One of the coolest things about the Bloomington hip hop scene is that it is very diverse and eclectic, but that same characteristic that makes it interesting can also be a hindrance. There isn’t a real scene or a clear collective. Instead, you have a lot of quality musicians doing hip hop their own way and carving out their own spaces.
“The hip hop scene in Bloomington is a funny scene to be in because everyone is doing it, but no one knows everyone else is doing it,” local artist Jayali said. That means sometimes hip hop fans have to do a little more digging to find what they’re looking for, but when they do, they see the effort was worth it.
By happenstance, I encountered a few local artists in the past week that all have something special to add to the fragmented hip hop landscape here. Rapper Jayali hosted a release party for his newest mixtape at Serendipity and kept the audience on their feet. Hip hop fusion band Three Story Hill rocked Dunnkirk after the Michigan State game with a set of flawlessly-delivered covers. And, rapper Reltalk released his project Sobr(i)ety that features nostalgic beats and a deep narrative on life’s everyday addictions.
Three Story Hill is a hip hop band that blends the musicianship of an R&B set with the cadence and brash delivery of rap. One main selling point of the live show is the talented female vocalist, Peyton Raquel, whose versatility and talent is rare in amateur performances.
The rap lead, Isaac Lightfoot, can morph his flow from cover to cover to fit the mood. The downside for me was that all of the songs were covers, and I didn’t get to hear what the band could do with their own talents. I can only imagine the impressive music that could come from the fusion of the band’s skills and the fresh tones of the vocalists. Although the audience missed out on original content, the fact that they perform covers makes sense. It allows them to be more bookable at places like Dunnkirk on a busy night.
People are probably more likely to listen to a band with a good sound playing Biggie than a band with a good sound playing songs they don’t know.
I found the originality I was looking for at local artist Jayali’s release party for his new EP “My Man Mixtape.” The opening act by vocalist AnnaMarie Hosei was a perfect set up for Jayali. She has her own bohemian timbre that is akin to a Sara Bareilles or a Colbie Caillat, but with a touch of soul. The decision to have her as a lead-in to his performance, instead of another hip hop act or someone who is solidly R&B, shows the range of influences in his music. In an interview before the show, he told me that he draws inspiration from all different types of music, from Indian bhangra and British punk to 60s soul and Nigerian music.
He is not only a rapper and lyricist, but also a musician. He produces all of his own songs and works closely with the band for live performances to create a dynamic sound. Because of his ear for music and the abilities of the band, they are able to vibe off of each other and ad-lib when they get into a song. It was a meaty sound that connected to Jayali’s style. It reminded me of The Roots.
The only thing that could’ve made it better would have been the infusion of a muted trumpet to add a bit of jazz. Jayali engaged the crowd and felt comfortable on stage. His look fit his music. He emerged on stage with a white button up, a wooden African medallion and curly cropped hair. He looked like an intellectual from Harlem, a poet. It is clear from his music and his attention to his craft that he is not just another guy with a cheap microphone in his dorm room that calls himself a rapper.
My final encounter with local hip hop this week came through a scroll down a social media page and was completely unrelated to the other local artists I had been listening to.
Reltalk lived on my floor freshman year and I noticed he had a mixtape out called Sobr(i)ety. I followed the link and found an EP that was thoughtful and expressive. If you’ve been reading my column this year, you know that one of my favorite elements of hip hop is the narrative. Reltalk tells a cohesive story throughout the EP about beats that sound like classics from the 90s. Its tone and feeling are thoroughly Midwest, with a bit of East Coast influence.
Bloomington’s hip hop scene certainly doesn’t have a problem with quality or drive. I found three unrelated artists making good music over the course of a week, purely by accident. But, it does have somewhat of an issue with space.
There is no rhyming in the park like New York in the 80s. There are no cyphers. This seemingly disjointed scene is missing a bonding gel that would allow for healthy competition, diversity of thought and growth amongst all of the artists. Artists like Reltalk recognize that that element is missing but see gradual progress.
“I think the big thing that is lacking is an established platform for us to showcase our talent on a constant basis. If that platform were there, it would attract artists. That platform is not fully here, but things like the monthly ‘Festivus for the Rest of Us’ showcase [by Alpha Pack Records] are starting to fill that void.”