Installment number five of an ongoing series, this article was one of the most fun I've penned yet - simply because of the challenge I was embarking on. I’m covering all 50 states, and I expected to come across some surprises, but I was completely unaware of the level talent that existed in Iowa. I mean, we all know hip-hop extends worldwide, but Iowa? Seriously? That place from Field of Dreams? Is Shoeless Joe Jackson the next big thing?
Believe it or not, there’s more talent here than meets the eye. A quiet state, full of humble, hard-working emcees that just want to make music…that’s Iowa, embodying the true definition of “underground” hip-hop. If you trust the DJBooth, give these guys a chance…
Lyrikal, of The Teknitions (Waterloo)
Before I jump into talking about the type of artist Lyrikal is, I feel compelled to proclaim his remix of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” as an early favorite for Turn-Up Anthem of the Year. Let’s get this on every radio station in the country, stat. Do you guys have any idea how rare it is for someone like me (an ’86 baby) to enjoy a song like this? RARE. How are we letting “hype” songs with quality production and horrible lyrics slide by when cats like Lyrikal exist with real content?
Lyrikal, part of a collective known as The Teknitions, is a rapper by way of Waterloo, Iowa, with a strong passion for the messages in his music. With a ScHoolboy Q-esque sound and an equivalent amount of energy, the entire crew is very passionate about putting their city – and the entire state of Iowa – on the map. Lyrikal is constantly collaborating with local artists on his material, shouting out the community and pushing for awareness. It was difficult for me to find some more of his catalog other than the song below, but working with a ton of indie artists had prepared me for the hunt long ago. I was able to find a few links, but no secret stash or anything. No bio, limited social networks and a short list of Google results – but the available music out there speaks for itself. Lyrikal seems to be one of those hidden gems that may or may not want to be found, but hip-hop needs him to be heard. I know I’m not the only one who’s sick of hearing and reading about monotonous turn-up music, it’s time for a change, time for lyrical ability to rank again. His production is on point and he has a strong team by his side, it can be done. The talent is there and I’d love to hear more joints from this underground Iowa emcee.
Maxilla Blue (Des Moines)
Maxilla Blue is an amazing lyricist collective whose videos, character and personality remind me so much of Slum Village, De La Soul, Jurassic 5, MURS and other musicians with classic/true school feels. Their positivity is on another level and the way they ride the mellow/smooth production waves is simply flawless. I don’t have anything bad to say about the crew except I wish I found them sooner. After listening to their “Shovel Kids” record I was at a loss for words. I don’t know if it’s just me, but that raw/conscious/fierce head-bobbing approach is few and far between these days, so when I hear it done well I need to make sure I rant about it. Someone has to voice these things and there's power in numbers, so who’s with me?! Maxilla Blue has been rocking together since 2006, and have even toured the world, dropping knowledge bombs on anyone who will listen.
Boycott, of .nuLOVE (Davenport)
Everybody welcome Boycott, of .nuLOVE, to the elite Iowa emcees list. Now, I ain’t from Iowa, not even close. I can’t even picture its shape without looking at a map, but that’s beside the point. This is about the music. Music should be created with the purpose of remaining timeless and I believe Boycott understands this. Let me ask you a simple question – do you like to be inspired? I wouldn’t expect anyone to say no, so for all you motivated individuals who answered correctly – check out “Regular Day.”
When I first started researching artists for Iowa, it was an early Monday morning and I wasn’t trying to do shit except listen to some music. Good thing I stumbled on this jam because it ended up setting the pace for my whole week. Music is powerful like that. Boycott is a natural born storyteller and always beautifully constructs a way for listeners to follow him through his maze of stories. The world is flooded with songs about all things imaginable, but how many of them make you stare off into the distance and just think? Boycott has that ability and nuLOVE, a group of inspiring emcees and talented producers with 9th Wonder-esque sounds, tackle current issues all with a highly professional sound. Though they recently relocated to Seattle in the summer of 2014, I couldn’t leave the IA natives off this list. They're too pure and too great to be ignored.
Lyrics Devine (Waterloo)
Know how to win me over with your music? Include a live guitar in the production. As much as I love hip-hop, I'm an even bigger fan of music as a whole. I appreciate all sounds that are beautiful, especially guitars. There’s something about the acoustic sound backed by heavy bass that goes together so well. In the song above, Lyrics Devine covers Brendan MacFarlane’s hit song, “Dinner With The Devil,” but flips it into an amazing rap rendition, even going the extra mile by including female country singer Anji. Now, THIS is the type of hip-hop I was expecting to hear out of Iowa. That country sound and heavy lyricism is something I can never get enough of either. Similar to Boycott, Lyrics is also a great storyteller, as you can hear above, opening up about his constant battle with good an evil and letting us into his personal struggles. So to recap, we have an emcee who is lyrically gifted, has a strong vision, is honest, not afraid to open up and is driven to get his message across and uplift others. How can you not like this guy?
D.O.P.E. Clique (Des Moines)
So here’s the deal: I spent 1/3 of the writing and researching portion of this article's creation listening to D.O.P.E. Clique record “Another One Bites The Dust.” In other words, I listened to it for longer than it took me to write the whole piece.
D.O.P.E. Clique reps Des Moines, Iowa and is doing it properly. I love these guys because they’re truthful. Their interests include “watching drunks get manhandled by bouncers and watching bouncers get manhandled by patrons,” which was all I needed to hear to be sold. Maybe you’ll need more, if so, listen to the track above. The group has been rocking since '99, they've opened for all the nobodies and everybodies, and continue to pay their dues to this day. I’m a sucker for great production and if you’re not then I’m not sure why you’d even be reading this far into my rundown. On that note, I love groups who incorporate multiple and varied sounds and don’t always fall into the same category as one another. Beats, lyrics and character are the dividing elements between artists. A lot of emcees today fall into the same categories, which have them all fighting for the same time, attention and money as the same demographic. Salute to this clique for going against the grain and expanding its base organically. The D.O.P.E. Clique has something for everybody, and most of their material cover all bases. You don’t have to clap for ‘em or cut any checks, but give them a few minutes and see what you think. Who knows, the next time you’re in Iowa you might have a show to go to?
Honorable mentions: Read & Return (Burlington), Skool’d (Cedar Falls), Imperfekt (Cedar Rapids), The Other Elements (Cedar Rapids)
Additional cypher: "Middle of the Map"
[By Matt Whitlock, he does all things hip-hop. This is his Twitter.]