A new phenomenon for online US street drama has taken off big time over the last 12 months. Think homemade versions of The Wire depicting life on the streets of Brooklyn, Harlem and the Bronx. Some of the leading shows like 'Money & Violence', 'Respect Life' and 'The Terms' have all raked in thousands of hits, but you'll not find a show quite as dramatic and well put together as 'Rockboy Empire'.
Here I talk to Rockboy Empire creator, boss and leading character Meatloaf Scalesa "I look at myself as a black-rock star, literally". A real character both in front of and behind the camera his unique style and love for high-end fashion alongside a panache for custom Harley Davidson bikes puts 'Loaf', and the show literally in a lane of its own.
Hi Loaf. Straight off congratulations on the success of 'Rockboy Empire', a real online hit right now. Were you surprised at the high reviews and hits it's received already?
Meatloaf Scalesa aka 'Loaf': To be honest no. I kinda figured it was going to get that due to the fact we already had a street creditability, a street buzz and all of that already. But it isn't shocking, if you want to put it out there you just got to put it out there. Its like I tell my team all the time that each one of us are going to be mainstream, one week their going to like you then another their going to dislike you, then another week it'll be another character getting it...but its cool, its cool.
Who exactly are the Rockboys?
Loaf: The Rockboys are a group of guys who started out through street bikes, through mainly riding Harleys, which was something I put together because people would see us about and say "You're like rock stars - black rock stars" you know? And they didn't believe we were from Brooklyn. So I guess with all the style swag and everything coming together we went with it, but we couldn't use the name rock stars because it's already used so the closest thing we could come up with was 'Rockboy'. And I just ran with it.
Great story line, what/who's it based on?
Loaf: The story line is really a kinda portrayal of a part of my life, growing up and coming up in the streets, you know what I'm saying. Crooks and Castles, put it like that. Showing both the glamour life and the street life of it. And we more gravitate to the street life of it because that's all we know...that's what made us the men we are today.
The Harley Davidsons, the style, the clothes and mindset, even the name 'Meatloaf Scalesa'. Describe your style and the attention its grabbing right now?
Loaf: The attention its getting is crazy, if anybody knows me they know I've always had style. I've was been always outside of my box, you know what I'm saying. I've been doing high-end fashion for years. Before others knew what it was I was doing it, and I'd spend my last cash on it, I'd have my lights turned off just so I could get an outfit. So it kinda stuck to me, like stigmatised by it you know and it was like ' Only Meatloaf could pull that off '. And that's what people would say about how I'd dress. I just have my own style. If I look in the mirror and I like it I just throw it on, if I feel its up to par with me being unique then that makes my style. I look at myself as a black-rock star, literally. And its been working for years and that collaborates with the show. What you see in the show is how I am in real life, no portrayals, no watered down version...it's just how I am in real life and I feel its that what makes the show more real than anything.
You could say fellow Brooklyn based 'Money & Violence' could be cited as the first online drama to blow up, did that inspire you putting Rockboy Empire in anyway?
Loaf - No, I just wanted to put something out there and wasn't really expecting it to do what it has. Everybody has their own way of portraying the streets, but I just wanted to focus on me and my team. I wasn't worried what Money & Violence or any other team was doing with street film. Everybody's got a story to tell and shows like Money & Violence are younger, we're older and I'm sure everybody's got a story, a theme. But I've seen the best of the best and the worst of the worst (New York online street dramas). We're just focusing on putting out good film on Rockboy Empire and it's taken off just how I wanted it to really, not to fast, not to slow.
On the flip side, what's the competition level like between Rockboy Empire and other shows also being filmed on the streets of New York right now, like 'Money & Violence' and 'Respect Life' both filmed in Brooklyn. Has it produced any rivalry in any way between the shows?
Loaf - No, no rivalry. There shouldn't be no rivalry because were all trying to win, break through. 'Respect Life' - I actually know them personally, and 'Money & Violence', they know of me and I respect what they are doing, we see each other at events, we speak. I can't say how they feel about me but were all learning in this game. They're story line was good (Money & Violence) I've watched their whole show. But when I saw their production I knew they needed production and I feel when Rockboy Empire came out of the gate our production was excellent off the rip because we already had the cameras and sound sitting there. But the main reason I did Rockboy Empire was to keep my company relevant (Rockboy Choppers), you know.
(above) Meatloaf Scalesa and the cast of Rockboy Empire, inc 'Face', bottom left/glasses
Some fine characters and great acting in the show, at times its almost like watching a street-doc or snippets of the real thing, how did you pick the actors for their parts?
Loaf - When it came down to the characters in the show it was me just trying to be relevant to the whole black motorcyclist movement. So I started video taping us (the Rockboy Choppers) and shit like that and it just took off from there. Each of the characters I hand picked. I kinda watched them for weeks, I'd say that the most I watched them for was for about 2 or 3 months before I put them into place. So characters really fit their description which was so ironic when your watching them because I didn't know how it would all turn out. But I placed everyone in the right perspective and it just all come together. None of the characters had been to acting school, never went to any class. Everybody just evolved their own characters. Each character adds their own twist to the show, its not just about me, I may be the head of the snake but at the end of the day everybody got to play their part.
Especially characters like 'Face', the Rockboy under-boss who plays by his own rules. Characters like that must of helped elevate the show to where it is right now, wouldn't you say?
Loaf - Yeah, Face plays his character for real, you know he tells me he loves his character. Face kinda portrays the shows 'power', him and his character definitely puts that into perspective. I see it like he's the hothead and I'm more the laid back one which is just like in real life really.
In fact Face really does come across as the real thing. Without going into detail, are characters like Face actually guys who used to live that life, and who have now turned their experiences to acting? His scene in episode 8, season 2 where he guns-down the young dealer who's causing trouble in the neighbourhood is already one of the shows finest scenes yet.
Loaf - Erm...well I can't actually say if he lived that life or not, but personally speaking I lived that life. The rest of the characters are playing their parts. No ones running around robbing and stealing, you know, shooting and killing people. They're just playing the part that best fits their characters, and its also something people seem to gravitate too. Saying that though its also sad that in this world we live in people are more attracted to stuff like violence rather than say picking up a book, or just helping one another. Its crazy because we could say put out a show portraying us trying to improve the schools our kids go to but it just wouldn't get the same buzz as us running around killing each other, you know what I'm saying?
So do you have plans to show those other kinda struggles people live through in the hood, as well as the drugs, killings and gang life which is obviously the most portrayed in all the Internet street dramas?
Loaf - Yeah, I'm going to change it around and make something great out of it, enlighten on everything going on in the neighbourhood, the schools, the jobs for kids , helping one another. That has to be in the show because that's what real life is. I'm like more of a new, younger era of Rock when he made The Wire, because its the same thing. He was just putting out there what people think was the norm as street life goes, they don't want to see the realism. They would rather see us out there killing each other as opposed to see us helping each other, or them helping us. They don't want to help us, so we're showing you were fighting for that help.
As well as being the full time owner of 'Rockboy Choppers' motorcycle company, clothing line and barber shops, and producing the show, you also do your own part for real in the neighbourhood you live in...
Loaf - Yeah, but its hard too because I have guys come to my store everyday and ask for jobs, I want to help everybody but I can't. The only thing I can tell them is sweep the floor, clean the bathroom, the windows, you know, but it's enough. Summer time is coming and nobody's got jobs so what's going to happen, where's it going to lead to? Destruction. But I try to help everybody, do your research on me and I'm out there. I'm out there doing book bag drives, I'm doing school drives. I'm out there doing this literally out of my own pocket so I can help my community. Like I have quite a few people who kinda look up to me and ask me for advice, in fact not even for advice but sometimes just approval and thats literally how I am and that's how I am on the show too really. If I'm there for you don't f**king cross me, I take that to heart. But its a work in progress, that's all.
Would you ever think of maybe going with a production company like Money & Violence has, or is that the reason why despite the new quality in the show's production it's also maybe seen it lose some of its edge. Kinda watered down?
Loaf - I don't think Money & Violence got watered down, it's just when it comes to signing deals you've got to get it right. When it comes to production I feel I wouldn't want to treat the show to save my life, you know what I mean. Because when its real people all over the world are going to gravitate to it, people all over the world are going to cry by it, laugh by it, know what I'm saying. We don't have no budget to put a production deal together so everything in Rockboy Empire, the motorcycles, the clothes, the cars, the jewellery, everything is us. And I kinda get that from Tyler Perry, because he said he utilises everything he has. I take bits and pieces from everybody, and its working. I run around with these bikes because that's my heart, that's my passion as well as the clothes and high end fashion, you know? That's exactly who I am.
What's next for you and Rockboy Empire?
Loaf - It's a whole conglomerate when it comes to Rockboy Empire, Literally on the production side it can only get better, movie wise. Know what I'm saying, I'd like to see myself on Broadway or in lights some day, I'd love to see myself acting on the big screen. But at the same time its a work in progress and nobody is going to give you anything. I know you have to put that hard work in, you have to. I realise that and I've been doing this all my life.
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