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"They asked me to perform in a big room filled with interns and executives," Speak! says, referring to a series of events in 2011. "It was a setup, but I wasn't going to say no. In between songs, I'd talk shit, like, 'Don't clap for me. ... I know how good I am. I've been good since I was 16. I have a song on the charts.' "
The set bowled over Universal Republic president Avery Lipman, who offered him a contract.
"I asked if he had a plan what to do with me and he had no real answer," Speak! says. "He said I gave off a sense of danger that reminded him of Amy Winehouse and The Geto Boys. I didn't want to hear that. I wanted the guarantee of freedom to create."
Frustration mounting, he returned to the Empire CLS Hotel and drank the entire minibar. Then he hurled it out a four-story window. Shortly thereafter, he blew off the next day of meetings to return to L.A.
While he harbors no regrets, he admits that he could have used the money to help out his parents and fund his "wacky schemes."
But the decision to avoid major-label purgatory might have been the wisest move. Since the release of his debut mixtape, 2011's Inside Out Boy, Speak! has built a cult. After a recent Shlohmo show at the Music Box, I watched a crowd of post-adolescent males swarm him as though he'd just headlined. His Big Cartel page regularly sells out of his self-designed T-shirts. And at the end of the summer, he's releasing his debut commercial album, Gnarly Davidson vs. the Marlboro Man, for Alpha Pup, the label of Low End Theory co-founder Daddy Kev.
"Kids come to my shows now, and I'm getting publishing money. I'm not super wealthy by any means, but I'm no longer the starving artist," Speak! says. "All those clever lines from 'Gucci Gucci' exist in my own songs. It wasn't a fluke. I'm not just a rapper. I know how to write songs."