An inside look at the artists of INDIEcent Exposure, round two
By Jake ClappPosted Aug 15, 2012
On Aug. 16, Dig will host its second annual INDIEcent Exposure, our continuing effort to highlight the best that Baton Rouge music has to offer. This time around, we got a little more specific. Believe it or not, there is a local hip-hop scene here in the Red Stick, and we wanted to put it in your face. We thought we’d do that by showcasing the high level of talent present in some of the city’s best hip-hop groups, and thus we give you HipHopAnonymous.
Deciding on the four acts – D-Lain, Nil & the Prophet, Luke St. John, and Marcel P. Black – wasn’t easy. We started with a list of 12 active, energetic and talented acts, but unless we took over City Park with a festival, we couldn’t include everyone. It was set at four slots for those Dig felt represented the hip-hop community well, were up-and-comers active with live shows and releases, and would each bring a unique performance to HipHopAnonymous.
So come check out the free show at the Varsity Theatre this Thursday, Aug. 16. Doors open at 8 p.m., show starts at 9.
In the meantime, get to know the artists.
There’s bluntness behind Devrek Comages-Lain’s music. Throughout his first mix tape, “Ugly,” the young rapper, who’s better known by the stage name D-Lain, is direct with his words. The no-nonsense delivery of his voice is powerfully backed by the simple nature of his lyrics, covering social issues, comic books, and a little braggadocio.
Lain doesn’t like to mince words, and it’s apparent when talking with him. He might come across as quiet, but that’s only because when Lain speaks he cuts to the chase.
“I listen to a lot of rap music, and it’s really hard to relate to on a really personal level,” Lain said. “So I just make what I want to hear for myself and other people.”
At 21, Lain is the youngest on the HipHopAnonymous bill, and he’ll admit to still being new to the hip-hop scene. His first public performance wasn’t until March 2011.
Now a student at Southeastern, Lain graduated from McKinley High School where he started off doing spoken word. He didn’t start listening to rap music until he was 14, Lain said, but he picked up on the art quickly, inspired by artists like Lupe Fiasco, Eminem, and Beastie Boys.
Lain puts a creative spin on his storytelling, which normally centers on the everyday aspects of his life growing up in Baton Rouge.
“Everybody’s talked about everything before, but with their certain spin on it,” Lain said. “Like with gangsta rap, ‘I walked down the street and I shot this guy,’ well I want to tell it from the perspective of the kid playing basketball across the street. Everybody tells the story about being a nerd in high school…about how nobody liked them. Well, I was a band geek, but I wasn’t really a geek, everyone thought I was cool.”
Since starting out last year, Lain has collaborated frequently with his peers in the Baton Rouge hip-hop scene, several whom hold him in high regard. “He’s brutally honest,” said Luke St. John McKnight, another HipHopAnonymous performer. “Him being honest will in turn inspire you to be more honest about the things we’re talking about. What he is when you talk with him is no different than the persona he has when he performs.”
The hype men
“We have to. Who else will do it if we don’t?” said Sean Bogart, the Nil of the duo Nil & the Prophet.
It’s a simple statement, but it precisely describes the work ethos of the “let’s just have fun and dance” hip-hop pair.
Bogart’s counterpart, “Prophet” Jay Price, lays out everything the two have in the works for the next year: starting a hip-hop label, Robot Colonel; a new album; work on the projects of two other artists; and a comic book series are some of the highlights.
“The label is to help out other artists that we know,” Price said. “I’ve started a couple of businesses in my lifetime. I feel I’m a pretty decent salesman, and I know we can help others out.”
Nil & the Prophet’s music is anything but grim. The pair are entertainers and their often humorous lyrics are backed by bounce and dance beats that scream, “Party!” The pair prefers to focus more on the fun side of life as a getaway from the normal wear and tear.
The last two years have seemed like a big party for Price and Bogart. Nil & the Prophet released their first album Bigger than James Brown in early 2011, and will soon put out a second full-length.
The flip side of their not-serious music is the seriousness with which Nil & the Prophet approach the hip-hop scene. The group constantly promotes shows around Baton Rouge to support their fellow musicians. They’ll help any artist who will simply ask. And there doesn’t seem to be anything that the group won’t just do themselves.
“It’s not just us doing so much, it’s really the community creating so much,” Price said. “And I feel like we can contribute. We treat each other with respect and love, and anytime someone else has a show we go or help promote it. It means a lot. Baton Rouge really does have something to say, every artist has different things, but there’s a definite movement that’s happening.”
You can learn more about Nil & the Prophet here.
The advocate of the real
When interviewing Luke St. John McKnight, the 22-year-old likes to speak in ideas. While discussing the inspirations behind his music, McKnight brushes along philosophical ideas and concepts of personal betterment.
“I try to draw from my life experiences and a wide array of texts I’ve read as far as spiritual and other-worldly content,” McKnight said. “I have to make that content understandable and enjoyable, though. I can’t just bash it across your head with some heavy content. It’s just as much about the listener feeling good as it is what they’re receiving. All in all I’m an advocate for the real.”
McKnight clarifies by explaining that he wants to convey the “real” experience to his listeners. He wants them to be in his shoes and to have the full sense of the emotion associated with his subject matter, which often includes observations of growing up in Baton Rouge and the problems facing society.
“You can read all these philosophers that say ‘the honey is sweet,’ but if you haven’t tasted the honey there’s no intrinsic value as to what you’re saying. If I can transfer that feeling to my work, then I find that to be the advocate of the real. It’s you knowing what you’re talking about.”
There’s a heavy jazz influence in McKnight’s music, from the samples he uses to his smooth lyrical delivery that falls somewhere close to Common or Talib Kweli. Taking notes from Miles Davis and John Coltrane, it’s the free-form idea of jazz that drifts into McKnight’s rap.
McKnight dislikes labels – he backs away from being called an intellectual – but he sees himself as a writer, using poetry, spoken word, and hip-hop to express himself.
“I’ve learned a great deal from Baton Rouge,” McKnight said when asked why he stayed around the city. “I’ve been embedded in the positivity as much as the negativity, and I’ve experienced both. Going to McKinley and living in South Baton Rouge, you witness some of the most violent, foul acts right in front of you. I wasn’t shielded from that. I feel like I’ve received rites of passage because it helped mold me into who I am right now. And luckily I didn’t become part of it, but I can utilize it to make me sharper.”
Like an elder statesman, Marcel P. Black closes out the HipHopAnonymous bill.
Black, who’s real name (or, as he says, “government name”) is Bryan Marcel Williams, is a man of many hats. Along with Marcel P. Black, his emcee persona, there’s also DJ Hard Work, a turntable handle, and then his personal life as Bryan Williams, a family man and youth worker.
When you get Black to open up, he’ll talk fervently about the problems facing youth in Baton Rouge, about the history of hip-hop and the importance of speaking up for improvement.
“It’s a reflection of who I am as a man,” Black said. “You work with these young people who are, and I hate this term, ‘at risk,’ and you get to see first hand their condition. You hear a lot about the murder rate and the poverty rate, and working in the community you see if first hand. That’s a huge influence, the people. When I look outside, that’s what I see and I want to do my part as a man to make a change.”
At 28, Black looks back to when his older cousin first introduced him to LL Cool J and taught him the lyrics to “I’m Bad,” his first taste of hip-hop. The son of a gospel musician, Black picked up singing early on, and he got over his fear of public speaking through the speech and debate team at his high school in Oklahoma. He began rapping in 2001, before moving to Baton Rouge in 2002 to attend Southern for history. Now, 10 years later, Black is planning to release his sixth solo album in September.
Black also started a label, Maroon Music, which he uses to help young hip-hop artists get a start. It’s like a mentorship, and musicians like Lain and McKnight have benefitted from the collaboration. It’s a reinforcement of the sense of community spirit that flows out of the modern Baton Rouge hip-hop scene.
Black counts hip-hop as the cultural movement of his time and studies the culture as history to improve his music and to learn how he can use it for impact.
“Artistically, I want to make a soundtrack to the change.”
You can read more about Marcel P. Black at here.
INDIEcent Exposure: HipHopAnonymous
Thursday, Aug. 16
Doors at 8 p.m., show at 9 p.m.
Featuring: D-Lain, Nil & the Prophet, Luke St. John, and Marcel P. Black