December 10, 2006

Hip-Hop World, Pay Attention to Omaha

By Josefina Loza, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Dec. 10--Aledia and James Mills don't make millions of dollars.

But they're invited to lavish parties and hobnob with major hip-hop celebrities such as P. Diddy, Atlanta rapper T.I. and St. Louis rapper Nelly.

The couple -- in their mid-20s -- live in Omaha. They have two children. But despite that domesticity, partying still is an important part of their lifestyle.

That's because it's part of their professions.

James, who played pro basketball in Portugal, is the president and founder of Get Down Entertainment and Photography, a local urban marketing company. Get Down was established in 2005 as a networking, marketing, promotions and photography firm. The company was host for some wild nightclub parties, hip-hop concerts and model photo-shoots this year.

Aledia, meanwhile, is a backup dancer for Nelly, who has been on the road a lot. She's a huge asset to Get Down, providing celebrity contacts and promoting the company among producers and others she meets.

"We've met a lot of people along the way," James said. "But we didn't start the company for us. It's to put Nebraska on the map. It's so (Omaha is) mentioned like other major cities for entertainment talent, whether it would be singing, rapping, modeling, dancing or acting . . . to really shed light on the city and open up doors for everyone."

He considers his wife part of that talent. She's the main model for Get Down.

James launched Get Down shortly after he returned to Nebraska from Portugal. He played one season of European-league basketball and used the money he made to build his entertainment company.

"I can't sing. I can't rap and I can't act," he said. "But I wanted to be a voice for the state."

Aledia's had a passion for dancing since she was 4. She used to wiggle her hips for a community dance team. She later became a Norris Middle School drill team dancer and a member of the Burke High pom squad.

She even had surgery on her feet so she could realize her professional dance dream. She was flat-footed and needed extra arch support.

Aledia caught a break when Nelly performed at Omaha's Sweetstock in 2002.

She won backstage passes to meet him. A manager asked her if she would consider modeling Nelly's Apple Bottoms clothing line. She took his business card.

But she didn't call until James encouraged her -- three years later when she told him about the concert.

"And in a week I was in St. Louis trying out, because one of Nelly's backup dancers had hurt herself."

Aledia performed with Nelly at the Source Awards and the Radio Music Awards. She toured with him in Europe last year. She's taken promotional Apple Bottoms photos for him. She was even featured in a music video.

"I was never nervous performing," she said. "I lived for the solo dances we did onstage in front of thousands of people."

She admits to a few mistakes, including a near-Janet Jackson moment.

At the 2003 Source Awards, she wore a towel over an itty-bitty pink and green halter-top and shorts. In the dance routine, Nelly had to rip the towel off Aledia while she spun around him.

"We were in the front," she said. "He yanked the towel a little too hard and my top almost came off."

Nelly's not on tour at the moment. Aledia waits at home for Nelly's manager to call and say he's going back out.

When she's not traveling, she hits the gym three days a week. That keeps her in shape for dance practices. Rehearsals typically are seven hours long, five days a week.

The time away from her two sons -- Orlando, 8, and Tre, 2 -- is hard.

"There were times I would sit in my room and cry," Aledia said. "Being a backup dancer takes work. You can't have your family around you. It's really hard work, but it's a great opportunity -- especially all the people you meet along the way."

James and Aledia value their time together.

The couple met through a mutual friend and dated while James was overseas. Aledia stayed in Omaha and took care of the boys. They were married in March of 2005. When Aledia left for Nelly's European tour, James became the primary parent to his son and stepson.

"When I couldn't call home to check on them, that killed me," she said. "The boys were used to having Mommy around, especially when they hurt themselves. Dads are like, 'Shake it off,' but mommies are the ones that kiss the boo-boos."

When Aledia returned from Europe, she was thrilled to be back in the mix at home and in her husband's company.

She plays an important part in Get Down. Celebrities and promoters don't think about choosing Nebraska talent because they don't know it exists.

"We want to get some of those celebrities to start talking about Nebraska," she said. "Major artists don't come through looking for talent here like they do in St. Louis or Atlanta."

On tour, Aledia tries to stay connected with people and tell them about her home state.

"Anytime she mentioned Nebraska," James said, "guys would be like 'Wow, they got women like you there?' She gives insight. She tells them about us."

You can find the company's logo and handbills in almost every major Omaha nightclub.

Get Down plans and promotes hip-hop parties and concerts. Its target demographics are urban 20- to 30-somethings who enjoy the nightlife scene. The company also operates as a talent agency, managing local musicians, artists and actors.

Last month, Get Down held an ultimate ladies' night dance party, "In Those Jeans," at Club 108 in west Omaha. At the party, 10 of the best-dressed women were selected to hang out with Atlanta rappers T.I. and Young Dro while they performed Dec. 2 in Omaha.

James thinks his urban entertainment company was the first of its kind in Omaha. A handful of party planners, like "Wut It Do Entertainment" and "Boss N 4 Real," hit the scene in Omaha this year.

"I like to party and socialize. So part of that is networking and doing promotions," James said. "When I started the company, I wanted to set an example for others that people can do what they want to do."

And that's to party with style.

"Even if we're not hosting an event, we're still involved," James said. "Take the T.I. concert last week. We were dragged into it solely because of the photography aspect of it. If we didn't have photography, we would have been in the stands somewhere."


Copyright (c) 2006, Omaha World-Herald, Neb.

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Business News.

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