In recent months, Rashad Thomas and his friends in the Columbus hip-hop community needed just one word to express their approval: slapp.
"This sandwich slapps!" Thomas joked, demonstrating the versatility of the word that became the basis for his latest infectious jam.
Thomas called last week from New York, where he was promoting "Lincoln Way Nights," the mixtape he produced for Massillon-born, Brooklyn-based rapper Stalley.
"Slapp" is the lead single. Thomas sings the hook - "I'm in your lane with my light woofers bangin' in the back/ Turn it up, make it slapp!" - a spiraling soul melody that makes a sweet counterpart for the verse's bare-bones funk.
Lately, Thomas has been making it slapp seemingly every time he enters his home studio, the Sugar Shack. His longtime rap group The 3rd dropped ace full-length "Nineteen Seventy Nine" early last year, and he produced last fall's acclaimed "The Measure" for Columbus rapper L.e for the Uncool.
"Lincoln Way Nights," though, may be what finally pushes Thomas into the national spotlight. Stalley is affiliated with Damon Dash and Mos Def. Videos from "Lincoln Way Nights" are getting airtime on MTV Jams.
Ears are perking up at Thomas' production, which combines street-smart grooves, artful sampling and surefooted pop instincts into a vibrant urban landscape.
"I don't want to make a record that 'sounds like now' or can't last or doesn't have any integrity," Thomas said.
Listeners are particularly drawn to that "Slapp" chorus. It's a killer showcase for an R&B pedigree Thomas has been honing since adolescence.
At age 13, a local producer heard Thomas toying with a keyboard at Service Merchandise and offered him studio time. That was in the '90s, before home studio technology was widespread. By the following year, Thomas was recording an album for RCA.
Due to label drama, that album never came out. Deals with Columbia and Universal went nowhere too. Thomas went independent instead, allowing him to release music rapidly and to combine his talents as a singer, rapper and producer.
"I was an R&B singer for the labels," Thomas said. "The hybrid thing wasn't quite in."
He's been on the grind since then, and it looks to be finally paying off. Now he hopes to capitalize on the buzz from "Lincoln Way Nights" with new solo projects and more from The 3rd.
"As much as I love producing for other people, after the Stalley project I'm going to focus on myself for a while," Thomas said. "I don't want to rush it, but I know it has to be out the first half of this year. I definitely want to be able to promote my music this year."