The 801 Sons: a Hip-Hopagraphy
When you think of Ogden, Utah you probably don’t usually think of hip-hop, gangsters or any other such radical social configurations. But one of O-town’s best kept secrets is that gangsters, such as Al Capone, ran drug cartels, prostitution rings and bootlegging operations out of our sister city to the North. From these auspicious beginnings, Ogden hip-hop was born.
The story of O-town rapping starts not so much with the early transcontinental railroad and the unsavory downtown presence it brought to its residents, but in the mid-90s with the Ogden City Breakers. “The Ogden City Breakers brought the b-boy culture uptown by break dancing in front of the Ogden Mall. That is where Ogden hip-hop started,” says rapper, producer and co-founder of www.utahhiphop.com, Maxem Ill.
Maxem Ill was born in Salt Lake and got into hip-hop through the 1980s rap legends such as Grandmaster Flash, The Furious Five, etc. For Maxem, Utah’s hip-hop scene in general and Ogden hip-hop in particular are following the dictum of Reverend Run of Run-DMC fame. “Rap is changing – it is moving away from the gansta sound towards a more positive message,” Ill says. “Rap is in a phase now where you are gonna hear the white guy speak. Rap is individual; it is about expressing yourself and your emotions, being real,” Ill concludes.
However, things for Maxem were not always be as positive as his current outlook on rap. Before hip-hop changed his outlook, Maxem Ill was serving time in prison for eight felonies, had a meth and heroin addiction and was homeless. “Music was a therapy for me to help myself change. When I got out of prison I made a promise to myself to make a positive change towards the future,” Ill remarks. Maxem Ill’s brand of positive hip-hop helps not only himself but others as well.
On August 10th, Lance and I were invited to the aptly named “free hip-hop show” at the Ogden Amphitheatre. The Ogden Amphitheatre is reminiscent of the Gallivan Center but with stadium seating. The crowd consisted of stragglers from a children’s theatre performance that went on before the show, a few curious onlookers and the whole of Ogden’s nascent hip-hop scene. From these humble beginnings, Lance and I experienced a taste of Ogden fried hip-hop.
Max carefully selected the artists that performed at this free hip-hop show. “I’m a big fan of all kinds of local groups, whether it be hip-hop or not. No bling-bling, cars, bitches/hoes, or drugs, just positivity and truth,” he remarks.
According to O-town artist M.C. Growlz, There is five elements that hip-hop consist of: the M.C., break dancing, graffiti, turntablism and beat boxing. M.C. Growlz started the night off with his trademark vocal beat box, bass lines and scratches, showing the crowd what the fifth element of hip-hop really is. Maxem Ill, Vanessa Chamberlain and George MacDonald (as K.F.C.) followed up with positive statements through rhyme-meter and melody. “It’s not where you’re from or where you’re at, it’s who you are,” Max yells. At this point of the show, the ambiance pulsed with optimism and hopefulness while at the same time keeping the focus away from the incongruous police lights flashing from Ogden City Correctional Facility throughout the whole performance.
Next up was Spitsofrantic, a local Ogdenite with a hard past and a knack for telling it how it is. “I am the voice of Ogden!,” he states. However, the positive fuse dwindled in the dry winds of calamity. “This song is called Arrested Development, cause when you get arrested, you can’t develop, you know?,” he bellows.
Low and behold, half the crowd walked away, which proves that there is something to be said about the power of the messages that hip-hop artists choose to portray. Spitsofrantic has a positive message which is more about keeping it real in a place that is potentially negative and turning that message into something where people can identify problems and be able to over come them.
Next up, was Scoob Serious, a four, no wait, five, no, that’s not right either, eight time Grammy nominated soulful M.C. who holds his weight in the Gospel of positive change and preaches it with love and pride.
The Soul Shakers finished out the night with their own brand of mental productivity. They demonstrated a socially conscious view, not only for Ogden but also for the world as a whole. They pulled what little crowd they had left back together for the hustle. Finally, Max returned to the stage to thank everyone and remind them that the populace is affected by it’s surroundings and to never lose the optimistic mind frame, to always pass it on.
As far as he is concerned, Maxem Ill thinks the future of hip-hop is leaning towards expression of a positive message, especially the hip-hop emanating from O-town. Maxem Ill is not the only one sending positive vibes using music as an optimistic phonic-cannonball. Artists like the Soul Shakers, Spitsofrantic, Ill Poet, and Illuminati are doing big things whether it be booking shows or promoting each other. The Soul Shakers note, “I would like to see every keep doing what they are doing, everybody has a helping hand to help the whole music scene rather than independently promoting themselves, that should be the objective.”
Ogden hip-hop is unique among the rap world. Not only is it fiercely provincial in its own individual expression but also it eschews the common ethos of materiality that typifies more urban strands of the genre. Furthermore, the rappers themselves provide legitimacy to their enthusiasm for the genre by having torrid pasts that help them identify and circumvent those stereotypes common to hip-hop. Whether they are rapping about tough times or spitting grim nightmares only to wake up sane again, Ogden hip-hop looks past the “tougher than leather” attitude of today and reaches for the good in all of us.
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