By NAT HARWARD
Before heading out, Bryan Emerson looked at the placard hanging over his kitchen window. Bees swarm around a hive with three words: “Believe in yourself.”
With CDs in hand, a bag of T-shirts on one shoulder and DVDs on the other, it was time for him to get to work.
He stands out among the thousands of door-to-door salesmen who get their start in Provo. Most of the time, the difference isn’t in the product – a friend said Emerson has sold 20-30 different products door-to-door – but when he brings the shirts and CDs, the difference is the product. The product is Emerson.
Bryan Emerson is Bee Money. With more than 137,000 hits on his YouTube video, “B with Money aka Provo Rap,” Money stands as one of the most well-known, yet mysteriously unknown, Provo icons.
“Everybody knows about Bee Money,” said Jill Rockwood, 19, a BYU student from Diamond Bar, Calif. “He’s the hot thing at BYU.”
Rockwood said she met Money in the parking lot of her apartment complex when he was out selling his CDs and DVDs. A few weeks later, Money visited Rockwood’s apartment for a follow-up sale. After a thorough sales pitch, Money walked away without a sale.
“He’s really optimistic,” said Micah Christensen, 32, one of Money’s closest friends.
Despite meager business success, Money spoke of someday running “the biggest industry of clean music in the world;” of graduating from UVU with a bachelor’s degree in business, a music minor, and later earning an MBA; of building a castle and proposing to his future wife there.
As Bee King and Bee Queen, they will rule their dream dominion and raise their children, teaching them to swim in their private lake. He will enjoy lazy weekends fishing on his boat and long summer drives in one of his 10 DeLorean sports cars – nine of them silver, one of them gold.
Does he have a girlfriend? His response was what many single Provo males might say, “I wish.”
While his dreams are larger than life, he’s content to be below it all.
“He has one of the best hearts of anyone I know,” Christensen said.
Jake Davies, 28, agreed. Davies, one of Christensen’s roommates, met Money three years ago and is now another of Money’s good friends.
“He’s hurt if he offends someone,” Davies said. “He bends over backwards to help them.”
Christensen and another roommate, Jeremiah Christenot, now an assistant director in BYU’s Department of Athletics, met Money six years ago when they lived in the BYU 191st Ward. Christensen, Christenot and several other men in the ward befriended Money and helped plant the seeds of his career.
In an email, Christensen said “As I remember it, the beginning of any of his rapping was when he decided to write a rap song about Cameron Sawyer,” another man from the group. “Money always wanted to perform the song whenever we had a group of people together.”
Christensen said another friend, Cyrus Larson, “got the idea that we’d make Money’s dream come true and make him star in a rap video. So I had Money write a rap, which he wrote in about 10 minutes. Then I recorded the audio of him performing it a few times and took the time to edit the audio together.”
Sawyer, Larsen and Christensen made the video with a little help from Christenot.
“After we finished it, we put it online, and that’s where things began to take off somewhat,” Christensen said in the email.
“B with Money,” the YouTube video, earned Money spots on 101.9 The End FM. From there, Christensen said Money started selling DVDs of his video and working on other recordings.
Even with all this popularity, Christensen and Davies said many people are mean to Money. So much so that Money “assumes that that’s what you’re going to be,” Christensen said. “So he puts up a front,” he said.
But under the front is a man who works hard, laughs, tells stories, jokes and is friendly and accessible. He published his number on the back of the most recent Glowspin calendar for everyone to see. Call or text his number, 801-427-2563, and he will likely respond in 30 seconds or less.
Tyler Newton, a founder of Glowspin, said he gave Money the calendar spot for free.
“We’ve always wondered how he survives and pays for things,” Newton said. “We really felt like we should do something to help someone, and Bee Money was someone we wanted to help.”
Like Newton, many people wonder how Money gets and spends his money. Does he have a job? Who does he live with? Who shoots his videos? Is he diagnosed with an impediment? Does he write his own music?
Money said a reporter asked him if he was mentally handicapped.
“I told him no!” he said.
Money lives on his own and maintains employment; he currently sells satellite TV systems and distributes fliers for Sammy’s, a small caf? in downtown Provo.
On occasion, his balance stumbles and so does his speech – his raps rarely stay entirely on the beat. Sometimes, he owes someone money for prints on his latest round of CDs or T-shirts.
Money doesn’t have a driver’s license, and he can be uneasy around strangers. But his memory for trivia is sharp.
Without hesitation, Money recalled four phone numbers on the spot.
“He can still give you directions around Seattle,” Christensen said.
Money hasn’t lived in the Seattle area since he finished high school there 13 years ago.
After finishing high school, Money moved to Provo. It was in Utah Valley where Money met the Brunson brothers, who inadvertently began his career in sales. Money said they gave him 10 CDs to sell and promised to supply more if he sold them all.
Money said he made $120 on his first day. Years later, he acquired Provo business licenses. According to Provo City records, he registered as a direct seller in July 2004 and a door-to-door solicitor in February 2008.
Money’s early ties to LDS musical artists reveal his commitment to his faith.
Money’s mother joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after her husband introduced her to it. She took Money to church every week, he said.
Money’s mom lives in Oregon now and his siblings are scattered across the west. He doesn’t see them much anymore, and his relationship with them is “semi-good,” he said.
These early influences still affect his life.
“I think he must have just – growing up in the church – soaked up everything,” Christensen said. “A good percentage of his jokes all have some line from the scriptures.”
Money said he hasn’t received a new church responsibility since he moved into a new ward last year, but in the past, he served as a ward activities committee leader, home evening group leader and sacrament preparation coordinator.
As Money spoke of his material pursuits, he also included his spiritual convictions.
“I’m lucky to have everything I have,” he said. “If one day the Lord says, ‘Bryan, I’m going to counsel you to get rid of your riches,’ I would do it in a second. … God’s kingdom means much more to me than gold and silver – and paper bills even.”
He said he’d be happy to give away every penny he has but said he would like to keep everything he’s already bought.
After a visit with true friends where it all began, appearances at two parties, a few cold doors and a couple parking-lot contacts, Money arrived home without a sale but with his dreams still intact. He said he will continue rapping to clean up the streets and knocking doors to spread good messages through his music.
Before calling it a night, Money received a visit from an old contact, known to him only as J-Sauce. It was after midnight, but Money dropped to his knees on his living room floor and set up his product display, laying shirts among piles of music media, three TVs and an old computer that looked like it hadn’t run in years. A CD duplicator and a stereo tuner lay nearby.
J-Sauce admired the shirts, but like so many others, he hesitated to buy. He moved the conversation to other topics to avoid Money’s pitch.
As friendly as ever, Money invited him over for dinner the next day.
“How much for a shirt?” J-Sauce asked.
“Ten bucks,” Money replied.
J-Sauce reached in his wallet and pulled out a crisp paper bill.
“I must have that shirt – the gray one,” he said. “Give me a large.”
Finally – a sale.
“I will wear this with pride,” J-Sauce said.