Street: 05.02 Melvin Junko = DJ Premier + Alchemist + Jake One
10,000 hours—according to author Malcolm Gladwell in his book, Outliers, every great classical composer must practice for a minimum of 10,000 hours or 10 years before truly becoming a master of their craft. This year marks Melvin Junko’s 13th year in the music industry, and this is his 10th release. It sounds like he’s making his case for the label of maestro.
On this project, Junko employs the vocal services of emcees from Utah and abroad, from local legends D Strong and EneeOne to Rock of Heltah Skeltah, Hell Razah from Sunz of Man, Rasco (Cali Agents), Copywrite (MHz Legacy), The Artifacts and Bronze Nazareth,among others. There’s also the turntablism of DJ Trickalome on a couple of tracks. Other than that, it’s 10 bangers from the MPC 2000XL, record collection, turntable, mixer and mind of the Salt Lake City artist. The standout track, “Salt Garden,” features El Da Sensei and Tame One’s rapid-fire back-and-forth over a familiar format that reminds you of DJ Premier. Melvin doesn’t stray far from rap conventions: He builds upon them with respect to his predecessors. The result is an album that is devoid of trap beats, chants and “aye” adlibs. 10,000 Hours is rugged boom-bap music for the backpackers, DJs, writers, B-boys and emcees.
After Gladwell’s 2008 novel, several people have come forward in an attempt to debunk his theory, but regardless, one thing is certain. To truly know what type of artist you were meant to be, it takes “actual practice and hard work”—lots of it. Junko’s project reflects years of studying his peers, developing his own skills and making connections with artists from different crews through hard work and diligence. If you consider yourself a Utah hip-hop head or even a nostalgic ’90s-rap enthusiast, this album should go in your music library without hesitation. –Keith McDonald
Street: 03.01 BearHead Music Eddington = Pastor Troy x Run the Jewels
Utah hasn’t seen a combination like Eddington. First, let’s talk about Milo Green. Few words can describe such a character with the accuracy necessary to illustrate a clear picture. The first time I set eyes on him was at a foam party in Park City in 2014. He was all over the stage wearing a beer-bottle costume, and his flowing afro was in the wind just about as much as were the frothy bubbles. Since then, I’ve seen him riding his bike through downtown Salt Lake City, I’ve spotted him at concerts, and I have watched him perform with a band called Martian Cult—and with his other bandmate, Marcus Agee, who goes by a myriad of names: HQ, Mr. No Hook, Buck Naked Sam, Head Murphy … but now, it’s mainly Eddington.
“I felt like Eddington was real,” says Agee. “And by changing my name to my family name, I knew I had to come with it on this project.”
Family is a big theme with the duo, who are actually in-laws. Agee is married to Green’s sister.Another recurring theme is the Southern U.S. Anyone who listens to half a bar of Agee’s lyrics can tell that he was raised south of the Mason-Dixon line. Agee does not hide his southern drawl. His rhymes are not always barred by conventional slang, flows and themes … It’s not even always barred with the conventions of rhyming. It’s meant to startle you, make you think and motivate you in your daily endeavors.
Eddington takes full credit for his lot in life, using his time on the microphone to express his independence. In the title track, he says, “I put it on me / Everything that you see / Built it from the ground up / From my head to my feet.” The rhetoric is congruent with what you’d expect from a former Crew Chief in the United States Air Force—somber, depressing themes are not even an undertone.
Sonically, there are few samples on 1905. The beats are bass heavy, synthetic and even trippy in some areas; however, Green uses beat breaks and flips to break up monotony and keep the listener in groove, seamlessly. They’ve grown artistically and production-wise since their earlier releases, TRUTH HURTS and TABLE SCRAPS (released under the moniker HQ), but the passion for making music is still evident. Like they say on Track 2, they’ll keep knocking until you (and the industry) wise up and listen. Open to Eddington at: eddington3.bandcamp.com. –Keith McDonald
Self-Released Street: 05.05.17 Freemind Movement = Jurassic 5 x Little Brother
Sometimes you review an album that makes you feel like you have to step your game up as a journalist to show a project justice. This is how I felt when I was sent Saint Villian. Even though the project is painfully petite at six tracks, the three-man crew spits lyrics of substance that leaves the listener satiated. The infusion of piano keys, classic snares, violin strings, DJ Mixter Mike scratches and traditional beat breaks on the production side will resonate with traditionalists while the younger voice will resonate with fresher listeners. The sound isn’t very experimental, but it does manage to draw upon old-school principles (that boom bap!) while exhibiting enough contemporary cues to satisfy younger ears as well.
Beyond instrumentation and production, Freemind stays true to their moniker with spiritual, insightful and poignant content. It’s cliché to point out, but they display awareness and humility in their content that seems to resonate with old-school hip-hop fans. They’re aware of the power of music and the dynamic of being Utah artists who are distributing music in a digital era, as discussed on Track 4, “Whyse.” They speak about government improprieties (Track 5, “Hover”). They speak about the complications and intricacies of life and morality. The material is right in line with say, a backpacker’s tastes, but partygoers may find it a bit heavy for their late-night weekend debauchery—it’s more for car rides, working out or loungin’ at home.
Saint Villian is unquestionably SLUG playlist–worthy rap music. Check it out on Spotify or on Freemind Movement’s website: freemindmovement.com. –Keith McDonald
Self-Released Street Date: 10.25.17 Pikkoroh = MF DOOM x Madlib
You wouldn’t think a single human being could be futuristic yet vintage, ruthless yet loving, dark yet jovial, eclectic yet utterly predictable—like showing up to the function with a plastic bottle of booze—but that’s just some of the paradox you get with the enigma named Pikkoroh from the Dine Krew. His track record speaks for itself, really. The classic sounds under his belt have whipped records into shape for one of, if not the most notorious hip-hop crew in the valley (seek Bap Boom for reference).
Voix is a 15-track instrumental offering that is cinematic and creative. Pikkoroh’s use of drums, piano keys, strings and flutes is used to transport the listener into the various terms he chose to name his tracks. It’s as if he’d like to take his patrons with someone (or himself?) on a journey into madness, approximating a mental patient who goes from normalcy to eventually taking their own life in a psychiatric ward. It’s a neo-jazzy boom-bap-hybrid beat tape with a dark twist. It’s not as sad as one would think a record dedicated to something so weighty and morbid would be, but if you know Pikkoroh, it totally makes sense. The Joker had some fun on his descent into lunacy in Arkham Asylum, right?
The adhesive that binds the project together is the soundbites from scary movies. They’re chopped up and arranged in a manner that is creepy yet comical. The attention to detail and mood is remarkable. It’s as though Pikkoroh used other people’s voices to narrate and score an Alfred Hitchcock thriller that he’s hijacked for his own maniacal purposes. Track 12, “Ghost,” is the melting point between horror film and hip-hop. Pikkoroh uses an eerie whistle and a xylophone to evoke feelings of the supernatural. Dialogue bookends most tracks to add meaning and depth. Voix is a project that can be rapped over—or even used in your October playlists every year. Copping it on Bandcamp (Pikkoroh.bandcamp.com) for $5 is a good investment for your music library, if you’re not the easily scared type. –Keith McDonald
Self-Released Street: 01.06 Cambow = Tech N9ne x Willie D – Raury
Cambow’s PAiNS doesn’t fit into boxes designed to encapsulate contemporary rap artists. The dark tone of his rhetoric in songs like “Kareem Campbell” puts us into a mind like Tech N9ne’s; however, he has positive angles in this eight-track EP that evoke feelings of solidarity in songs like “TaKare2.0 (produced by Gasky).” He also offers motivational anthems like “COMiN Up (produced by Vocirus)” and Dreams/REALiTY (produced by NIKK BLVKK) that show the young rapper has a sliver of Raury-like optimism. He addresses political issues, self-hate, relationships and mortality with a knack for satire, but he doesn’t find much time to make car references and name-drop trendy labels.
Cambow often expresses himself in a conscious, mature, self-aware manner in his emotional-filled LP. He urges local rappers to stay true to themselves and represent the MCing element of hip-hop genuinely in “BRiEF Case (produced by Razz),” even though he threatens to blow up a building (but takes it back). It’s exactly what you would expect from a mash up of heavy metal and hip-hop … well, without the guitar riffs and screaming. It’s a brash and confrontational evaluation of the Utah hip-hop scene that calls for more unity and less fictitiousness. “If the shoe fit then it is a diss…”
PAiNS is not a buttoned-up Big Sean or Drake release with clean and consistent bars, and besides “SLiDE To The RiGHT,” there are no upbeat instrumentals that you’d hear in a club. Each beat was crafted by a different producer, yet they blend together reasonably. The album sounds professional, yet Cambow seems like he has room for growth and development as far as his craft goes. With a healthy dose of “praying, working and wishing,” he’ll grow his fanbase and reach a wider audience. –Keith McDonald
When I met B-Boy Alien, I was in college—a thirsty journalist ready to take on anything he could get his hands on, whether it be freelance writing or broadcast radio. My desire for knowledge took me to Uprok where an ornery DJ by the name of Street Jesus taught me the archaic ways of beat-matching without a computer, sort of like Pai Mei would an over-eager kung-fu pupil.
Standing in the DJ booth, I see a b-boy. He’s a Chilean puma, and the floor is his prey. His glare is cold and unyielding as he postures himself around a small stretch of the hardwood jungle on State Street. It’s time to get down. Everything he does is done passionately and with confidence, footwork, floor work and power moves—but his way is not the only way to get things done. I came to learn, over time, that the man I called Alienwasn’t such an outcast; he had a crew of like-minded individuals with assorted personas—from Denver to Korea—who helped him represent Utah (and hip-hop) in various venues.
They go by the Body Roc Crew and members, Ali Acuna and B-Boy Alien have attended (and won) battles in Las Vegas and Florida, respectively: Ali with the RedBull BC One and B Boy Alien with the Break the Chainz Volume Five. It’s the epitome of putting on for the city—and they do it with little fanfare.
SLUG: Please state your names for the record. Body Roc Crew: Twins Wyatt and Max Crebs aka Baby Blue, Chris Dimalanta, John Nelson, B-Boy Alien, Kaleena Chung and Ali Acuna.
SLUG: Ali, what’s the purpose of having an eight-year Anniversary? Acuna: We are the third generation of Body Roc. It did die for like eight or nine years, and me, Max and Mig-187 decided to bring it back. Originally, the crew started in Rose Park. I think the importance of the eight years is that we decided to bring it back, and since then, it’s been eight years and we’ve been going strong—I think we’re gonna try to keep it going.
Baby Blue: So, the other part of that is usually you would do a 10-year anniversary, but I think that just the way the crew’s been going and the timing of everything—we’ve been traveling a lot and competing a lot and trying to be more active in the community and stuff like that, so it seems more appropriate rather than to wait an extra two years to do a bigger event that we keep building on the momentum that we’ve already been cultivating and do something now.
SLUG: Has it been a long eight years, or has it gone quickly? Baby Blue: I think it’s gone by way fast. If anything, I feel like it has only been three or four years since we started doing it. That being said, we grew, and the crew grew really fast, too. So, it started out with just three of us, and then it was like every year we got one or two people down until we settled on this number that we have right now.
SLUG: Tell us more about your history. Acuna: Body Roc started in the early ’90s with some b-boys from Rose Park and West Valley. It got passed on to these [younger] kids from Rose Park as well. They carried on the second generation of Body Roc. The first members kinda faded away—they got older or they quit. And then, these guys [the second generation] … same thing happened to them. They just got older and started doing other things, [and] they didn’t care about breaking as much and just hip-hop in general. The second-generation members were originally Javy, Jermaine and Nick and then they brought on Eric Salazar and Miguel Olague, Mig-187, the guy that brought it back with me and Max in 2010 after almost 10 years after they kinda let it die.
SLUG: What’s the importance of traveling and entering competitions? Dimalanta: The importance is kinda just like building with one another and going out of state to represent, ’cause we’re already here as a family—practicing, gettin’ down and hanging out all the time, so when we go out of state, we bring that energy, too. I think it’s important to represent who we are when we go out of state, and I feel like people feel that. Even at the last jam at Break L.A., I felt like we made some noise, and we represented for sure.
Baby Blue: Yeah, I think a big part of it is also trying to get a name for a state like ours. Salt Lake City really isn’t known for countercultures, so when we go to scenes like Los Angeles, Denver and Las Vegas, I think we definitely leave a mark for the scene of Salt Lake City … especially for one of the crews in Salt Lake, our crew definitely addresses a broader audience outside of Salt Lake.
B-Boy Alien: It’s very important—you know what I’m sayin’, ’cause we’re the only crew in Utah that goes out and reps, represents hard—out of all of them—and we’re the one that gets the least respected. If there was no Body Roc, there wouldn’t be a dope b-boy scene in Utah. We keep it 100 percent.
SLUG: Tell us the craziest things you’ve heard about Utah when traveling? B-Boy Alien: Y’all Mormon?
Acuna: Whenever we go out of state and we say or tell them what city we’re coming from, they think Mormons and conservatives—but that’s just the state. I think—for me, personally—every time I go out and do a battle, I represent the city I’m from, Salt Lake City, because this is where I grew up, and this is where my crew is at. Also, one of the biggest misconceptions is that people think there is no hip-hop scene, there are no b-boys in Salt Lake City, when in reality, I think it’s one of the strongest in the area, even when compared to places like Las Vegas or California.
SLUG: Explain the importance of b-girls and b-boys to hip-hop culture. Wyatt: If anyone has ever read or watched anything about the inception of hip-hop, a lot of it revolved around the dance first. I mean, obviously the music and the DJs [as well]. The standpoint of hip-hop being a party culture—you go to a party—the understanding is that you’re going there to dance and you’re going there to be social, meet people and have fun. I think the entirety of the culture revolves around “the dance” and people meeting each other… and then they go out and do graffiti, and then they go out and learn how to DJ because they wanna be part of the host of the party. Then somebody’s the emcee because they want to keep other people hyped to keep people dancing.
It’s the epicenter of hip-hop culture, and it’s starting to be overlooked because it doesn’t carry any sort of monetary value like the way that graffiti, dj’ing and emceeing does, of course.
B-Boy Alien: I started emceeing and doing graffiti before I was b-boying. Throughout the years ,[I realized] that it’s the hardest element of hip-hop culture. Because you could be a graf writer and just chill and write graffiti. You could be an emcee and just write rhymes. You could be a DJ and just sit down and make some beats, make some scratches, but to be a b-boy, you gotta get your ass up there and do something physical—you know what I mean? So, to me, it’s the hardest element of hip-hop.
SLUG: Tell about the crew, style-wise. Whom do you admire? Nelson: I really enjoy watching Max break, because when I started breaking, I was really into footwork, and I still really am—and he was super good at footwork. But more than that, as time went on and the more I learned about breaking, the more I could appreciate Max’s footwork. From afar, when you first start breaking, it kinda looks cool because he’s going around and doing, like, steps and stuff, but later, when you get past the foundation and you really start diggin’ deeper into the concepts of footwork, is when his footwork becomes that much crazier.
I like Ali because he has a lotta shit. He has all the moves that I want to have, but he does them so easy that it’s frustrating, but also dope at the same time.
SLUG: What the most difficult aspect of dancing? Chung: So, I’m kinda the black sheep in the crew. I’m not really a b-girl, and I’m the only girl, so I feel like my views are slightly different because I do styles and funk styles. For me, it’s all mental. Obviously, the physical [aspect of dancing] is a big part of it, too—if you don’t take care of your body, that affects everything if you’re a dancer. But I think biggest part is the mental challenge. Whether you’re cyphering, whether you battling, competing: Everything is all mental. If you feel like you’re the shit, then you’re gonna be the shit. If you don’t, people are gonna sense it. So it’s all a mind game.
SLUG: What separates a toy from a real break dancer? Dimalanta: Recently, Alien said on Facebook that “Body Roc is the dopest in Salt Lake,” right? And only one person hated. It’s funny to me because they can talk, but in person, they won’t do anything. I think that’s what separates a toy from a real b-boy, if you talk but you’re no action.
Wyatt: For me, a quote from Angela Davis comes to mind. “Radical means grasping things at the roots.” I feel that if you know your history in breaking, it shows through your dancing. You don’t have to say anything. It’s just the fact that you know the foundation and you know hip-hop. It speaks volumes in your footwork and your steps and your movements.
Acuna: Moves are just moves. History and knowledge is something you gain throughout the years. You can practice all you want, but if you don’t study this culture, you’re gonna stay the same forever.
If you consider yourself to be a head, you owe it to the community and yourself to catch them at a showcase or competition at least onceto see if you enjoy yourself.
B-boy Alien summed it up best: “Stay true to the art form, support each element (that’s why it’s a culture), and real b-boys and b-girls will never die #rocordie.”
Rap cyphers, unlike rap battles, don’t necessarily involve insulting someone’s mother, talking bad about their footwear or how much money they don’t have … It’s a lot more of a casual and friendly affair, consisting of written and freestyle verses over pre-selected beats. It lends to a different atmosphere, which is a good or a bad thing—depending on how you look at it. On Nov. 15, 12 Gage Agency put on an event that many observers probably thought it wasn’t going to be so good, but it actually turned out to be a pretty dope night of good vibes, good beats, good flows and great people.
The venue was Metro Music Hall.
The participants included a long list of Utah wordsmiths: There was host and rapper, Syncro-nice (now Gabino Grhymes), Dennis James, Coyotl, Em Garcia, Shadow D, Mousely, B-Leaf, BrutalTurn, SOAP, Hemis, L.O.E., Mana, Savvy K-Two, King Deezy, Shelbadine, Negrodomus, Zac Ivie, Ocelot and Rhyme Time. Adding to the Wasatch ambiance were Utah beat-makers such as “the mayor”Linus Stubbs, Melvin Junko, BriskOner, Chance Lewis, Konsickwence and Eric Flames.
Holding down the decks all night was DJ Intimin8, who blessed the old-school heads with choice tracks from Utah and abroad. Acts like O.C. and Task Rock blended together like a salt and pepper while microphone fiends paced back and forth waiting for their time to “lose themselves” in a verse.
In between four groups of cypher participants was a performance by Big Lo, from Pensacola, Florida. Lo and I stepped outside and discussed things like his career, his take on college football and the letter “U.”
SLUG: Is this your first visit to Salt Lake City? Big Lo: This is my very first time in Salt Lake City. It’s weird because I’ve been touring the East Coast and the whole Southeast and up through New England and that area for about three/four years now, and this is my first time foraying over the Mississippi River.
SLUG: Have you ever heard of fry sauce before? Big Lo: Of what?
SLUG: It’s a condiment. It’s a mixture of two things basically. Big Lo: Does it have mayonnaise in it?
SLUG: Yeah. Big Lo: I don’t fuck with mayonnaise … I mean, I’ll try to see what it tastes like.
SLUG: What do you like to eat? Big Lo: I live by the water, so I eat a lot of seafood. I got a really seafood-heavy diet. If I’m doing OK financially, I like to splurge and get a good steak every now and then, but seafood is my thing—order the fish …
SLUG: Who is your favorite movie director? Big Lo: John Woo. He’s got the real heavy-gun flicks. I think his studio is based outta Hong Kong.
SLUG: What’s one of the your most coincidental collaborations you’ve done? What are some of your favorite moments? Big Lo: I’ve done records with a lot of people, but the coolest things I’ve done hip-hop-wise … I did a record with Chaundon from the Justus League and Little Brother. It was really dope—we met him at a gig we played in Florida and the next thing you know, boom, we end up doing a record. And to be able to go to up to North Carolina and perform that live in his hometown with him onstage—that was a dope feeling.
Playing with [Ghostface] and [Raekwon] was probably one of my main highlights for me personally, because Ghost is definitely in my top five. Rae is right up there, too. And that was a really cool story. Ghost, he was kinda quiet and subdued. I asked him, “What was your favorite: Ironman or Supreme Clientele?”Supreme Clientele is probably my favorite album in hip-hop history. So I asked him, and he just gave me this big shit-eating smile. But then, on the other hand, Raekwon was just lit all night and we partying with him … I’m wearing these grey Forces. My mans and them, they got the $300 Jordans on, and they trying to stunt and everything and Rae is drunk. He touches my sneakers like, “Yo, these is so fucking fresh, B.” And I’m looking at my boys like, yo, Rae is touching my sneakers right now; one of the freshest dressed people in hip-hop history and he’s fucking with my fit right now. It was a really big moment for me. Doing shit with the Geto Boys … Eating waffle house with them mothafuckas after a show and just sitting down with Scarface and Willie D for an hour was probably another highlight, too. You know and being able to talk one-on-one with them. Not really talk, more like listen to them, ya know.
SLUG: You mentioned your wife a lot during your set. Give us some advice about being a good husband. Big Lo: Aw, man, it’s all about trust, man. My wife is super-dope, and I got somebody who isn’t a bugaboo with weird trust issues. You just don’t break that bond. So trust—it’s probably the most cliché thing I could say. Make sure you eat together. Sit down and eat family dinners and shit like that—old-school-style, no phones. Sit around as a family and go over your day. That’s what I do with my wife and my daughter. So, trust and make sure you take time to do the family shit, to do all the corny stuff. Because your wife will appreciate it, and who knows, you find out a lot of that shit is fun. So … do the corny things and trust.
SLUG: You put the names of your songs on easels during your performance. Where did you get that from? Big Lo: Two years ago, I released an EP called The Amazing Luxurious Adventures of Baron von Lowenstein. And it’s just like this weird dystopian, opulent shit. A lot of my music is like that. We had a real swanky release party for it with caterers and everything. I wanted to do something special that’s not like … a projector for my set. So we made [the easels], and it just went over very well, so I brought it on tour with me. In every city, it kept building. It’s become kinda like a thing. That’s my shit. Think about it. When somebody’s out there rocking with your set or they’re taking pictures or filming your set, they might be diggin’ a particular record, and when they’re going back through their phone, they’re like, “Oh, shit, that’s that record I wanna find. Boom, lemme go to iTunes, lemme go to Spotify,” or whatever. It’s about making both a visual as well as an audible connection with the crowd.
SLUG: We have a common connection with the letter U. What’s your favorite moment as a Miami University fan? Big Lo: That 2001 team was a lot of fun … These guys were like superheroes to us. It wasn’t about the Dolphins—it was the ‘Canes. These guys were larger than life. Everybody from Michael Irvin to Horace Copeland to Lamar Thomas and all these different players through the years growing up; because the Dolphins have always been ass. You had the Marino years, but I was still young then.
SLUG: Tell us about some of the foods we have to eat when visiting Miami or Florida in general, as Utahns. Big Lo: Conk fritters is the thing inSouth Florida. Fried conk is where it’s at. I mean, all the different Cuban foods you got. I mean you got papas reanas, which are little potato balls with seasoned ground beef on the inside, and they’re fried, and they’re mad cheap and really good. And the Cuban coffee. There’s a lot of different dishes. If you think about Creole swamp culture, you think about Caribbean culture, and then you think about Southern fried-food culture, and you jam all three of them together—you got Florida food … and I just thought of that right there when I was telling you that [laughs].
Big Lo paints pictures with words in a style that is “The South meets New York” over boom bap–style beats. “He’s what Skyzoo would be if Skyzoo was from the South,” promoter Gage Luce explained.
The turnout was pretty good for a weekday soirée. Artists came to support. New connections were made. Old friends were reunited. Rap fans discovered artists whom they didn’t know had bars. Most of all, Big Lo was introduced to the culture of Salt Lake and the hip-hop heads that inhabit the Valley of Inversion and vice versa.
Connect with Big Lo @BigLoHipHop across all platforms.
The Acoustic Space is Downtown on the east side of The Gateway, between the Clark Planetarium and the movie theatre. The first thing you notice is that it’s about the size of a New York City apartment. Intimate is an understatement. It consists of a few small couches, a wall for merchandise, a minuscule bar, a single-person bathroom and the green room, all surrounding the modest dance floor. Some people might look at this as a detriment to the venue, but really, there is no other way to get close enough to high-five or request a song from your favorite emcees.
Opening up at the Acoustic Space for the Sept. 20 show was Illwinded P, who gave the crowd a sample of the lyricism and uniqueness (with a touch of awkwardness) that make him an underground favorite in the valley. Up next were the hosts of the Friday Night Fallout Show on KRCL, Negrodomus and Auratorikal the Iconoklast. Domus was up first, and he rocked the stage with his undeniable skill for improvisation. He spit a whole song off the top of his head that left even the most experienced concertgoers in the scene (shout out to Jay Moses) impressed. You can tell he has been working on his stage presence—he’s added flair to his performances—namely, a flowing, black-beaded necklace and dance moves that make Elvis Presley’s hips look stiff. His co-host A-U was next, and he blessed the crowd with a performance that was “fat and sweaty,” like a good steak. He made sure to thank turntablist/beat-maker Mixster Mike profusely during his set, as the blend technician enhanced his songs with scratches, beat juggling and samples from the tracks he also produced.
Wake Self brought the crowd’s energy to a crescendo with high-powered vocals over familiar beats mixed as well as original works. The Albuquerque, New Mexico–based emcee was onstage rocking the mic as I interviewed the headliner, Masta Ace, of Juice Crew fame.
SLUG: What’s your connection to Salt Lake City? Masta Ace: Well, my man [Street Jesus], who’s actually in the room right now, was the first promoter who brought me out here to do a show. Every time I come to this region, I like to touch down in Salt Lake, because they got some real hip-hop fans out here.
SLUG: Explain your background a little bit to our readers. Masta Ace: I’m from Brooklyn, New York. The neighborhood in Brooklyn I’m from is called Brownsville. I’m from the projects … high-rises … you know, public housing, but I was about to transcend that. I wound up going to college, getting a college degree and going into the music business in 1988 as a member of the Juice Crew with Marley Marl, and really, that’s the beginnings of a long career.
SLUG: Hip-hop is a recurring theme in your raps. Why is it important to keep hip-hop as a theme in music? Masta Ace: Well, hip-hop is the voice of not just the youth—because it’s always been a youth movement—but to me, it’s the voice of the underprivileged. The people who don’t have and don’t think they can get. Without hip-hop, I feel like those people would feel like they don’t have a voice. So thank goodness for hip-hop … that we are able to give a voice to those that are less fortunate on this planet and in this country.
SLUG: Tell us a little bit about the people who influenced you musically.
Masta Ace: Early in my career, my big influences were LL Cool J, Big Daddy Kane, Rakim and Slick Rick. Those were kinda the guys I fashioned my lyrical style around. It was all kinda based on what those guys did. Obviously, [there were] many, many people as I went on, but those are the initial influences in my style and my development.
SLUG: How would you describe your style? Masta Ace: I think I’m pretty versatile. I think I’m pretty much like a chameleon. You can hear me on five different songs and hear me flowing differently on each one. You’ll still get certain messages in the rhymes … storytelling will be in there, or some kind of punchlines will be in there, or some kind of wordplay will be in there … but I feel like I do a good job of sort of blending with whatever the track is, whatever the beat is, whatever the cadence is. I try to fashion my writing style around the track.
SLUG: Speaking of tracks, SLUG interviewed Marco Polo a while back. You’ve done a lot of work with him. What makes him the type of beatmaker that you rock with? Masta Ace: First of all, we are doing an album together. We are about seven, eight songs in. The very first time he gave him his beat CD, I was in “The Cutting Room,” which is a place he was working at as an intern. I didn’t know him from a can of paint. He was a little skinny kid who was like, “Yo, I do beats.” Back then, I would take everybody’s CD and I would listen to it, and when I listened to it, I immediately heard talent. I heard ability. I liked his drums. I liked his drum programming. [His] email was written on the CD, so I hit him up and I was like, “Yo, I like your style, there’s not anything on this CD that I wanna use, but I want to hear more.” And so he sent me more beats … and from that second CD I wound up picking a beat for my Long Hot Summer album—a song I did with rapper Noyd … and there was another beat on there that turned out to be “Nostalgia” from Marco Polo’s album, which is you know, a big record around the world.
SLUG: What would you be doing if you weren’t rapping? Masta Ace: I graduated from college with a marketing degree. My intention was to go into advertising. I wanted to work for an ad agency and write commercials, you know, do print ads and ad campaigns. I wanted to be a creative, so whatever I ended up doing it was going to be in the area of creative writing.
SLUG: Speaking of creative, you have a project with MF DOOM coming out. Tell us how that happened. Masta Ace: He had released Special Herbs, which was an instrumental series [of] all the beats that he had done for people, and I was just driving around listening to those beats. I started to get some ideas for some lyrics for some of the beats, and I knew that they were previously used beats, most of them, but I didn’t care. I wanted to do a mixtape, so I started writing songs to these beats. That turned into a full-release project. Phat Beats got involved. They wanted to spend money, and so it went from a free mixtape to an official release. The fans love [the collaboration], DOOM loved it—he spit on one of the songs—and you know, it was a successful project for me.
SLUG: You have a lot of collaborations. Who would you like to work with that you haven’t worked with yet? Masta Ace: Hmmmm. DJ Premier for sure. He’s a friend. We’ve been friends for a long time … we’ve been friends since the beginning of Gang Starr. It’s crazy that we’ve spent so much time around each other—I’ve never actually spit on one of his beats. We agreed that, on this Marco Polo album, at least one beat is gonna be from DJ Premier. So that’s gonna happen. In terms of anybody else, I feel like I’m good. I’m still gonna collaborate with some people. I might do a collaboration with this kid Joyner Lucas. I might get Redman on a song. I got a joint I want to ask Styles P to be on, but I just pick my features on the beat and who I think fits the beat. That’s pretty much how I move.
SLUG: What kind of hobbies do you have outside of the music business? Masta Ace: I don’t know if working out could be considered a hobby. That’s probably one of the things I do regularly. About four to five days a week, I’m doing some kinda workout, either in the house or in the gym, and even when I’m on the road, it’s a way that I keep my body in shape, strong, stage-ready—all of that is important.
SLUG: Louisiana, Red Hot or Tabasco [hot sauce]? Masta Ace: None of the above! I don’t like hot sauce at all!
SLUG: What’s something else that you don’t allow on your table? Masta Ace: Pork! No pork on my fork. No beef in my teeth. I’m pescatarian right now, but I’m on my way [to becoming a vegetarian].
SLUG: Do you have beats in your ride right now, and is it on chrome? Masta Ace: No, I have a factory system. I just turned 50 years old in December, and I think back to when I had two 25s and two 12s in the back of my Chevy Blazer—and I outgrew it. I outgrew it being a thing. When I was 21, it was all about driving through the hood, system on 12, hollerin’ at girls. Getting their attention just from the bass and then turning it down so you can talk to them. … [I’m] 50 years old. Married. A daughter. Homeowner. I’m a different person, but I do still love to look at cars and watch cars. I did it all, I had it all, [and] I had a lot of fun with it, but I’m just a different person now.
SLUG: What’s your favorite car that you’ve ever had? Masta Ace: My favorite car that I’ve ever had was a Chevy Suburban that I bought from a guy in Los Angeles. If you look back at my “I.N.C. Ride” video, there’s a Suburban that I’m riding in the back of. That video became pretty well-known around the country. That Suburban from that video I bought from the guy after we shot the video, that’s how much I loved the car. I drove that thing through Brooklyn. It was lowered … at the time, the biggest rims [on the market] was 18s, there was no 20s yet, there were no 19s yet … the biggest rim was 18s … chromed-out 18s, sound system, leather interior. It was pimped out all the way around. That’s my favorite car that I owned.
SLUG: Who are you listening to as you ride now? Masta Ace: A good mixture of classic and current, so on my current list, I listen to Kendrick, I listen to J. Cole, Joey Bada$$, Action Bronson, Joyner Lucas … and then I still listen to The Lox, Redman & Method Man, Tribe, De La and all that. I mix it up.
The Sept. 20 event was thrown by Flower Power Productions (Brett High and Tyler Galovich), who graciously allowed a budding journalist access to the green room and the artists they booked. Although they aren’t necessarily geared toward hip-hop (they dabble in rock, blues and other genres as well), they definitely hit a home run with this show. Check in with them at honeypotglasscomp.com every so often to see what kind of shows and events they are throwing.
Seldom do we see a true emcee spawn out of an online rap challenge, but that’s exactly happened when then 16-year-old A-F-R-O won the Definition of a Rap Flow contest and blew up on the internet. When I found out that he would be in Salt Lake City, I had to see if I could troll around for an interview.
I happened to walk by A-F-R-O on my way into the Attack of the Flow Gods show at Urban Lounge.Dressed in a plain, black shirt, black pants and black shoes and standing at least 6 feet 3 inches tall, he looked like he had just been driven to the venue straight off a flight, so I was pleased when he agreed to chat with me after the show. His short but powerful set was highlighted by his two-mic technique, flowing afro, superb delivery and off the charts rhyme skills—but I wanted to get to know more about the man behind the hair.
SLUG: What’s it like under R.A. the Rugged Man’s wing? A-F-R-O: Man, you know what? R.A. wasn’t one of the first emcees I ever heard, but he was the first emcee I heard where I was like, “Yo, he’s my number one.” I remember being 13 years old and listening to “L.I’s Finest.” It popped up on my X Box Live music channel—it was playing ill-ass old-school hip-hop music … and then I heard his song “Supa” and I was like “Yo, he’s my favorite of all time … and then I heard “Uncommon Valor” and I was like aww this is game over.”
It’s crazy, man. I start to pinch myself sometimes because I started as a kid from nothing. Without R.A. taking me under his wing like he did, I wouldn’t be doing what the fuck I’m doing right now.
SLUG: How has the tour life been treating you so far? A-F-R-O: Beautiful, man— the number one thing I’m happy about, besides traveling and meeting new people and everything, is that I can help pay my mom’s bills. I paid a lot of bills, to a point where they don’t have to worry for a few months. I’m really happy. [Touring] is income, which is dope. As long as I’m feeding my family, I’m good.
But besides that, the people are beautiful. I’ve never traveled before I met R.A. When I was 5 years old, I went to Hawaii with my family once, so I never traveled.
SLUG: What new destinations are you looking forward to visiting the most? A-F-R-O: Tokyo, Japan, Korea—oh, and I’d love to go to Australia.
SLUG: For what reason? A-F-R-O: … I’ve never been there, so it would be pretty dope, hot spot. I’ve been to a lot of places that I wanted [to perform at] like Europe and Canada, so now I want to go to places like Asia, you know.
SLUG: So what are you working on now? A-F-R-O: I’m working on my first album; I don’t have an LP out yet, so I’m hard at work. When I’m not touring, I’m in the studio trying to knock it out. That’s my main focus is the debut album, and I’m really close. The album is shaping up— it’s not finished, but, I think in the next two, three months, it should be done. This is an album that has been almost three years in progress.
SLUG: They say the first album is the biggest album because it’s a culmination of your whole life to that point. Are you feeling the pressure? A-F-R-O: In the beginning, I was feeling a lot of pressure. I was like “Yo, this could go this way or it could go that way.” But ever since I figured out what sound I wanted to go to, what approach I wanted to go with the album, I feel way more at ease—and it’s shaping up. There was a time when I experimented in the album, but recently, a little before this tour, it’s starting to wind up again. I can positively say this thing is coming out. I’m 10 songs deep and wanna put like 16 [on the LP]. I wanna go big with this album.
SLUG: Have you ever been to Salt Lake City? Any impressions? A-F-R-O: I’ve never been to SLC that I can remember. To tell you the truth, pretty regular. A little crazy because I saw your guys’ gay pride parade. So, we were driving around seeing characters. I was like, hold on, homie got on a thong and some shoes!
I like it though, I dig SLC. but I haven’t been around it enough to be like, “Yo, I seen some places,” and shit like that. I still gotta go around and the city and check out places, ya know.
SLUG: If you were in a hip-hop yearbook, what quote would be underneath your picture? A-F-R-O: Damn, that’s a hard one. I’ma say, “God take, God give …” go with R.A.’s quote.
SLUG: Anything else we should know? A-F-R-O: Your boy ’Fro is trying to get into some movies. I love movies. I love hip-hop. I love music. I write my own scripts. I love to audition for movies … to “blend it all” in a way. I’m nowhere near Denzel but I wanna reach that status. He’s the man. I wanna do some Denzel shit.
A-F-R-O’s first album will definitely be worth listening to. It’s hard to find a talented rapper who is truly humble and family oriented, but fits the bill. Whether or not his skill and charm will be enough to endear him to fans for an extended period of time is another story entirely, but he’s starting out well.
Rap fans, the crowd seemed to come for A-F-R-O just as much as they did the Rugged Man. You could attribute that to ’Fro’s fans being younger and it being a weekday show, or maybe the young man is up to something. Only time and discerning ears will tell … but with his creative wordplay, unique ability to draw people in, and his incredible vocal ability, he can go as far as anyone on the XXL Freshman cover—he just needs you and me to support him. I know I’m down.
SLUG’s Localizedconcert series remains a platform for Utah’s top artists with a free show on May 17 atUrban Lounge. This time around, we mash up ska and hip-hop with Rhyme Time, Show Me Island and DJ Skratchmo. Localizedis brought to you by our generous sponsors atKRCL 90.9FM, High West Distillery, Uinta Brewingand Spilt Ink SLC,and is only open to patrons 21 years of age and older, so leave the kids at home.
If a picture of our nation’s 44th president wasn’t sitting high above the kitchen cabinets, you’d think it was the set of That 70’s Show. The scent of barbecue chicken seeped out of a silver crock pot and filled the air as shades of brown and tan, argyle patterns and wood trim filled the rapper’s family’s Rose Park residence. Most people know him as Rhyme Time, formerly known as Atheist, or the guy with the ’fro from House of Lewis, but he mostly goes by Scott—Scott Knopf, the creative director for a printing company in Murray, Utah.
Casual rap fans tend to think about violence, expensive jewelry, exotic cars and designer clothes when they think of rappers, but that’s exactly the opposite of what you get with Knopf. His style stems from nostalgia, which results in conceptual songs about (and references to) wrestling, cartoons and pop culture. His flow is reminiscent of ’80s and ’90s lyricism, similar to Ludacris, because his enunciation is easy to understand no matter the listener’s birthplace. Rhyme Time manages to inhabit an area of rap that is unique, like Lil Dicky or Missy Elliott—being “cool” for being unapologetically nerdy (read: passionate) and different from his contemporaries.
Rhyme Time has been active since 2012, gaining a reputation for himself through freestyle battles on U92 after moving to Utah from San Francisco. He credits Bay Area acts like Zion I, Hieroglyphics and Crown City Rockers as his chief influences. “[Crown City Rockers are] my favorite group of all time,” he says. “I shout them out every interview. If it wasn’t for them, I probably wouldn’t rap.”
Knopf’s first album, Thanks for the Burgers, was succeeded by The Roger EP, Topanga and then Gnarly, which is set to be re-released sometime this year. Promoting his latest solo album took a backseat to group success. Rhyme Time and House of Lewis groupmates DJ Skratchmo, Donnie Bonelli, Apt and Chance Lewis were selected by City Weekly as the best rap group of 2015 and, as a result, were afforded the opportunity to open for Run the Jewels and Flying Lotus at the Twilight Concert Series.
Then the phone started ringing. House of Lewis had been selected to represent Utah on Season 11 of America’s Got Talent in Los Angeles.
“First I thought it was fake,” Knopf says, but after a few phone calls and several months of auditions, preparations and taping, House of Lewis made it to the top 80 of 50,000 contestants.
“Because we [are] white rappers from Utah … and [shows such as AGT] have a history of making fun of [certain acts], we were almost positive we were going to be the joke,” Knopf says. “It was really stressful.”
Although the studio audience seemed to like their first performance, “SHAKEFACE,” the program proved to be less than organic due to editing, and the performance that aired was a song that was a little less popular with the crowd and judges, a tune called “We’re All Gonna Die.”
Even though he has tasted a modicum of success on a national level, Rhyme Time still has his attention focused on the valley we call home. According to Knopf, connecting artists and fans across genres is the surest way to strengthen the Utah rap scene. Rap and ska might be an odd couple to some concertgoers, but for Knopf, pairing with a band appeals to logic because incorporating new sounds, new styles and new friends is conducive to higher energy and overall participation.
“At a rap show, everyone there is trying their hardest to seem cool,” says Knopf, “whether you’re onstage or offstage. Everybody’s really reserved, and you really have to bring something special to get the crowd to move with you. [At] a ska show … the kids come to dance. There’s no real separation between the band and the crowd … a lot of time for rap shows, you have to damn near kill yourself to get people to stand up and move towards the stage.”
While Knopf seems pleased with the scene and the direction of his rap career so far—“Having a Localized feature was on my bucket list,” he says—he still has some things he wants to see improve for himself and his peers.
“I hate how compartmentalized things are here in Salt Lake,” Knopf says. “Branch out … if you’re a Utah rapper, go see a folk artist at Kilby Court, go to Velour and see some rock bands—because they’re never gonna come check you out without you checking them out. Just be a part of [the Utah music community].”
If you are a hip-hop fan who grew up listening to Bone Thugs but don’t have a thug bone in your body (and don’t mind admitting it), then Rhyme Time is right up your alley. This show promises to be one of our liveliest to date. Join us at Urban Lounge after you listen to Gnarly at rhymetimerapper.bandcamp.com.