When rapper and artist V!rtu set out to create his first solo album, he decided to solicit the work of producers using perhaps the world's oldest transaction method.
The barter system.
"A lot of these guys won't entertain the thought of working with you unless you bring money to the table," V!rtu, aka Cheston Dooley, told The Skanner News.
So V!rtu brought shoes to the table. For more than a year, the Portland-based artist has been turning plain white athletic shoes into his personal canvass while working on the album, "The Shoe-In." Although he credits the original idea to design sneakers to Cleveland's Van Taylor Monroe, V!rtu took it to the next level.
He's designed the custom sneakers with the designs of sports teams, President Obama, Cosby's Fat Albert, hip hop personalities, cartoon cereal icons and video game characters to name a few. For each pair, it takes about 20 hours from start to finish, going for about $250 retail.
For many of the artists he contacted, the trade-off was worth it.
"I wanted to present a one of a kind thing," he says.
In exchange for a pair of the custom kicks, they'd supply tracks or voice work for the album. Despite being in various locations around the country, trading the goods and services – by snailmail and email – was largely successful.
"It's hard to collaborate when you're not in the same room," he says, but, "You're also not forcing chemistry."
The album features the producer Cutty Dre in the forefront, with a number of other out-of-town artists, including Dirty Birdy, Mad Skillz, Sugar Tongue Slim, Butta Verses and others. Portland-area collaborators are MaddHadda – V!rtu's brother, Dru Manchu of Bad Habitat, FelliDale, Chaucer Barnes and StarChile. He says many people would consider the album to be "backpacker" hip hop.
With this album, V!rtu says he's now about a quarter of the way to his goal of recording 1,000 tracks. Although he loves spending time painting, he says he can reach a much larger audience with music with a quarter of the time it takes to create a pair of shoes.
V!rtu's "The Shoe-In" is available on iTunes and you can listen to sample tracks at www.myspace.com/virtu01.