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As commercial hip-hop in the US seems to be getting more diluted by the day, the underground scene is growing thick with talent - readying itself for an independent uprising, free from the shackles of advertising, record executives and the needless waste of expensive champagne running down a groupie's stomach. Some of the most original, authentic and out of the box thinking lyricists are currently making a name for themselves on the underground hip-hop circuit.
One of these fresh young acts is Stann Smith and P3 Heartagram, a duo from New York that have gained a following after their debut single "Scott Jop" was released. Although clearly skilled in both producing and rapping, the pair have vowed never to be consumed by the bright lights and dollar signs that record labels are likely to offer them. I caught up with them in an exclusive interview to hear their side of the story.
Firstly, please introduce yourselves to an audience who may not have heard of you yet - what are Stann Smith and P3 Heartagram all about?
Stann Smith: Stann Smith is an alternative hip hop artist, and producer that fuses abrasive drums over melodic samples or synthy chord progressions, using heart felt and powerful lyrics.
P3: P3 HeartagraM is a letter, number and a symbol representing the perfect balance of substance and creativity in this dying genre called hip-hop. I have the intentions of sparking an independent revolution, where rappers are no longer dependent on record labels to gain exposure.
So I take it getting signed is not exactly a main priority for you at the moment?
SS: Nope, there is nothing that any record label out there can offer us that we can't do ourselves. Plus I'd rather have creative control over my music than all the money in the world.
P3: Me and Smith already have our own indie record label called "Every King Has His Bad Day Records" - we created that back in 2007.
Something that really appealed to me in Scott Jop is that it has a slightly old skool kind of vibe to it, is this something you did consciously?
SS: No, it's not something we did consciously. But Scott-Jop is a song that I made to pay respect to one of my favourite pianists Scott Joplin, and one of my favourite singers - James Brown. The Instrumental was composed of a Scott Joplin Piano melody from his composition "Great Crush Collision" over James Brown's "Funky Drummer".
From my perspective - that of someone over the pond - it seems the best hip-hop in America is coming from the underground scene at the moment, do you think the world of commercial US hip-hop is becoming stagnant?
SS: The best hip-hop is definitely coming from the underground in America. US commercial hip-hop has been stagnant since 2002. The trend has evolved over the years, but record labels always signed artist based on their marketability. Mainstream US hip-hop is only a handful of artists, and in the process of me and P3 establishing our own record label I've learned about college radio promotion, event planning and the whole process of the music business, and it rarely comes down to talent. I am really feeling the underground scene in the US right now and I think that the mainstream hip-hop media have to catch on, because if they don't, they will become obsolete.
P3: I agree, but I call it "under-noticed", rather than underground. Just for the simple fact that the underground scene receives less exposure than the mainstream scene. But what do you expect when these multi-million dollar record labels have the money to pump into expensive radio, internet, and commercial campaigns. The main problem in the underground scene is the lack of promotion, and the fact that the majority of the underground supporters like to keep shit to themselves, because they believe that if an artist gets too big, the mainstream will ruin them and dilute the substance in their music, which is not always true. But as for mainstream hip-hop, it's horrible, and the mainstream hip-hop media is corrupted. But thanks to the rise of the Internet, talented artists such as myself, Stann Smith, Kendrick Lamar, Dom Kennedy, and countless others, have the chance to share their music with the world, without having to deal with shady record labels. I mean it's a harder fight, but it's well worth it.
The underground hip-hop scene in America seems a lot more diverse in terms of the content and the image of rappers, what unique blend do you both bring to the table?
P3: I can feed an entire family on Thanksgiving, with a super gated lyrical flow, and a "don't give a fuck attitude". Meaning if I see something wrong in hip-hop - or in the world - I speak up, which a lot of my listeners appreciate. But most importantly, my creativeness is my strongest point of all!
SS: I bring musicianship to the table of hip-hop in America, learning how to really play the piano and the Harmonica, implementing it to the loose realm of hip-hop production. Even on Scott Jop I took the riffs of one of the most underrated pianists of all time, and converted it into something that transcribed with the hip-hop community. In the mainstream, people follow a blueprint of popular producers which makes for a lack of innovation.
Eyes Peeled is a column I'll be using to look at lesser known underground music artists that are gaining a following with their independent releases. Keep an eye out for the artists mentioned.
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