Hip-Hop Fridays: Most Local Hip-Hop Still Under The Mainstream Radar by Kevin Young
Not the first name that comes to mind when you think of rap music.
The popular local attorney and star of the courtroom reality show "Eye for an Eye" recently threw his "strong arm" into the local hip-hop music game when he, along with local music producer Cam, put together a music compilation to sell online and at local record stores.
On the compilation CD, "King Chuck South Volume One," Lowcountry locals take their turns at several different genres of music, and rap is no exception.
The production itself is a testament to rap music's endurance over the years.
Once seen as a fad when the Sugarhill Gang broke into the mainstream with the group's 1979 smash hit, "Rapper's Delight," rap music has grown into a billion-dollar, worldwide industry that has influenced everything from clothing to food.
Monster Music manager Aaron Stoney says, "If you really take a look at the sales of rap music, hip-hop music in general, you see that the music, which originated in the streets, has made about 70 percent of its sales to suburban kids. I've always thought that was interesting."
While the national spotlight has shone on hip-hop for a couple of decades now, locally hip-hop has stayed more or less underground. If you asked the average Charleston Joe, he wouldn't know that there was a rap scene here in the Lowcountry.
"You know, people need to hear about us. They need to know that hip-hop and rap music does exist here in Charleston. Not enough people know all the artists out there," says local hip-hop producer Donovan "Twin D" Kinloch.
Twin's label, Twin D 1st Century Entertainment, is home to a production studio. His company also has a small retail store. Most of the CDs Twin D sells and promotes feature the artists on his roster. But Twin, like most enterprising businessmen, is constantly on the hustle, promoting the latest artist he's signed to the label.
One day recently, Twin sat at his computer putting together a track for a local artist while scheduling a session with someone who wanted studio time.
As with most musicians, Twin's love for music started when he was younger. In 1994, he and twin brother, David, both fresh out of high school, decided to record their own three-song demo at Shack of Tracks in North Charleston. From there, they gave the music to their friends. This, in turn, prompted positive word of mouth for the fledgling rappers, who called themselves Double Up.
A few years later, the brothers began putting together a plan to produce music locally, buying equipment and finding a spot in West Ashley to call home. Over time, the pair built up their own roster of artists.
When Kinloch talked about the roster of artists who signed on with "Twin D 1st Century Entertainment," his eyes lit up with excitement.
When he was asked about the first time he heard local emcee Pacino Dino in 2000, Kinloch laughed. "I was up at a club a few years back, and he was there opening up for Ludacris with a few other dudes," says Kinloch. "Pacino gets up (on stage) to do his thing. He starts rhyming. His voice, his flow, the way he just went off, he was like an animal. He keeps doing his thing and somebody cut his music off. He didn't stop though. He kept flowing with no beat, no nothing."
It wasn't long before Kinloch committed Dino's microphone prowess to the label's first compilation CD, "Twin D 1st Century Entertainment: South Carolina Playaz."
This, in turn, gave more light to Kinloch's ever-growing roster and his unusual take on the Geechee roots of some of Charleston's rap music.
North Charleston emcee/producer Travis Shaver, also known as Baby Gar Figuer, started his musical career as a violinist at Burns Elementary School. He made his entrance into the world of hip-hop when he began recording music during his high school days. Since then, he has been the head of Raw Tunez Entertainment, a company that does a little bit of everything when it comes to promoting local hip-hop.
"I can make great beats, do graphics, a little video production, I help DJs get gigs. ... Music is life," he says.
With his music and multiple MySpace pages, he is quick to emphasize the importance of promotion.
"I do a lot of my own promoting," he says. "It's all about networking. I haven't done enough networking, but so far its good enough now that I have my own personal street team."
Stoney of Monster Music echos Shaver's comments: "Pacino Dino sells, Fat Boy sells. I mean, there's a lot of guys that sell. Chuck T., a deejay from here who has CDs in the U.S. and other countries, sells extremely well.
"The big problem is that a lot of (rap artists) expect to drop their CDs and they'll just sell, no problem. And it doesn't work that way," Stoney says. "Call radio stations like Z-93 and send your stuff to DJ D-Nyce and see if it's good enough to get played. Get yourself a MySpace page. You got to promote, you got to hustle to get your name out there."
In the past, Charleston has had its own flirtations with hip-hop success.
Charleston is filled with stories about people who were very close to national success.
There was Da Phlayva, a mid-'90s hip-hop group whose logo, a red, black and green Confederate flag that made national headlines; Infinity the Ghetto Child, a Charleston hip-hop artist with an honest, abrasive debut, "Pain," on MCA Records; and T-Mac, another Charleston native whose independent release, "Shinin and Big Timin'," created a buzz. But due to industry pitfalls, label woes and, in T-Mac's case, serving time in jail, their music careers never took off.
"That's the sad part about local hip-hop," Stoney says, shaking his head. "Sometimes, the subject matter of some of the music can hurt the artists; whether it be the fact that a lot of venues are scared to book rap shows. Sometimes, it's the artists themselves that can't stay out of trouble. It's pretty hard to sell CDs in jail."
As with a lot of underground movements, hip-hop has built its buzz on word of mouth more than industry hype, and Charleston's hip-hop scene is no different.
The local rap scene has incorporated Southern drawls and expressions of the Geechee culture to make its music stand out a little more.
Like counterparts in Georgia, New York and Los Angeles, Stoney hopes that local artists one day will follow the examples of hip-hop performers who've paved the way.
"Look at Outkast and Wu-Tang Clan. They were smart. They worked as a team and didn't just look out for the individual," he says.
"Locals could use that unity. There are a lot of good artists out there. Some of them need to get their act together. You can't move music if you don't work together. The labels are out there. The labels are just waiting."
Editor's Note: This article first appeared in The Post and Courier. of Charleston, South Carolina.
Friday, July 20, 2007