THERE IS A RAP SCENE IN UTAH. I REPEAT, THERE IS A RAP SCENE IN UTAH! Ok, so now that you've heard that there's a rap scene in Utah, let me assure you, it's true. Writing this "United States of Underground" series, where I go state-to-state looking for hip-hop talent that's going largely overlooked by the rest of the country, has really been eye opening to me. Witnessing how deeply-rooted this hip-hop culture is, even in places that are looked at as musically desolate, has been enlightening. Now, Utah’s not necessarily “desolate,” but in the grand scheme of the culture – most wouldn’t look at the Beehive State for anything worthwhile. This is unfortunate if you’re an emcee from around those parts, working hard to make your dream a reality. A big problem with music (especially hip-hop) in this day and age is that most fans know exactly what they like and the monotony of music and artists keeps them in that one place – leaving no flexibility for them to even want to hear someone new. Hopefully, this feature can change the stance of close-minded fans and open them up to an area they probably didn’t even know existed. Utah, WE SEE YOU.
Zigga (Cottonwood Heights, UT)
Born and raised in the urban Oakland, CA area, Zigga had always been inspired by the music of several backgrounds. As a kid, he learned how to play the piano and read sheet music, quickly introducing him to the world of jazz. As Zigga aged, so did his interest in more popular sounds like hip-hop. Naturally with his background in Oakland, the culture fit him and his current music preferences perfectly. Aiming to avoid the “gangster” stereotypes of West Coast rappers, Zigga was very careful with the direction he wanted to take his career. Marveling in the lyrical ability of what he was witnessing on the East Coast, he knew that the hip-hop in him couldn’t be contained to just one type of sound. So he evolved. And then evolved some more. Taking the game into his own hands, Zigga taught himself how to make beats and market his music. Soon enough, the progress was visible and other artists/producers were looking to work with the kid. Now residing in and representing Salt Lake City, Utah, Zigga is a stand-out emcee in a seeming land of serenity. Respect to this artist for finding his passion in hip-hop, capitalizing on it, learning the business and sharing his story to inspire others.
Atheist (of House of Lewis) (Provo, UT)
When I first stumbled across the Utah emcee known as Atheist (of House of Lewis), all I could think of was how much he reminded me of Soul Khan from the Brown Bag All-Stars. His look isn't what you’d expect from your stereotypical rapper, but that’s what makes this culture so dope – you can express yourself in any way you’d like, as long as you can back up those expressions on the mic. Who says a white guy with a gigantic afro shouldn’t/can’t rap? Too many people are absurdly judgmental, and most of these types won’t even listen to the music before commenting. Making a name for himself by winning countless battles on Salt Lake City’s most popular hip-hop station, there was no doubt Atheist had talent. After owning the area’s battle scene for several years, Atheist eventually dropped his debut project, Thanks for the Burgers, in 2011, and a year later followed up with his sophomore release, Topanga. Atheist beautifully blends classic hip-hop percussion and production with his unique image and voice, which collectively keeps you in tune throughout each track on each project. His videos are creative and the man loves what he’s doing. Atheist should also be commended for bringing comedy and a sense of humor back to hip-hop. For some reason, most rappers are under the impression they have to be hard ALL the time. C’mon son, smile. You’re living your dream, right? Salute to this passionate and driven emcee.
Dine Krew (Salt Lake City, UT)
You know how sometimes you’ll roll out to an underground hip-hop show, unsure of what to expect? Then, you get there and a bunch of kids rush onto the stage in ski masks? You know how that goes, right? Meet Dine Krew: a tag-team duo with enough soul to kill a 98-year old jazz musician. I’ve read a few articles on the pair where their sound is compared to Black Hippy's early tapes. At first, I didn’t really hear the connection – but, after listening to their Dine and Dash project, the similarities couldn’t be ignored. Emcees Harrison Montgomery and Shelby Washington work flawlessly alongside their go-to producer, Piccolo (Andrew Auman), to create music that rides with the production instead of against it. It’s not busy, it’s not overwhelming, it’s perfect. Dine Krew has a knack for songwriting and it shows in all of their releases. Heavily reminiscent of boom bap legends such as Common Market and Binary Star, Dine Krew has a similar passion, energy, drive and vision to make timeless music that stands out among the monotony of standard “commercial rap” today. Dine Krew keeps it simple, leaving behind all the fancy gimmicks and clichés to simply do what they were born to do, rap.
House of Lewis (Provo, UT)
As I dove further into the depths of the Utah rap scene, I stumbled upon an interestingly unique collective known as the House of Lewis. Atheist, who was mentioned earlier in this article, is actually a member of this group. I initially felt guilty for including both Atheist and his group as two separate entries for this piece, but if you listen to songs from each you may understand why it was necessary. Comprised of four emcees and two DJs, House of Lewis’ videos are what caught my eye. I mean, their creativity and love for this culture cannot be measured (see: “Funky Braggadocious”). Imagine if Weird Al had a kid with all of Run DMC and then that kid was raised by a young MC Serch – that’s House of Lewis. Recently winning Utah City Weekly's “Best Rappers of 2015” award, their success as of late has started to take off. Performing alongside industry veteran such as Talib Kweli, Mega Ran, The Pharcyde and more has prepared this group of talented artists for a road of victories ahead. I see a lot of success in House of Lewis’ future and hope the rest of the country is as excited as myself to watch them grow.
Better Taste Bureau (Salt Lake City, UT)
Their name says it all: the Better Taste Bureau is here to improve whatever it is your currently listening to. Comprised of two rappers, Hurris and Gig, along with producer Mason Brewer, this trio is making uplifting, raw, flawless hip-hop music. Uplifting and raw in the same description? Is that weird? It may have been a bit odd years ago, but now the boundaries of the artform are being pushed to new ends. It’s a beautiful thing, really. Their music hit me in a way I didn’t expect Utah hip-hop to hit me, allowing me to vibe out and not get overwhelmed by super complex lyrics or production elements. You know what I mean – don’t act like you knew the rap agenda here was thriving vigorously. It was refreshing to know that this soulful, energetic music was actually coming from a place that is largely and frequently overlooked for this sort of stuff. Better Taste Bureau recently became Utah City Weekly’s “Rappers of the Year” and U92’s (92.5 FM in SLC) first “Homegrown Hip Hop Champions” and with those titles, comes a lot of responsibility – seeing as we can now all bear witness to the amount of talented and skilled musicians existing in Utah’s underground hip-hop scene. The trio has opened for the likes of Tyga, B.o.B, Juicy J, A$AP Rocky, De La Soul, ScHoolboy Q, Ab-Soul, E-40, G-Eazy, Paul Wall, Kid Ink, Vic Mensa and more – whew. The only words I can add to this feature to convince you they are the real deal would be: listen for yourself. I give The Better Taste Bureau my cosign and a personal recommendation.
Honorable Mentions: Dumb Luck, Melvin Junko, Concise Kilgore, Emerson Kennedy, B-Side and Bobby B.
[By Matt Whitlock, he does all things hip-hop. This is his Twitter.]