The Super Bowl has come and gone, exposing Indianapolis to the rest of the country as the rich cultural mini-metropolis we already knew existed. In perhaps the most musical Super Bowl festivities ever, over 250 performers, by a modest count, were featured on stages around the city, including dozens of our talented local players.
Local hip-hop is alive and well in Indy, although, according to some, it exists in relative isolation. However, the city's talent, combined with the Indy's recent media exposure, has reached a critical mass. Would-be stars who have simmered for years are ready for the spotlight. We are ready for a bona fide Naptown hip-hop star.
Here are a few key people working to help those stars break free.
Bringing Down The Band
The first thing that strikes you upon meeting Sean Stuart is his thoughtfulness.
Each statement and response is measured; his words carry weight. Questions are pondered, responses are measured. Themes interrupted by my stream of consciousness interview style are immediately picked back up by him and quietly continued.
We met for coffee at Near Northside coffee shop MoJoe's. We’re here to talk about his project, Bringing Down the Band, an underground hip-hop website Stuart launched in 2008, which is starting to pick up steam and recognition.
It’s not easy to wrap one’s head around the local hip-hop scene. First consider questions of identity: Each emcee, producer and DJ takes on a different performing name. Now, track them down: Individuals pop up on tracks everywhere, guesting on projects for artists across the city, releasing their own and connecting with each other on social media platforms, minute by minute.
There are a few ways to process the amount of musicians and talent in the city; one of them is to turn to a trusted hip-hop blog maintained by a passionate individual.
Stuart, who performs under the name Lonegevity, is describing the origin of his project's name.
“Bringing Down The Band originated in high school. My friend Michael, Maja 7th, we were in band class together. We would always make fun of the French horns and flutes. We would just clown all the time between us and Clarence [Jones], who is in Hinx Jones with me. We played tuba and trombone, so we sat close,” said Stuart.
I nod for him to continue, albeit a bit disagreeably, as I am a former French horn player.
“We would always talk, probably too much. One day our assistant band director walked around the back and cut everyone off. He looked at Michael and Clarence and I and said, 'You guys are bringing down the band.' And he moved to sit right behind us [to make us be quiet].” said Stuart.
Stuart, already a music maker, went on to purchase his first producing program — software plus auxiliary equipment — a few years later. After graduating from Purdue, he started a job on the Northside of Indianapolis with Symbios, and although economic straits later eliminated his job, he stayed in the city.
He began Bringing Down The Band four years ago, with the intention of forming a musical collective. After the collective dissolved, Stuart continued alone, eventually creating a thriving hip-hop blog he updates nearly every day.
The elegantly constructed site features a variety of projects spearheaded by Stuart, including yearly “Best Of” lists, sponsored releases, a growing interactive hip-hop calendar and a project called Beats and Breakfast (see sidebar). Outside of the site's projects, Stuart cultivates a collection of new, well-produced, underground hip-hop tracks and videos.
As an artist and tastemaker, Stuart realizes the pressures that exist on either side of the computer monitor.
“The problem is as an artist, I know how important blogs are. [But as a website operator] I know what it's like to have fifty email submissions and have to go through them all. But also, I know what it's like when you're not known and to have that hurdle to get through,” said Stuart.
Hip-hop blogs play an important role in the discovery of new, young artists in an industry and musical genre that's constantly evolving. Videos, tracks and beats are often self-produced and self-marketed, leaving it up to site operators to comb through the mass of releases to find bloggable gems. Stuart also exerts a concentrated effort to showcase local performers.
“I know a lot of artists around here haven't had that 'co-sign,' which is where you see their name in an email list and say, 'Man, I'll check that out right away.' And I would like BDTB to provide that co-sign for artists,” said Stuart.
I ask him what artists he thinks have cleared that hurdle in Indy.
“I think, realistically, there aren't any artists that have cleared that hurdle yet. There are a couple of artists that have been up to the line a little bit, but they haven't gotten over it. To clear it, you have to take your musicianship seriously. That's just how it has to be. On the whole, around here, it's relaxed. I don't know if people realize that,” said Stuart.
“There's an over saturation of people that think they can make music in hip-hop. There's too many rappers and producers and not enough fans,” said Stuart.
Terry Coleman: Shared musical philosophies
This excess of rappers and producers led Stuart to search for a partner for the site.
Terry Coleman met Stuart at Nick Saligoe's Take That! Tuesday dance night in 2011.
They immediately clicked, talking about personal musical philosophies they soon realized that they shared. Stuart was searching for someone to assist on the quickly growing site, and Coleman offered his services. His background in graphic design complemented the site's aesthetic, and his DJ skills provided a new opportunity for BDTB to expand when Coleman decided to begin releasing a series of custom mixtapes called The Cadence.
“Terry is like an alternative mind, of sorts,” said Stuart.
The mixtapes are dropped on the first Friday of the month and offer a taste of what BDTB has covered in one month —Â in just under an hour.
“I like the one I did in December the best. It started out with the Nutcracker theme, but I slowed it down and it went into hip-hop stuff,” said Coleman.
They've found that the Cadence series drive interest in some of the young artists they've promoted on the site.
“I have fans on the West Coast and they say, 'I don't know who any of these people are but this tape is hot. It makes me want to know more about these artists.' We vouch for [these artists], go to bat for them,” said Coleman.
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