If you were to guess the location of one of the centers of the underground rap community, you’d probably say New York, Los Angeles, or Chicago. Chances are that Wilkes-Barre wouldn’t be in your first five, 10, or even 20 guesses. And, less than six months ago, you would have been right.
Today, a small office in Wilkes-Barre Township–ironically, a building fashioned with a log cabin exterior–is the home of a vibrant mobile application (app) business, Appalachian Apps, LLC. Its premier program, Straight Spittin’, is “the world’s first mobile battle rap application for Android”, as described on the app’s download page. Users can download the app for free or get a more robust version at various price points of $1.99 and $4.99.
The software enables people to duel each other in a rap face-off. Rappers choose one of four beats included with the app or purchase additional beats for $.99 each. They record the rap over their phones and send it to a queue where community members have three days to vote on it. The rapper who receives the highest number of votes wins.
Straight Spittin’ is a star in the company’s product lineup of apps. It was launched Thanksgiving weekend 2010. Through only word of mouth it came to be listed in the 5,000-10,000 category, with a user rating of 4 to 4 1/2 stars in the Android Marketplace. The company’s first commercial aired only recently in the Los Angeles area.
Today, the app has been downloaded in all 50 states and 33 countries, earning the software its tagline: “Battle rap anyone, anywhere, anytime!”
So, how does an idea for something like Straight Spittin’ go from the minds of a few local Wilkes-Barre “boys” to the phone of a rapper in Russia?
“The idea for Straight Spittin’ was one of 73 collective ideas that Bob and I had when we put our heads together,” explained Mike Martinez, one of three Appalachian Apps partners, referring to Bob Scocozzo. “We’ve only gotten through a few of them.”
Given the topic and technology involved, one might expect it to be driven by some brash, young 20-somethings. In part, it is, but this triune is a mixture of experience, business acumen, and techno savvy. Scocozzo is a seasoned entrepreneur. As the founder of the very popular Mia Bella Candles, he has grown the candle, cosmetics, and skin care business into a network of more than 10,000 distributors in two countries. Martinez owned his first Sprint store in 1999 and is now the owner of three others, scattered across Pennsylvania, from Lancaster to Scranton, with more in the process of opening.
The third partner, Dave Koziel, Jr., is the technical wunderkind. Koziel started working for Scocozzo when he was 12. Today, in his mid-20s, Koziel leads a team of eight programmers.
Martinez, who claims to listen to very little music of any kind, took the idea of Straight Spittin’ to a former rap music producer he knew. Vinny Nicoletti, a Grammy nominee, listened to the idea but was skeptical at first. In a few days he changed his mind and ultimately brought along well-known rapper, Rah Digga, to help promote the app.
“To have someone like Vinny and Rah Digga looking at what we’re doing is what really makes this popular,” said Martinez. “We occupy the only place in the market right now. It’s really the tip of the iceberg.”
Straight Spittin’ and Archie, an app for the hospitality industry, consume the majority of time for the Applachian Apps staff of 10. The rest of the time is devoted to smaller apps, custom work for other companies, and the development of a group of new apps.
“We want to grow,” Martinez said. “We want to hire people from local schools for positions here. We want to continue to grow this area.”
In fact, Scocozzo says, “Even if we got a million downloads, my wife won’t let me leave Wilkes-Barre. We want to stay here and see our area grow. Ultimately, our goal is to give back to the community.”
Applicants to Appalachian Apps don’t need a college degree, however, they do need experience, talent, and skills.
“We have a test that all applicants take to help us assess their skills,” said Koziel. “The outcome tells us a lot.”
For more information about the company’s apps, go to www.appalachianapps.com.
While preparing to leave at the end of the interview, one could hear rap music playing on a computer. Standing nearby, Scocozzo smiled and said, “It grows on ya.”