August 2012 is the 15-Year Anniversary of Atmosphere "Overcast": BUY IT NOW FOR ONLY $5.99 FOR REST OF MONTH!!!
August 2012 is the 10-Year Anniversary of Kevin Beacham a.k.a Nikoless living in Twin Cities:
Some time right around now 15 years ago Rhymesayers released Atmosphere’s “Overcast”. The RSE team had already successful built up the name locally with the series of Headshots Tapes and just one year previously in ’96 released their first official full-length release, Beyond “Comparison”. “Overcast” was the next step and whether it was known or planned it ended up being a pretty big one.
In the mid to late 90s, there were a whole lot of national Hip Hop events or festivals, particularly those who gearing to the up and comers. Even the steady stream of stadium tours from the Mid 80s thru the early 90s had started to slow for major label artists. Indie distribution channels that would take a chance on an unknown artist from an unknown Hip Hop scene (IE anything not considered a Top Ten market basically) were just starting to build and grow their foundations. The Internet was just starting to become a household word.
What all of that meant, specifically for a label like Rhymesayers, is that there were limited options if you wanted to find ways to expand beyond your local scene. Every once in a while a die-hard fan or associate on the scene would go away to college or move away some where and sing your praises in that new area and possible get you show or some college radio play, but that was few and far between. One of the greatest opportunities at the time was the Rock Steady Crew Anniversary in New York. In the 90s, if you were an aspiring Rap artist or label entrepreneur or even just a Hip Hop fan, arguably the best time to plan a New York trip was during the Rock Steady Anniversary. Not only would you have the opportunity to run into your favorite signed artists from all over the country, but also you would connect with like-minded fans from all over the world.
Rock Steady Anniversary 1997 was essentially the first major step that the Rhymesayers crew took to promote their music outside the Twin Cities scene. At that point, I had already done a handful of trips to NYC and Rock Steady was something I aimed to do annually and occasionally I’d sneak in Zulu Nation Anniversary in as well. In ’97 my right-hand man on trip and in general was DJ Pratt. We both hosted the popular Hip Hop radio show in Chicago, Time Travel on WNUR 89.3*. Our trips to New York were an opportunity to get as much new music as possible. We went record shopping and talked to every artist we could. Whatever someone was giving out for free, we’d take it and hope it was dope. Of course, we wanted to connect with the known names on the scene, but we were just as hungry to find those undiscovered voices. We were always looking for the diamonds in the rough.
After another successful New York trip we came back home feeling inspired and rejuvenated. The vibe was positive except for the fact we knew that the stacks of free CDs were mostly going to be pretty awful or merely listenable and not exciting. We sat in Pratt’s house going thru disc after disc and making lots of jokes. Then after I made some comment of defeat like, “Man, are we going to find anything dope in these stacks?!” Pratt offers, “I actually listened to one earlier that was pretty dope” and he pulls it up and shows it to me. After noting that I didn’t get that CD, with a hint of something resembling envy, mixed with some sarcasm, I retort, “...so you got the only good CD in New York??” I meant that as in “prove it”. He just shook his head and put it on. It comes in with this creepy-like sound you would hear in movie as the camera panned around a haunted mansion in a dark comedy. Then, “Henceforth step within my psycho-analysis/Calluses upon my mind make me strain for my lines/Out I ripped it, squeezed the brain, it made some liquid/Drained it in a cup and then I sip it/Atmosphere, the mic let me clutch it/thoughts take flight so fit the Slug in your pipe and take a puff kid!”
First off, starting off the verse, let alone the first word on the album, with “Henceforth…” I was like I like this guy already**. Anyway, I noted his use of vocabulary and how the rhyme schemes intersected at creative points.
Truthfully, the verse didn’t even get as far as I just typed before I was snatching the CD out of J Pratt’s hand (and he was shaking his head at me like whenever I did something ridiculously dramatic like that…) and trying to figure out how I didn’t know about this group and where it was from. Right on the back, there it was, Rhymesayers Entertainment in Minneapolis, MN. I thought, “Minneapolis?” Not in the common thought of being surprised that good Hip Hop was there, but moreso thinking that I hadn’t heard of any Hip Hop from Minnesota since 11 years prior when I became a fan of the I.R.M Crew after they got repeated plays on the 89.3 FM Rap Show, the same station where I would later become a Host.
As I was reading every bit of detail in the album artwork, DJ Pratt was skipping thru the CD. Every other song or so I’d look up with this expression that screamed, “How did I not get this CD in New York?” I had to probe further with Pratt, “When and where did you get this CD??!!” As he laughed at me…again, he said, “Some dude just put it in my hand when we were walking thru…” I had already trailed off rom listening to him and was back to reading the credits and checking out the music again. I asked Pratt for his phone (land line days!) and dialed the number on the back of the CD and got someone on the phone. I later learned it was Siddiq, the CEO of Rhymesayers. I was still hyped up and a bit in shock from the Columbus-like discovery of “Overcast” and I recall being a bit dramatic about it all. I went on to explain to Siddiq how my radio CO-host got the CD in New York and that I somehow got missed and I was going to NEED one of those and would like him to mail me one. I really didn’t really intend to sound so arrogant and suggest that he owed me a CD because he didn’t place one in my hand in New York…ha. But, I was really amped off it. I think Siddiq kind of laughed at me also, but appreciated my excitement and told me that they were running low on CDs and they needed them for a big event coming up and soon as they got restocked he would mail me one. I was able to except that…barely…and asked him what the big event was. He went on to say, “This thing called Scribble Jam…” This was just the second year of Scribble Jam. The first year was primarily all Ohio and surrounding area peoples like Kentucky folks, plus the few people I brought from Chicago, so Siddiq didn’t know that I was a part of the event. I let him know and we agreed to connect out there.
At Scribble Jam ’97 the Rhymesayers crew come thru with Siddiq, Mr. Gene Poole, Beyond, and Abuse. Siddiq ran the merch booth, the MCs got in the battle and I assume Abuse painted, but I'm not 100% on that. I talked with Siddiq and told him I would support what they were doing in Chicago. That was the start of an ever-evolving collaboration. Eventually, I brought one of my Chicago partners, J-Bird***, into the mix. He was managing a group called Rubberoom so we started swapping shows. Rhymesayers would invite us out for shows at the 7th Street Entry and we’d come thru with crews from Chicago. In turn, we’d set up events for Rhymesayers acts in Chicago. I also heavily played their material on my radio show and it got a huge response from the listeners, which helped get people packed into those early shows.
A few years later, J-Bird was invited to work for the label and not too long after that I was invited along for the ride as well. In fact, this month is also my 10-year anniversary being in Minneapolis and working for Rhymesayers****. And to think, it all started with a simple passing off of a CD… Mega Shout-Out DJ Pratt, Rock Steady Crew, Scribble Jam, 7th Street Entry, WNUR 89.3 FM Chicago, and the power of the independent hustle!!
Hmmmm…I said all that and hardly talked about the music. But, by now you should know about the music and if not here’s a great chance to get familiar while it’s ON SALE for $5.99 for the rest of it’s 15 Year Anniversary Month of August.Atmosphere "Overcast" Sampler Set:
*For those paying attention you will note that when I moved here to Minneapolis I got offered a chance to do radio again at The Current…also 89.3! Coincidence…I think not…
**I had/have a random fascination with speaking Shakespearean…no reason, I’m just weird.
***Also, well worth nothing that DeeJay Bird including "Scapegoat" from "Overcast" on his pivotal mixtape, "Beneath The Surface" in '97 was instrumental in Rhymesayers getting their first distribution deal with Fat Beats. Shout out DJ Eclipse!!
****"This Is Where You Got It From" is a double CD that I recorded when I first moved to Minneapolis. It's #3 in my "Applied Theories" series and is dedicated to the importance of the DJ in Hip Hop. Every track is about a DJ and/or features Turntablism. It also features DJ Tanner better known as Shazam Bangles now (who did the Aesop Rock Mix for the "Skelethon" FE Exclusive) and what I believe is the debut of a young, Plain Ole Bill!
DJ Nikoless with Plain Ole Bill & Shazam Bangles "This Is Where You Got It From" Sampler Set: