Before heading out, Bryan Emerson looked at the placard hanging over his kitchen window. Bees swarm around a hive and 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 to get to work.
He stands out among the thousands of door-to-door salesmen that get their start in Provo. Most of the time, the difference isn’t in the product – a friend of his said Emerson has sold 20 to 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, one of the most well-known, yet mysteriously unknown, Provo icons.
With more than 137,000 hits on his video, “B with Money aka Provo Rap,” Money’s YouTube popularity competes handily with Provo-area artists such as Ivy League, Benton Paul and Joshua James. Many more videos feature Bee Money, and each has hit counts in the thousands.
“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 considers herself a genuine Bee Honey – a title apt for Money’s female fans who reside primarily in the Beehive State.
Rockwood said she met Money in the parking lot of her apartment complex when he was out selling his CDs and DVDs. She said she took a picture with him and posted it to her Facebook profile. He gave her and her roommates a free CD.
Free CDs aren’t easy to come by when Money is making the deal.
A few weeks later, Money visited Rockwood’s apartment for a follow-up sale.
After Money gave Rockwood and her roommates a private performance of his song, “Golden Gate Bridge,” he opened his bag and made his pitch. The coeds tried on his T-shirts and took pictures with him. Then Money started laying down deals.
“OK, if you buy four shirts and two CDs, I’ll throw in another CD half price and a couple DVDs,” he said.
Rockwood said she didn’t have any cash. Money looked to her roommates. They didn’t have any either.
Unfazed, he responded immediately: “You got a check?”
Before the visit was over, Money had tried it all-different combinations of goods and prices, post-dated checks and verbal agreements for payment during a future visit. Nothing worked-not even a sales tax discount or an offer to sign the shirts with a personal message.
At all times, even when sales fail, Money considers himself lucky. He is one of 12 children, “number seven-the lucky one,” he said. “And my birthday is even in 1977, and I’m the seventh one in my family, and I’m born on the seventh month.”
“He’s really optimistic,” said Micah Christensen, 32, one of Money’s closest friends.
Despite meager 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 on a big plot of land and proposing to his future wife there. As Bee King and Bee Queen, they will rule this 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, who is 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 e-mail, 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 e-mail.
“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.
Men from the group also once arranged for Money to perform at the Business Plan Competition in the BYU Marriott School, and they helped him save for a CD duplicating machine that now sits on his living room floor. He didn’t have as many silver hairs then. He also didn’t have “BEE MONEY,” a diamond and a dollar sign shaved into his head either.
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.”
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 survives-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?
Referring to a reporter who asked a question like these, Money said, “He said, ‘A lot of people ask me this, they wonder if you’re like mentally handicapped or retarded or something?’ I told him no!”
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. At any given time, he owes someone money for prints on his latest round of CDs or T-shirts.
But he’s good with people and his creditors take it easy on him. Bjorn Boyer, a friend of an employee at Money’s bank, printed T-shirts for him. “He owed us about $100 that we never collected,” Boyer said.
Boyer didn’t mention any plans to collect the remaining debt, but said he gives Money rides when he sees him.
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. When telling about his first gig selling CDs for Arlan and Gaynor Brunson back in 1996, he remembered who introduced them, the date, the day of the week and the time of day. “And he’s probably right,” his friend Christensen said. “He can still give you directions around Seattle.”
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 here that 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.
He filed his business as “Bee-Money’s Biffco w/the Leprocon,” alluding to his home in the beehive state; Biff, a character from his favorite movie, “Back to the Future”; and Cameron Sawyer, a short friend Money raps about as “a ‘leprechaun with a pot of gold’ at the end of the rainbow,” Christensen said.
The listed owner and operator on the record is Bryan VonGermeten – a name Money holds legally after a step father adopted him. In an e-mail, Christensen said Money chooses to go by Emerson, his mother’s maiden name.
Going by his mother’s maiden name and his early ties to LDS musical artists reveal Money’s commitment to family and the 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 recently moved into a new church ward and doesn’t yet have a responsibility, but said 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,” he said, because “God’s kingdom means much more to me than gold and silver – and paper bills even.”
He said, “I’d be happy to give away every penny I have,” but conceded he would like to keep “the rest of what I have – what I bought already.”
The day may come when Money loses everything or the Lord counsels him to sell all that he has and give to the poor, but his friends are certain they will never contend against him.
They have talked about his future. “We’d all like to have him live a couple months at our houses,” Christensen said.
If this plan or Money’s dreams never work out, “He will always be fine,” Christensen said. “He makes friends easily, and he cares about people … He’ll be OK.”
Regarding Christensen, Christenot, Davies and a few other men, Money said, “They’re my truest friends I’ve got.”
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. The CD duplicator and a stereo tuner lay nearby.
J-Sauce admired the shirts, but like so many others through the night 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.
J-Sauce reached in his wallet and pulled out a crisp paper bill.
“I must have that shirt – the grey one. Give me a large.”
Finally – a sale.
“I will wear this with pride,” J-Sauce said.