Meet the Beat

Hip-hop's here. Deal with it. Check the local MCs and DJs moving up from the underground.

Mychaels says that Majic is working on making space for more local artists to be aired on the station and hopes to have something in place this year.

Knowledge of self is like life after death
With that you never worry about your last breath
Death comes that's how I'm living
It's the next stage
The flesh goes underground
The book of life flip a page
Yo they asking me how old
We live in the same age
I show the rage of a million niggaz locked inside a cage
At exactly which point do you start to realize
That life without knowledge is death in disguise?
-- from "K.O.S. (Determination)," by Mos Def and Talib Kweli (NYC)

It's easy to blame radio stations for lack of exposure, but to rely on some mysterious, all-powerful entity for success is a recipe for failure, and when it comes down to it, the problems St. Louis hip-hop faces have less to do with a lack of support from radio than with a lack of large-scale vision uniting studios, artists, labels, managers and marketers under an umbrella of cooperation and mutual goals. There's no hub, no Music Row. Yes, financing is a constant struggle, but the community has always managed to scrape up enough money for record pressing and studio equipment. These building blocks, along with dozens of artists on a par with many of the acts on the charts, are enough to mount a cohesive front. If you release a product that catches fire, radio will have no choice but to pick it up; their job in 1999 is not to break artists -- that era in radio is, sadly, long gone. Commercial radio's job is to make money for shareholders; they'll play local music only if it serves their financial interests.

The major problem, then, comes not from external forces -- radio stations, record labels -- unwilling to give artists what they think they deserve. James Howell publishes the Midwest Hip-hop Kronicles, a tip sheet based on the East Side that highlights acts from all over the area; he says the major problem comes from a lack of unity: "Lately there's been a very intensive buildup of incredible technology among these individual camps, and they're replicating a lot of work and a lot of equipment and resources. First, this isn't the best use of the resources, and then they're not being networked. So we got a lot of people that are reinventing the wheel all over the St. Louis metro area, and the wheel has no orientation, no hub, no spokes."

Of course, in a discussion of lack of cohesion within the community, it's again helpful to view the problems alongside the rock community; no one's complaining that the South County metal bands won't sit down and plot a plan with the Creepy Crawl punks or the musicians who perform at the Way Out Club. To do so would be ridiculous, because aside from a love of the 4/4 beat the groups have little idealistic common ground. To suggest that hip-hop musicians need to form some sort of alliance with others whose tastes may differ drastically from their own is to ignore the simple fact that hip-hop comes in many shades in 1999, and no summit will resolve differences of tastes and goals.

That said, the studios and record-pressing plants don't care how much bass a hip-hop artist prefers, whether he preaches a message of positivity or prefers rhyming snapshots from the street. All the money spent within the community on ADAT machines and expensive software, all the elbow grease expended on constructing studios, organizing hip-hop nights and servicing and soliciting radio stations is energy that's wasted if too many people are duplicating the process without results.

"There are people doing the same thing and see each other," says Add Verb Superb, "but that connecting point, the feeling that 'OK, I'm not your rival, we're in this thing together' -- that does not exist. And that's the main problem. It's just really divisional. Really segregated and separate. And the things that we've always tried to push in In Limbo is that we're too small to be having all this infighting. I mean, there's nothing close to any Tupac/Biggie bullshit going on (a reference to the 1997 murders of two of hip-hop's most talented and incendiary rappers, Tupac Shakur and Biggie Smalls), but what it is, is, you have people who tend not to be too receptive to other people's style (or) people who are doing the exact same thing but they get into small beefs. I would call them drama, because it's stuff that doesn't mean anything. Nobody here is signed; nobody here has done anything outside of this area. If they have, it's been small-time -- not to insult them, but there hasn't been anything to even blow up in the area itself. All this nonsense that people are putting each other and other's groups through -- it's killing us."

The next Monday at the Hi-Pointe is a bit slower, more subdued. Charlie Chan, DJ Solo and Chilly C alternate on the turntables while a few members of the Track Vandals and the Ruckus Crew sit onstage, occasionally rapping along with the music, shouting out to crowd members, plugging upcoming events around town. Members of Fat Trash and the Midwest Avengers, two of the biggest names in St. Louis these days, mingle in the crowd. The place is about half-full, and everybody looks a bit tired. Every now and then, a few break-dancers spin and move near the front, compelling the crowd to surround them and shout out support.

« Previous Page
Next Page »