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.
Coleman also performs as a DJ under the name Jay Diff and cites Nick Saligoe, better known as DJ MetroGnome, as a one of his musical mentors, along with Indianapolis veteran DJ Topspeed. Coleman's also part of hip-hop collective Cut Camp, made up of nine emcees, producers and DJs, including BlackEddie, Ace One, DJ Spoolz, Gritts, Joe Harvey, Lonegevity, Scoot Dubbs, Skittz and videographer Tom Robots.
Officially listed as the Development Director for BDTB, Coleman is committed to developing the brand.
“Where we want to go? [I deal with] getting it to go in a certain direction. How do we want to be seen by the public? It's kind of a broad title, because I do a little bit of everything,” said Coleman.
Although relatively new to the project, Coleman is an integral part of Stuart's decision making.
“Any decision we make, he's a part of it. We have the same taste in music. He's lived here his whole life, so he knows about the history of everything,” said Stuart, of Coleman's role.
Nick Saligoe: Supporting musical innovation
Both Stuart and Coleman cite Saligoe as inspiration within the hip-hop scene.
“He's the one person in this city that sees the outside picture and understands the scene in other places. He travels and brings people in. It's really neat to see,” said Stuart.
Long-time Indy resident Saligoe knows the importance of hip-hop blogs to emerging artists, because he used to run one.
Saligoe met two musically inclined friends while studying at Indiana University, and, in 2002, they turned their similar interests into full-time jobs in music journalism.
“[Our blog was called] Sound Slam. We stopped doing it officially in 2008, but did it for six years prior. We were featured in New York Times and the Colbert Report mentioned us. We did well at the time, but at the point we ended, blogs started popping up. Tastemakers were everywhere. The ease of Wordpress and Blogger kind of ruined what we were doing,” Saligoe said.
That didn't stop one of his partners, Alex Fruchter, from continuing on in hip-hop journalism. Fruchter went on to start Ruby Hornet, an influential hip-hop blog in Chicago.
Saligoe credits hip-hop blogs like Bringing Down The Band for exposing hip-hop fans to music otherwise unavailable.
“Not every hip-hop fan likes Lil' Wayne; not everyone wants to hear Drake all the time. And [artists like them] get so much focus,” said Saligoe.
Saligoe has held down Take That! Tuesdays for over six years at Coaches Tavern, where he plays open-format underground tracks that keep people dancing late into the night.
“The disinterest in stuff comes from not being exposed to other music, which kind of falls in line with what I've been doing at Coaches. There's nothing wrong with what's on the radio, but you hear that stuff all the time,” he said.
But even though he's out of the blog game, Saligoe hasn't stopped supporting local musical innovation. He helps shepherd it as the Indy representative of the Red Bull Music Academy, an intensive and exclusive project that allows two groups of thirty international students to enter state-of-the-art recording studios and make music together.
“Most people make music isolated in their own rooms, and they don't share the creative experience with anybody. It's pretty amazing to watch what happens when they take a drum and bass producer from Scotland with a girl that plays guitar from Mexico and see what [music they make],” Saligoe said.
Grey Granite: Heavy Gun
Isolation is a common theme in my conversations with Indianapolis hip-hop movers and shakers.
“It's almost like Indianapolis is kind of in their own world, not necessarily as concerned with everything going around it. It's a lot slower pace than what I am used to, when I have worked with people in Chicago and San Diego,” said Stuart.
Coleman agreed, commenting, “It seems like people from [Indy] support people that don't live here more than the people that do. I don't know why that is, it's weird.”
Indy artist Grey Granite, who prefers to leave his given name a mystery, is the man behind Heavy Gun, a five-year-old hip-hop music, tech and culture blog. He also makes his own music, currently releasing one single per week as part of his new project, titled Wake The Fuck Up. The project capitalizes on Granite's personal brand of electronically infused hip-hop.
Granite's feels some of the frustration Stuart and Coleman have expressed.
“[People] here are pussies. They don't have faith in art. I'm not talking about the artists, I'm talking about the listener. They have no faith in the Indianapolis artists. It's unimaginable that I'm the hottest shit on the planet to you right now. It's like seeing a blue elephant walk into the room. John Cougar Mellencamp been gone. Michael Jackson been gone. You know, I saw Jay-Z before he got big. I saw Janelle Monae before she got big. And that could be me. That could be here,” said Granite.
There exists an unavoidable bit of tension between Granite and the boys behind BDTB, as both sites, although not necessarily competitors, certainly fulfill the same function in Indy. But Granite supports Stuart, especially complimenting his music.
“[I love] Lonegevity and Gritts of Hinx Jones. That Frozen Liquor record is amazing. It's like Outkast's first record. It's like Goodie Mob and the Dungeon Family. Cee Lo [Green], that could be Gritts, you know?” said Granite.
Clarence Jones: Working man's hip-hop
I spoke with Stuart's current musical partner in that project, Clarence Jones, who is better known on stage as Gritts. Stuart and Jones met several years ago in music classes at Anderson High School. Years later, both have made the move to Indy and are making waves in the hip-hop community with their project Hinx Jones.
Jones and Stuart recorded Frozen Liquor throughout 2011, releasing it in October of last year. The release has been lauded by their fellow artists.
“Between their first and second album, you can see Hinx Jones' growth. To me, it's a more complete album than [their first, The Eleven Piece],” said Coleman, of the recording.
“I'm humbled by the fact that people appreciate our sound. It really is a collective process. [Sean's] work ethic supersedes my own and I'm getting better at accepting that this is a job, rather than being a hobby,” said Jones.
Jones is no slacker himself, though; he's been working on developing his musical talent from a very young age.
“As a child I taught myself to beat box listening to the Fat Boys and "Disorderlies" (Editor's Note: Disorderlies is a film starring the Fat Boys). I was in choir in church and learned to play drums there. When I signed up to learn drums in school, all the positions were filled. I had to find something else. So I picked up the trombone, because of how different it was from all other brass instruments. Then, as time went on I learned trumpet, baritone and tuba. [I learned in my spare time] piano, bass and drums,” said Jones.
His dedication to his craft carries into the themes of Frozen Liquor, where he raps:
“Cause this is real son
Ever since Sunday school
Used to beat box with the pastor
Shit it sounded cool
I'm a musician without the rap game
That came first
What you do is just a damn shame”
-”Everybody” — Hinx Jones
Stuart, who produced all but two of Frozen Liquor's 14 tracks, makes beats specifically for Jones.
“Hinx Jones has a tendency to be positive. It's a lot about Clarence. We've worked together for so long, I can make a certain track or beat with [him in mind],” said Stuart.
Although Stuart appears frequently as an emcee on the record, his presence is felt predominantly in the album's production.
“I've always been rapping and writing but producing is kind of more my thing. I kind of like to play in the background a little bit. I don't like to be in people's faces all the time; it's a mysterious kind of thing,” said Stuart.
Even his name, Lonegevity, fits his style.
“I kind of have a loner mentality. When it comes to making music, I kind of like to stay in my own world,” said Stuart.
Blake Allee: Robots, dinosaurs and zombies
One wouldn't know it from all of his various works. He's got his hands in projects across the city, with 14 separate producer, beat or rhyme credits listed in 2011 alone. He also ensures Bringing Down The Band is personally invested in local artists' releases; the site has sponsored seven full-length releases besides Frozen Liquor in the last year.
Indy artist Blake Allee's mixtape My Best Friends Are Machines was sponsored by BDTB.
I met Blake Allee at Lobyn Hamilton's TURF installation, a towering waterfall of old vinyl LPs inside of the old city hall. We talked about his mixtape, which is hosted by DJ Green Lantern and Whoo Kid and features an original sample by Elvira. The mix deals in tales of robots, dinosaurs and zombies and features Allee's smooth production and laid back flow.
“When you come out with a new sound, you'll get a lot of diehard fans because of that, but you'll get a lot of purists that will say, 'This is not hip-hop,'” said Allee.
Allee, 28, has been producing for local hip-hop artists for eight years, but he's spent a significant chunk of the last two years working on his first full length release.
“If I'm awake for 18 hours, probably for 17 hours music is on my mind,” said Allee.
Born and raised in Indianapolis, Allee made a brief sojourn to New York City, where he endured a tumultuous six months at the School of Audio Engineering before returning to Naptown.
“I lost my car, lost my job, got kicked out of the place I was living. It was one of those typical New York stories,” said Allee.
He's at home in Indianapolis, though, where he considers the scene tight-knit, although he echoes the concerns about isolation raised by Stuart, Coleman and Granite.
“Not everybody knows each other [personally], but once you get to a certain point, you've at least heard of them. But it is weird that if you go to Ohio or Illinois, nobody knows us. It's like we're on a hip-hop island.
He feels the support of the community, particularly admiring Indy hip-hop supergroup The Proforms.
“Those guys have been nothing but great to me. I was basically an unknown producer, and a lot of people would [ignore me] but Skittz actually listened. He introduced me to Ace One, Son of Thought, Joe Harvey. If it wasn't for Skittz, there's a good chance you wouldn't be talking to me right now,” said Allee.
New projects, new goals
If it's up to Stuart, Indy hip-hop fans will be hearing from a lot more local artists like Allee at BDTB events in the next few months. The site has recently hired an events coordinator who’s in the process of organizing multiple events for the next few months. Coleman also hinted towards taking the organization to festivals, including South By Southwest.
“We want people to be well known not only here, but also to do shows in different cities. We want to take people with us and go somewhere else and be known there, as well here,” he continued.
Stuart will continue Beats and Breakfast, a year old project that combines creativity and a tasty meal. Beginning as a joke, Stuart and DJ Skittz have created over ten sessions of freestyle song production by emcees and producers including Granite, Allee and BDTB-sponsored artist Tony Styxx, among many others.
Stuart hesitates to see himself as one of the hip-hop community's organizers, but his involvement in creative projects around the city would lead many to disagree.
When I ask him if he considers himself a community builder, he pauses, considers.
“It's a growth of sorts,” he said, reluctantly.
He shows no signs of slowing down, either.
“I always have to remind myself, 'Okay, don't get comfortable.' Because it's really easy to be comfortable here, for some reason. But I like the city. I think it has a lot of potential,” said Stuart.
His hard work has paid off; he's engendered both support and confidence with his work on BDTB.
“I love BDTB. I think Sean's doing a really good job. It's my favorite hip-hop blog in the city. I love Heavy Gun, they've been very supportive of me. But BDTB was the first blog to give me a chance,” said Allee.
“Sean, that's my dude. He's got a lot of hats. He's just one of those people that puts his foot in everything. [If he gets overwhelmed] he doesn't show it a lot. He just says, 'Man I need to take a break.' Everybody needs a vacation. Everybody needs a chance to breathe,” said Coleman.
“The future of BDTB is endless,” said Jones.
And, in the end, it all comes back to band. Stuart credits a lot of his interest in music and drive to his early education.
“I wouldn't be doing this at all if it wasn't for my experiences when I was in high school [in band]. My mom's been to 70 percent of my shows. My mom bought my trumpet and pushed me to do music,” said Stuart.
“I have a lot of respect for my old music teachers, for putting up with me for one, and for just what they do. It's changed my life, personally. And I know it has a lot of others. Obviously, I've been a music person since I was in elementary school,” said Stuart. “I didn't realize how big of an influence [band] had on me, but what would I be doing if I wasn't doing music?” said Stuart.
Sites like Bringing Down the Band and Heavy Gun will continue to grow, and emcees like Jones, Granite and Allee and producers like Stuart will continue to fine tune their talents and hone their craft. Keep your eyes and ears online; the next big hip-hop star is being blogged about this instant.