The prospect of assembling a wishlist of superstars is easier said than done. As hip hop and R&B fans in Australia will tell you local tours have a history of epic mismanagement and eventual cancelation. Selecting artists that are relevant for the audience is obviously necessary. “For example Jay-Z is huge in the States and will sell-out Madison Square Garden three or four times over but that doesn’t mean it’ll work over here. You have to be very, very conscious of the market.” Fans who attended the previous Supafest will remember the image of Snoop Dogg, Nelly, Game, Bow Wow and company coming together for the grand finale celebrating the success of the show and the community vibe. Now one of our own will be up there, as an audience of family, friends and compatriots cheer on.