Uncorporate: Social worker as rapper

At 14, Rob Hull was already something of a handful. He had a very-late-night radio show on WTJU that caused so much trouble that he's not sure longtime station boss Chuck Taylor would appreciate his even mentioning it today.

"Those were really wild shows," says Hull, now 29. "I had friends get arrested on the air. Once the fire station came down."

The other remarkable thing about Hull's radio show was that it was the first in Charlottesville devoted to rap music. As a white Southern kid, Hull didn't fit the music's typical demographic, but love for rock 'n' roll runs in his blood– his dad is a former rock critic for Creem.

"I'm very opinionated about music. I grew up listening to whatever," Hull says.

Growing up as the son of a rock critic had certain perks– the mailman always brought promo records. But while his tastes ranged as far south as Ralph Stanley, Hull found himself drawn to the urban noise of hip-hop.

"I knew I was a tourist," says Hull, whose day job now is working with seriously mentally ill adults as a social worker with Region Ten. "I wasn't trying to make money out of this. I knew it was about exploring a culture, uplifting a culture. Now rap music has assimilated."

Dismayed by the "mass-production, Wal-Mart music" knocking around inside the heads of kids today, Hull undertook the missionto create a new kind of record company. He founded Rugged Soul Records with two friends in 2000.

Rugged Soul's goal is twofold. Hull's first vision is to "create music that's going to be palatable but at the same time artistic." Secondly, Hull seeks to avoid the amorality plaguing corporations by refusing to become a corporation at all.

"Eventually we could pass this label on to some kids, and hopefully they would keep it going and keep it away from corporations," Hull says.

It's a noble idea, but one that has proven difficult to realize. "We got screwed," Hull admits about an aborted deal to release a record that would have put Rugged Soul "on the map." The label has struggled ever since.

"The thing about rap music is everyone is a f***ing hustler," Hull says. "Everyone's jumping over everyone else for a penny."

All is not lost, however. As DJ Rob A, Hull has released his own hip-hop recording, collaborating with local artists like J-Gifted and DJ Faust, which has attracted some attention. "There's a couple major rappers out there I'm talking to about using my beats," he says.

Whether Rugged Soul will get back on its feet, however, remains to be seen. Hull, who says he won't leave social work even if his label becomes profitable, still believes in its goal.

"We had a different vision," he says. "Our vision was just about social reform. That's what I do every day."