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Leader of the New School

Adolphus Maples’ new strategy of hometown success is priority one.

It’s the shrewd but affable laugh of a bad boy. Adolphus L. Maples III, also known as Danja Mowf, or just Danja, the 31-year-old owner of Danja Zone Entertainment, has just been asked why it’s so important to stick with his group, The Supafriendz, instead of striking out on his own.

Besides such expected answers as “strength in numbers,” the bottom line, he says with a laugh, is that if you aren’t including people in your projects and sharing your energy with them, “then you can’t really get people to do stuff without paying them.”

Make no mistake, though — the feelings of fidelity are real. Supafriendz is one of the tightest collectives in the state. Combining multiple MCs, DJs, radio celebrities and songwriters, all working loosely under Maples’ Danja Zone Entertainment company, they’re barking at the door of The Neptunes, the Virginia Beach outfit that’s produced tracks for Jay-Z and Snoop Dogg.

Supafriendz came together in 1994, at a radio show on the University of Richmond’s radio station WDCE 90.1-FM, often co-hosted by a then-unknown rapper named Mad Skillz. “UR House Party,” Maples recalls, attracted many of the Supafriendz, including Lil’ Roc, Sean P and Lonnie B. Maples remembers they were all at the movies when Lonnie came up with the name Supafriendz. Their first single, “Vowel Movement,” was released in 1996 on Maples Mowf’s album, “Word of Mowf.”

“It was a pretty cool thing and people were feeling it,” Maples recalls thinking, on his way to the gym on a recent bright fall afternoon. “We were like, ‘Let’s do this ourselves and let the Supafriendz thing pop off.’” Soon they had a full-length album, “The 804 Compilation,” which sold about 8,000 copies with regional promotion and sales. The timing was right for Maples. Local success had just become important to a guy who had already worked with Portsmouth native Missy Elliot. Hip-hop was changing, and Maples knew it.

“We hit a gap when hip-hop changed,” he says. “My goal with ‘804’ was to appeal more to a Richmond hometown market. Hip-hop had gone from emceeing and being about skills to being about material things.”

The Puffy era was here, he says. The time of people like Master P, the young owner of No Limit Records who turned a cult following in New Orleans into a quarter of a billion dollars in personal wealth. Rappers and producers were no longer selling their talents to the big labels. They were selling them directly to the streets — and taking the lion’s share of the profits.

Before Supafriendz, Maples says: “I had albums out all over the world, but Richmond didn’t know about it. It just wasn’t fitting in with what was playing on the radio and in the clubs. From what I could tell the formula was you could be a star in your own area. ... They [record labels] call the record store and they say who’s hot, who’s doing it? ... You can’t even talk to people about what you’re doing if you aren’t doing anything in your area.”

The second Supafriendz compilation, “Supavision,” came out a year ago. One of Maples’s most promising rappers, Jo Doja, plans to release “Doja Boy” in December. And Maples says when his street MC, Mont Gee, comes home from jail in New Kent that same month (serving time for drugs- and firearm-related convictions) they’ll start working on his new album, which he’s been writing in jail.

The key thing about Supafriendz, Maples says, is that it makes his prime goal, local promotion, a lock. In fact, other members of the hip-hop scene are known to gripe about all the attention the Supafriendz member DJ Lonnie B gives the collective on his local music shows on Power 92. “Lonnie’s my ace,” Maples admits.

One of them at least. And word gets around. Other artists want to be with Supafriendz and Danja Zone. “People are wanting to be a part of something they see is working,” Maples says. “Around here nobody is doing nothing. I’m like, dude, I got eight people on the compilation album.” S

Hip-hop in the 804 ...

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