That's my soul on that pad / That's my life on that track / That's a dream that we had / to stand in front of a crowd and scream out loud / that we're young, dead-broke and proud, what now," spits Roan "Know-One" Smith of the young hip-hop artist collective known as Media Darling Records on "Passin' the Torch." This line embodies the spirit of the Lucky Stiffs -- Bionik Brown, Know-One and DJ Quickie Mart -- one of the groups on the new album, The Humid Sounds of Media Darling Records. This first release from the fledgling Media Darling Records also contains tracks from God Awful, Ruin, Illucid and the Blank Space.
"Diamonds are great, cars are great, rims are great, but we don't have that," says Bionik Brown, one of the more experienced MCs on the label. "That's not our lives, and since we make honest music, we can't talk about that stuff. We struggle to pay bills and have bad credit. Our lives are doing a gig and waking up to go to our 9-to-5 jobs!"
This is a lifestyle known all too well by countless bar bands and artists of all genres who hustle and scrape not in the hope of raking in millions but of merely paying their rent. "At this point I'm just trying to make money from rapping, enough so I can just do music as my job," Brown says. "That's all I want."
In a genre where being from New Orleans earns you instant credibility after the successes of the No Limit and Cash Money labels, Bionik and other acts on Media Darling have found the pedigree actually working against them. Producer, DJ and default booking agent Quickie Mart found it hard to book tour dates because of the stigma. "Lots of places hear hip-hop from New Orleans' and just immediately think bounce,' and in places where they get more of an underground crowd, that made them hesitant to book us," he says. "I really had to work hard to convince people we come from a different place musically and mentally."
In contrast to the "ice and Cris" (as in Cristal) focus of much bounce and Dirty South hip-hop, the Media Darling collective thinks of itself as coming from a more profound place. Know-One says, "We've been doing this for years making no money because we just love to get together and make tracks. I mean, to make a good living at this is definitely a goal, but the process is really what it's about."
Aside from philosophy, the music itself is different. The songs have a West Coast feel, yet they remind us that West Coast hip-hop owes much of its sound to New Orleans music in the first place. DJs took funky drumming from New Orleanians like James Black and Idris Muhammad and used it as the bedrock for grooves. Like West Coast rappers, the Media Darling artists love the sample. It might seem surprising, but the samples on Humid Sounds mark what is essentially the hip-hop staple's introduction into the New Orleans hip-hop canon.
"New Orleans producers have traditionally not used samples and have just relied on keyboards and drum machines for their tracks," says Quickie Mart. "I love to use samples, but I also love to take just a sound or sounds from a sample and splice it in so that it might sound familiar but so you still can't quite place it." A good example of this approach is Bionik Brown's "Throw Back Rap," where a familiar sample is used but in a way that makes it nearly impossible to identify. When asked the source of that sample, Quickie chuckles and pleads the musical Fifth Amendment: "I'd really rather not say."
In addition to the musical and lyrical differences between New Orleans underground and bounce, the Media Darling artists also see a major difference in the respective fans' attitudes. "We don't really understand people who come to a show with a frown on their face and are just looking to start shit, which seems to go on a lot when you're talking about the crowds at more mainstream hip-hop shows." says Know-One.
"It comes along with the music," adds Bionik. "I mean, if all you talk about is money, guns and how hard you are, then that's how your crowd is going to think, too. Rappers are role models whether they want to be or not." The so-called thug image associated with much of bounce, Dirty South and commercial New Orleans hip-hop in general is a large part of the reason why booking a gig as a different kind of New Orleans hip-hop artist can be tough. "We want to offer an alternative to all of that," says Know-One. "We're definitely into making you think, but most of all we want to make hip-hop about the party again."
- Donn Young
- The Lucky Stiffs (Bionik Brown, Quickie Mart and Know One) and their label, Media Darling Records, are trying to change New Orleans' hip-hop image. "Lots of places hear 'hip-hop from New Orleans' and just immediately think 'bounce,'" says Quickie Mart, "and in places where they get more of an underground crowd, that made them hesitant to book us."