Hip Hop (Un)Scene: Beats, Rhymes and Life

Thinking global as the music world changes before our eyes

Share on Nextdoor

Recently, CityBeat gave me a really big word limit to tell you guys stuff I know ‘cause I write good. Also, as I said before, I dropped out of English 103 and college in general, which makes me a winner.

A quick summary, if you missed the first column: the Cincinnati Hip Hop scene of the 2000s didn’t necessarily get the most thorough education on how to achieve long-term (or short-term) success as independent artists or as a scene in general.

I’m writing this monthly column to add whatever I’ve learned amongst my long, arduous years battling, performing, recording, hustling, sleeping on NYC subways, networking, living, breathing and shitting music. I want to do my best to make this chronological.

Some artists might be past the early stages, but others still need it. The next few columns are going to cover the earlier stages of my experiences before moving onto the bigger steps, from interacting between the different people that help make your record a record to how to get your name buzzing locally.

The first is always the easiest. Everyone in the music scene has a passion for something. Maybe it’s emceeing, maybe it’s producing. Maybe it’s graphic design or throwing shows.

Whatever it is, studying your passion inside and out goes without saying. What’s forgotten is studying as much about the next person’s passion, and how it can help to build your career a little bit faster. The first of these connections usually happens between the emcee and the producer. This, of all connections, is the most important to begin with.

Think global. Major labels are falling apart. Independent labels and artists are picking up that slack. This means that slowly but surely local artists in every city aren't seeing the worth in trying to get that “huge deal.”

Over the past few years, and even more so in the coming years, this is the change agent that gives each city the opportunity for its own sound and movement. The movement might not ever blow up as big as Atlanta or New York, but so what? It’ll be a sound and vibe dedicated to that region.

This sound starts with the chemistry between a producer and emcee. Think back to the ’80s and ’90s. Rakim needed Eric B. Chuck D needed the Bomb Squad. Dipset needed Heatmakerz. Talib needed Tek. When everyone starts running to the same few producers to get their “street” track, their “club” track, their “conscious” track, etc., it gets played and boring real fast.

The producer/emcee chemistry is dependent on a lot of things; mainly, the real-life friendship of the people behind the artist names. The more a producer and emcee build, the more comfy the producer feels about letting the emcee co-produce some ideas a little bit. Maybe the emcee has ideas about a sample to flip, or re-doing drums on a song. Producers can be very prideful of how they make a beat, and if they don’t have that trust factor with you when you tell them to change something, they’ll just look at you sideways. (Trust me, I produce.)

Same for emcees. When the chemistry is there, a producer feels that much more comfortable telling an emcee to try to flip his delivery to fit the beat at a new angle. The best songs are made off compromise. Once you realize that, as egocentrically fun as it can be to write and produce the flyest shit on the planet, you still need an outside perspective to tell you when you’re falling off. That will make you an eternally better artist.

Since I emcee and produce, I try to look at each from the other’s perspective. One thing I’ve learned doing both: I can’t tell you when the producing ends and the songwriting begins. They usually tangle up in each other all the way to the mixdown.

One of the first artists I really experienced working with who could pull this off was Piakhan (Cincy legend, do y’all research). I have to use Khan as an example of an emcee who knows how to work with a producer and not just “rap over a beat.” He brings an ordinary-ass beat to life as a full-fledged song.

Once our chemistry as friends and artists was cool enough, he could tell me how to flip the original beat to further see his vision out. Now I never even question him because he always makes classic songs off what I thought were just run-of-the-mill beats.

I know a lot of this column seems like kindergarten to a lot of artists already running around the city, but really think about it. Sometimes I think I’ve moved past something like this, but you never know when you can still grow at something you thought was basic. Not to mention, covering this allows me to eventually cover what some of you might be waiting on: dealing with promoters, booking agents, publicists, record pools and labels.

Stay tuned for next month’s column, unless CityBeat brings back Savage Love and uses my page for massage parlor ads.

ILL POETIC is a multi-tasking Hip Hop producer/performer whose "Hip Hop (Un)scene" column appears here once a month. Check out his latest activities at illpoetic.com.

Scroll to read more Music Feature articles


Join CityBeat Newsletters

Subscribe now to get the latest news delivered right to your inbox.