If you’ve been around the Indy hip-hop scene in the last five years, there’s a good chance you’ve heard the name Wildstyle.
For the latest installment of his in-office interviews, our Seth Johnson caught up with Wildstyle for a conversation. You can watch it in full below, or continue reading for the full transcription.
SETH JOHNSON: When did you first come to Nap?
WILDSTYLE: I guess I came here in 1981 when my mom had me at Methodist. Most people don’t know my age. I’m a little older than a lot of people on the scene. [laughs] I grew up on the northwest side for a while. I lived on the far east side for a long time, and then I came back to the northwest side.
JOHNSON: How did you first get plugged into the hip-hop scene here?
WILDSTYLE: Back in my slim days, I used to roller skate, and the hip-hop scene used to kind of revolve around the rink as well. This was around 2001. One of my buddies was a DJ up there, and he was playing something. I was like, “What is this?” It didn’t have any words or anything — it was an instrumental. He was like, “I made it.” And I was like, “You made that?” And he was like, “Yeah. I used MTV Music Generator for PlayStation.” And I’m like, “Damn. I wanna try that.”
I always wanted to be a hip-hop producer. I had a background in orchestra in high school, but I didn’t have any other connection other than listening on the radio. He was like, “You oughta try it. It’s cheap to go get the game off of eBay.” So I went and did it, and I started making beats in 2001. I flirted with the idea of having rappers on there, but it didn’t happen for another 10 years.
JOHNSON: Were you going to shows at all during those years?
WILDSTYLE: Around 2008 or 2009, I started going to some of the shows. Like when G-Fresh shot his “On My Momma” video, I was actually at the video shoot. I wasn’t in the video, but I was actually there. So I started getting involved there, but I wasn’t that heavily involved. I just kind of watched
JOHNSON: When would you say you got more heavily involved?
WILDSTYLE: When I got laid off from work in 2012. [laughs] By trade, I was an auto mechanic, and I had been on this job for almost eight years. But it was cool. All this time, I always said, “Well, I’m busy.” Back then, I was running a roller skating club, Naptown Skate Nation. And before that, I was vice president of the Naptown Real Rollers. They do the Circle City Classic Parade every year. So back then, I was busy, and I was like, “I ain’t got time to focus on music. I wish I did.” But when I got laid off, I was like, “I ain’t got no excuses anymore.”
I was getting unemployment. So I went and was like, “Okay. I’m gonna be a real producer.” Or at least that’s what I thought. [laughs] I realized I wasn’t as good as I thought I was.
JOHNSON: Who are some of the guys you first started producing for?
WILDSTYLE: My cousin Deion, and a dude named Fred. [laughs] They were on the first track that I actually can say I produced. It came out in 2011. Maybe 50 people heard it. [laughs] I remember they did open for Gucci Mane at Cloud 9 [now Limelight]. I did that for a little bit in 2011 and took a break. I love my family and everything, but I don’t think we need to be doing music together that intensively. So I chilled out and focused on my skate club until I got laid off.
JOHNSON: I know you’ve worked with Pope Adrian Bless in recent years. Who did you work with between then and now?
WILDSTYLE: When I moved back over to the northwest side into a house (I had been living in apartment before that), I actually put up a real recording studio, instead of just a production studio. I had Fred come back for a little bit. That didn’t work out. And then, I worked with an artist named Riko V. He got killed in 2015, but he was really an amazing rapper. He was difficult to deal with. Me and him didn’t get along, but he was like a little brother.
I’m proud of what we accomplished. Before that, he didn’t have a project out. But then in a year, we put out a mixtape, [which was] an all-original project. A lot of people covered it. NUVO covered it back then. 96.3 and a lot of other blogs covered it. It was really good for my career, and I think it was pretty good for his career.
JOHNSON: And then from there, what other people did you work with?
WILDSTYLE: AG the Pharaoh was also in the studio at the same time, but I focused more on his career after working with Riko. It was about that time [when] I met up with Pope for the first time. It started off slowly. He’d come over and record a track or two here and there. It kind of just was built where I ended up becoming his main producer.
JOHNSON: As a producer, who are some people you look up to?
WILDSTYLE: When I heard Timbaland’s stuff growing up, that was the stuff that was like, “Man, I wish I could do something like this.” Or Mannie Fresh. When Juvenile came out with 400 Degreez, I was just listening to the beats like, “I don’t know what’s going on here, but I wanna do that.” And then even later on, Lex Luger. When he was working with Waka Flocka, it was like, “I don’t understand this, but I like it.” And then, he started working with Rick Ross. They put out that stuff. It was a grown and sexy vibe, but it was still trap beats. I was like, “Wow.”
JOHNSON: When did you start All317hiphop?
WILDSTYLE: It goes back to 2015, when the artists I was managing and quasi-producing all started getting more shows. As a manager, it was like, “I need to figure out a way to promote these shows.” So I was like, “Okay. We’ve gotta get photographers.” No knock on the photographers because there’s all types of photography. But the photographers weren’t getting what I felt I needed as a manager to promote. I would look at the shots and be like, “I don’t want to go to this event. [laughs] I need the shot to look like you missed out because you didn’t go to the event.”
So I was like, “Look. I’m gonna take the pictures myself.” So I borrowed one of my OG’s cameras for like a month. I realized I loved it, so I started building up on that. I was supposed to just come to take pictures of my artists, but I’d end up taking pictures of everybody. Then, I found myself going to shows they weren’t even on, just taking pictures.
I was hanging out at CityDump Records, talking to Icon, and he was like, “You’ve got all these pictures of local artists. You oughta start a photography blog. You could just do it on Instagram.” So I think I did it the next day, and that’s how All317hiphop was born.
JOHNSON: How is the hip-hop scene different now from when you first were introduced to it?
WILDSTYLE: The quality is higher. Around 2013 when I opened my little studio in my house, I didn’t have the best sound quality, but it really competed with just about anything anybody else was putting out. There was people that were better, but it wasn’t a whole lot. Now with everything I’m listening to, I’m like, “Ooo. I need to step my game up, or I need to make sure that I’m sounding as good as this over here.” Now, there are a lot of no-name studios that are really poppin’ out great sound quality.
I wouldn’t say artists are getting more creative. But with better engineering, you’re able to hear how creative they really are. Instead of sounding weird or muffled, they’re sounding really amazing.
JOHNSON: What about support from the community? How is that different now from when it was years back?
WILDSTYLE: In general, I think it is growing. Even before Chreece ... I think the support culminated into, “Okay. Now there’s a possibility of a Chreece happening.” And when Chreece happened, and it got all these people to go to a festival that was mainly just for Indiana hip-hop artists and not mainstream artists, it got everybody’s attention. It was like, “Oh. Local artists have value. They have talent. They have skills, and they actually entertained this crowd mostly on their own.” I think Chreece built upon that, but I think Chreece is what really got it out to a lot more people in Indianapolis. Like, “Aye. We need to start dealing with the local artists and checking ‘em out.”
JOHNSON: That being said, talk to me about the idea you have for spreading local hip-hop even more.
WILDSTYLE: I’m waffling on names, but it’s probably gonna be [called] The Indy Hip-Hop Curation Project. I’ve got a lot of different partners that are willing to help out. It stems back to [the fact that] we need to attack the fans. We all know about each other. So-and-so rapper over here knows about so-and-so rapper over there. There’s a lot of producers listening to each other.
But when I talk to my neighbor, there’s only a couple locals that they hear. People might be interested, but they don’t know who to check out. I think better curation [is needed]. Chreece was a curated experience of some of the best hip-hop artists in the region. We need that on Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, YouTube, and wherever people are checking out music. Because if we look at it, that’s how the record labels are getting their artists broken. Through playlists.
We need to have better curation of hip-hop in Indianapolis, so that your neighbors and people that don’t normally come to shows can be like, “Oh, I checked out this playlist. I liked so-and-so and so-and-so.” Because the music is there, and it’s been there for a few years now. We just haven’t gotten the marketing and promo in the right form to do it.
With this project, I’ve got a few people on board. The Build, with Kheprw Institute, is helping me. I’ve got The Learning Tree, obviously. I’ve talked to MFT (Musical Family Tree) about it, so they’re on board. Nap Or Nothing is a brand ambassador. They’re on board. If I forgot to mention you, I apologize. Those are just the organizations. There are a lot of other people I’ve talked to.
Basically, there are going to be curators. It’s not going to be me picking my favorite songs. I’m having other curators that I’ve identified to make playlists that are gonna keep people engaged and coming back. They’ll take pools of local hip-hop and R&B artists, and [they’ll] put it in there. [They’ll] also mix it in with the national acts, and we’ll have a product. If I’m mainly on YouTube, then there’s a whole bunch of YouTube playlists available by subgenres of hip-hop.
If I only want to hear boom bap and the old school style, then you’ve got local artists that do it very well. If you want something with auto-tune on it, then you’ve got a playlist. If you want something in the middle or if you want it all combined, there will be playlists. I think this is the best way to engage fans in Central Indiana. Because if it’s just artists I want, then it’s going to be Pope Adrian Bless (shameless plug). But I want them to see that there’s a lot of other great, talented artists. I just don’t have time to work with ‘em or don’t have the ability to go the direction they want to.
There are so many talented artists, and the scene as a whole deserves to have the attention. We need to have people outside of our scene looking in, wanting to invest, and getting to know the artists, the music, and the culture a little bit more.
JOHNSON: Do you have any other projects you’re working on that you’d like to plug?
WILDSTYLE: War Machine is coming out with Pope Adrian Bless. I could say the date is set in stone, but that would be a lie.