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The evolution of Grand Rapids hip-hop

a broad overview of the artists and places to see shows for GRR Hiphop
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4nzix of La Famiglia controls the mic at Billy's Lounge

4nzix of La Famiglia controls the mic at Billy's Lounge /nicolelarae

Let's be honest, you don't like rap.  It has been a tumultuous twenty-plus years since rap became more recognizable as an art form in the mainstream, including assassinations of artists, threats laid down in songs, misogynist content and videos, and general discomfort of the majority white population to appreciate the initially urban-only genre. The struggle to accept the music is, I think, best encapsulated in the debate over whether or not to call it “rap” or to call it “hip-hop".

That all said, it could be argued that Grand Rapids and its dozens of hip-hop artists offers a glance into the world of the emerging underground movement, where money is made on the edges and musical quality is better than ever. All of this is coalescing to provide a viable product for this city and region to work with for a more sustainable future for hip-hop in this community.  

Here is a quick guide to hip-hop in Grand Rapids:

Nixon, DJ Eminent, Curtis Manley or Manwolf, Mosaic (from Flint but strong ties here), Rick E. Rick, DJ Head Debiase, and Eastown J are all well-known producers of albums that have come out in the past few years, and all have their own followers with their ears to the street. Producers put the beats together and handle the details of how an album comes together, allowing the head-line performers putting out the verses to focus on lyrics and their own ideas of how beats could sound. These producers have played a large part in delivering the support for shows that sustain the listener base.

Lyricists & MCs
Rick Chyme, Ed Nino, Tekh Togo, Mister Jimmy T, Steddy, and Suport, along with several other up-and-comers, sustain the performances of local hip-hop with their stage presence and inviting lyrics, with a wide-range of styles applied. MCs are best known in hip-hop for their larger-than-life images and are easily the most recognizable among the larger audiences that attend shows. They write and rap and, while adding in their own styles to production-quality, they generally rely on producers to help them tie it all together.

Convotronics, Gray Theory, AB and Coconut Brown, La Famiglia, and GrandSon (Dante Cope and TravWaylaa) are teams of hip-hopster partnerships who work together on everything: writing, producing, scheduling shows and engaging the listener base on social media to promote their offerings. Bands can sometimes be the best live performance as they often include instrumental inclusion instead of just beats from a DJ. Regardless of their approach or style at a given show, bands stick together and share the burdens and triumphs of being an underground artist.

These artists each have distinctive styles, yet all are usually struggling to get their name featured in conversation, in media coverage, in output and in general support of the broader West Michigan hip-hop community.  These artists release material through full-length albums or mixtapes and perform at venues throughout the region. Sometimes they perform beyond the city's borders, but the best bet is to take in a show locally. To see them play to the home audience is to see them hustling at what they love: taking hip-hop forward and achieving some measurable success around their music.

The ultimate key to measurable success seems to be not broader record sales, but instead broader attendance at shows. This is where the venues come into play.  How do you attract more people to performances of a genre with a nasty reputation for bringing out unseemly antics at shows (although in reality this is rare)? It is a testament to the evolution of Grand Rapids hip-hop that nothing has happened as far as anyone can tell.

Billy's remains somewhat of a Grand Central for hip-hop listeners to attend shows.  The bar venue is located at 1437 Wealthy St SE in Eastown, and has earned the nickname of "William's" from the artists who frequent it. If you want a quick and easy introduction to local hip-hop, Billy’s hosts at least one hip-hop show a month that features local performers and DJ's.  The Intersection, at 133 Grandville Ave. in Heartside, is the second stop on the tour of Grand Rapids hip-hop venues. Local artists are given a chance to perform in front of larger audiences as openers on the bill for larger national acts. Other venues provide occasional hip-hop nights, but these are fewer and farther in between, compared with Billy's and the Intersection.

A new night is opening for people to listen to local and national hiphop at 25 Kitchen and Bar on Fridays. It will feature Sense Group's three artists and promoters as the hosts, beginning April 22.  

Breakthrough is not a word that would be casually used by anyone who has been in the hip-hop community for the past few years, but new material, solid performances and more acceptance by the listening public has offered something of a light at the end of the tunnel.  Hip-hop artists are building a track record of reliable live shows, getting the genre and the local scene more established.

If you are ever in need of challenging commonly held beliefs, Grand Rapids hip-hop is a sure-fire way to do the job.  The artists are generally approachable if you have some questions about their music and their viewpoints on what it means to the community, as a whole.  Leave your preconceived notions of rap at the door and enjoy the innovation that comes from struggle, and that is what you will get with the local hip-hop scene.  

Throw in a couple of break-outs among the more established names such as DJ Super Dre, and you have a winning formula for entertainment pushing the boundaries of accepted understanding of what hip-hop is all about.  If you are looking to learn, there are countless directions a little investigation will take you towards appreciating the wider hip-hop movement going on throughout the world.  

Your money and attention could be pulled in countless directions, but hopefully this provides a little background of what to expect when you start down the hip-hop path.

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