Back in hip-hop’s golden age, which spanned from roughly 1984 to 1992, a live rap show was all about keeping the party going. That, and the ladies. You didn’t have a real hip-hop show unless you had at least two women present for every man. All of that ended with an Uzi blast, puff of chronic and recycled P-Funk sample in the early 1990s. Live shows became more and more a bragging contest about who had the most guns and weed and how tough a gangster you were.
In the last few years, however, the door has been opening toward more of a party vibe at shows, and now comes Greg “Hum-V” Humrichouser to kick down — or drive through — the door. A recent Hum-V show at the Patio was like a trip back to the good old party days. Hundreds of women milling around, sipping on cosmos or tipping back bottles of Bud Light, waiting for the show to start. When it does, and Hum-V and his band, the Cleptoz, kick into a number, there’s nothing but smiling faces and dancing and mouthing the words. Plenty of dancing.
The ladies love him — and so do the nightclub owners, who aren’t used to seeing so many new young faces at live music shows. Says the Patio’s Matt Schwegman, “The great thing about Hum-V is that he has brought a lot of new faces into the Patio. It’s cool to see so many college-age students coming to a live music club. He has been very successful bringing out the 21- to 23-year-old girls. And everyone knows, where the girls go, the guys follow.”
“We’re all about bringing back the fun and good times to live hip-hop,” Humrichouser says. “We want a hype house. It’s supposed to be fun. When we’re up there, we don’t have to try and make the crowd have fun. The energy is already there.”
He says, “I don’t want to be famous, I want to be to hip-hop what Phish is to jam bands. With them, people don’t talk about the tracks, they talk about how great and how much fun the live show is. I don’t need the videos and the cars, the live show is where it’s at.”
Quick with words In a very crowded and talented field of young rappers locally, Humrichouser, a 23-year-old Butler University telecommunications graduate, is establishing himself as one of the most consistently popular live acts. And his first full-length CD, Volatile, is about to be released on the Down-Wit-It label.
“He’s got a lot of ambition,” says his rhyming partner, Brandon Waggoner, known as “Di-Yung” on stage. “You can tell it in his music. He’s not afraid of talking about how he feels, whether he comes off cocky or not. His flow is unlike anyone else’s. That’s what always attracted me to him as a musician. He’s so quick with words when he’s freestyling. I’ve never seen anyone who can make a crowd so hype.”
“My whole thing is just taking the initiative, getting every drop of life I can get out of life,” Humrichouser says. “A lot of my music is about that. You’re going to face obstacles and roadblocks your entire life, but slowing down? That’s impossible.” And there’s real musical talent behind his raps. It’s not just all stage skills and charisma. “What sticks out in my mind about his stuff is that every one of his songs has a catchy hook,” says Cutler Armstrong, a Butler media arts lecturer and mentor to Humrichouser. “He’s a good songwriter. There are a lot of guys who can program a MIDI drum machine, and there are a lot of guys who can emulate rappers that they hear, but I think Greg writes from the heart.”
Armstrong says, “He almost became a celebrity his junior and senior years here because of the massive popularity of his live shows. The important thing about Greg is that he’s willing to spend hours and hours in the studio to get the job done.”
Of course, with a predominantly female audience, sex appeal is part of the equation as well. Humrichouser strips off his shirt early in the live shows, delighting the women closest to the stage.
He doesn’t see the attention as embarrassing, exploitative or even unusual. “Hey, I do work in a gym,” he says. “It’s not like I was born this way. I work hard to look good. I’m just big on health and fitness, aside from being a personal trainer. But if it’s going to help me sell an extra million records some day, then I want to exploit it.”
Smiling, he says, “And I really do get hot on stage. I have to take off my shirt.”
A dope MC From his outward appearance and background, Humrichouser seems like an unlikely candidate for hip-hop stardom. He’s not especially into the blunts-and-booze lifestyle; he earns a living as a fitness trainer and gym manager.
He doesn’t come from the mean streets of Compton, either. He’s from Ashland, Ohio, 45 minutes south of Cleveland. “It’s a small town, around 25,000 people. There were 400 people in my graduating class, if that tells you anything.”
And there’s a distinct positive tone to Hum-V’s music. “I’m a positive person, and people who know me know that,” he says. “I want to make sure that comes across in the music.”
He won his first rap contest in sixth grade, taking first place in a radio station’s anti-litter competition. “It was ‘Don’t Pollute the Earth,’” Humrichouser says, laughing. “That’s where it all began.”
The first hip-hop album he heard was Dr. Dre’s The Chronic, which his older sister bought. It was an eye-opener for a young kid from a devoutly Christian family. “I played that fucking thing until it broke,” he says. More recent influences would be other party-oriented artists like Outkast, Ludakris and Method Man.
Humrichouser actually sees his white middle-class upbringing as a competitive advantage in the rap game. “There are millions of kids just like me out there that haven’t had that rough life. They want to enjoy hip-hop but they can’t, because they can’t really relate to it.
“I don’t talk like I’m from the hood. You can be white and middle-class and still be a dope MC. I’ve never owned a gun. I’ve never had to live in the ghetto, you know, so I can’t talk about it.”
But the love of urban music was a constant throughout his life and still influences him today, although he didn’t foresee a career as a rapper while growing up in rural Ohio.
Although he kept rapping throughout his high school years, music wasn’t his first focus. Getting in trouble, however, was. “I’d enter freestyle contests and rap in kids’ basements, that’s it,” he says. “In high school, I was always rebellious and had a bad attitude. I didn’t even want to go to class. My parents even had to fill out my college applications for me.”
But a scholarship to Butler University came through for him and his life changed. “College was the best experience of my life,” he says. “I came out of college an entire different person than I went in. I’m much more focused and dedicated to what I do.”
When he first came to college, he says people laughed when he said he was a rapper. He’d sit in the dorm room and freestyle over Casio keyboard beats. While people laughed at first, they eventually came around when they heard his recorded songs.
He spent countless hours in the audio lab creating drum beats and hooks and polishing his skills as an MC. “At first, I was just doing it for fun,” Humrichouser says. “But it’s kind of escalated to this thing where I can maybe make a career out of it. I’ve got to run with it.”
His first off-campus live show wasn’t a success. In fact, he narrowly escaped with his life.
“We booked a show at the Melody Inn a few years ago,” Humrichouser explains. “It’s all Butler kids. The place is packed wall-to-wall. And these other people came in drunk as fuck. Gangsters. It got to the point where I even got a little uncomfortable, because I knew something was going to lead into a bad situation.
“The whole Butler football team was there. I asked one of the players if he could maybe work security and keep the drunk people off the stage. But pretty soon it was on. Someone rushed the stage and took a swing at B.C. [Cleptoz rapper Brandon Curry] and then it kind of got out of control. “Finally, they moved it outside. It was just a huge fight, very nearly what you would call a riot. You had all of these Butler football players fighting these dudes. Eventually, two of the drunk dudes were laid out, knocked out, on the pavement. And one of their friends goes over to his car and grabs a Tek-9 with a strap. I’m talking Rambo style. And as he’s walking toward the bar, I’m on stage watching him try to get the clip into the gun. Who knows what could have happened. Fortunately, he couldn’t get the clip into the gun, he was so drunk. “Girls are diving behind cars. Mass hysteria is breaking out. I’m on the stage saying, ‘Everyone calm down.’ The cops come and shut down the show. I’d completed like two songs before everything got crazy. At that point, I was like, OK. I’m quitting rapping. This is too crazy.”
The word’s out
Shortly thereafter, a friend gave local rap label Down-Wit-It President China Jackson a Hum-V tape. A week later, a call came for Humrichouser to audition. The label quickly signed him to a recording contract and, four days later, he was on a plane to Florida to play a label showcase.
Other live shows quickly followed, both on-campus and at clubs such as the Patio. “The first show we played there, we had 400 people through the door,” he says. “And it just got bigger from there. We started playing fraternity parties at Butler and Purdue. There’s just nothing better than a fraternity show; the crowds there are crazy and ready to party. Plus, it’s money up front.” It was around that time that he hooked up with the Cleptoz, a Butler-based hip-hop group. They gelled together and intensified the pace of booking more and more shows.
Their success has largely evaded the radar of the mainstream music scene until recently. And they’ve gotten what the band sees as an unfair reputation for only appealing to Butler students. “It gets me mad, because it’s not true,” Humrichouser says. “It’s gotten more widespread now. The word’s out. I meet cats all the time who know who I am and have seen one of our shows.”
“We are a unique hip-hop group and, while we wouldn’t be shit without the Butler crowd, there’s a reason we’re getting all these shows,” says the Cleptoz’s Waggoner. “I feel like we don’t get enough credit for what we do. It pisses me off because we put a lot of effort into our shows and our music. We’re not just doing this for college kids. We just try to keep it fun and positive.”
At their last Patio show, it appeared that a large percentage of the audience was 25 or older — a good sign for Hum-V and the Cleptoz. Another sign of respect from the mainstream music community: DJ Rusty, aka Russell Johnson of the Mudkids, has joined the Cleptoz as a DJ for live shows. Humrichouser also recorded a track with Rhymefest, the Chicago MC who’s used Indy as a home base. Hum-V is in the rap game to win it, he says. He’s made ambitious future plans for expanding his name recognition and audience base.
The group is making inroads to the mainstream music scene by entering in the Patio’s behemoth Battle of the Bands contest. “I think we have a real chance to win,” Humrichouser says. “We already have a large following, it’ll be just a matter of bringing them out and playing a killer show.” (Hum-V and the Cleptoz compete April 21 against local metal kings Opiate, spoken-word genius Inate and three others.)
“As long as I’m in the music business, I’ll be happy, whether it’s performing, writing about music or working with artists,” Humrichouser says. “Being in the music industry is the main thing. What I really want to get out of hip-hop is to be able to travel. I’m a huge history buff and I just want to see a lot of different places. If I was on tour making $20 a week plus room and board but I was traveling around the world, I’d be happy. There’s just so much out there to see.”
At the same time, he tries to be realistic about his chances. His parents are nagging him to get a “real” job, but he’s resisted them so far.
“I told myself I’m going to keep doing it as long as things keep rolling. But if it comes to when I’m 27 or 28 and I’m struggling — well, I’ve got college loans and shit to pay off, too. I’m confident in music but you’d be a fool if you don’t have a backup plan.
“But things are going well now. In my career so far, things have kept getting better and better. You don’t want to stop. You have to chase the dream.”