For those who may not know, the capital district is thick with hip-hop artists from Albany to Troy, to Schenectady and all places in between. The sound and styles of the capital district range from traditional boom bap, to trap, experimental, live instruments, to dark and sublime. There are artists who are all about bars, artists who are political, others who are all about partying and clubbing, and some who are about that street life. No particular style runs the capital district and the mix of backgrounds gives the area a unique sound.
“The sound of Albany is very blue collar with a sense of humor,” said Mic Lanny, an artist who’s been fixture in the hip-hop scene for ten years. “It’s hard working, blue collar, but not taking itself too seriously. Even the conscious hip-hop artists here still have a sense of humor which I think is important especially with what’s going on now in the world.”
Mic Lanny’s music is pure underground, backpack hip-hop complete with hard beats, samples, a rapid fire delivery and rhymes that combine humor and bravado that he admits is obnoxious–but in a good way.
“[My music] is meant for people who don’t take themselves seriously but take the craft seriously,” explains Mic Lanny who was featured on the website of The Source, the oldest and most important hip-hop magazine in the world. “There’s a lot of jokey punchlines, and having fun with it. But I have done certain things that are more serious that speak to a specific topic, or a political or social issue.”
Another MC from Albany that is contributing to the local scene not only lyrically but also with the beats he produces is Clear Mind (pictured above.) With beats that encompass a variety of styles from boom bap to trap, Clear Mind’s lyrics flow effortlessly between verbally beating down whack MC’s to self reflection. Clear Mind describes his music as moving in different zones.
“There are so many different zones I can enter and it cannot be classified as just one category,” said Clear Mind whose “Clear State of Mind,” EP was released last year . “I feel as a hip-hop artist, the genre may be hip-hop, but as far as content and creativity mine is all over the place. Whatever beat I produce I generally just go off of that.”
Down the street from Albany, hip-hop artist Promise The Unbreakable and Chris Cool Peeples are among the artists helping to provide the soundtrack for Schenectady.
For Promise, hip-hop was in his DNA from birth as his father was a rapper until he had to give it up to help raise him. His father also built a studio in the basement and introduced Promise to recording at a very young age and now he uses it to record himself as well as other local artists. “I’m an artist but I’m just like my father wanting to know everything [about recording],” said Promise. “I graduated from NSRT [New School of Radio and Television] and I do the mixing and mastering of my own music at home. I have all of my CDs and everything that I have worked on my hard drive, so if anyone needs a copy I can just go and give it to them.”
Not one to keep what he learned all to himself, Promise also helped other artists record their music.
“When others saw me doing the music thing we started connecting and since I was doing it for the money as far as engineering I would tell the artists to just come through,” he said. “I was learning, they were learning, so we both benefited from each other.”
Chris Cool Peeples (pictured below) is one artist who has recorded at Promise’s studio and the two feature on each other’s music from time to time.
“My first project I recorded in my attic and the quality was off,” said Chris Cool Peeples who admires Kanye West, Jay-Z, and J-Cole–who he considers very inspirational. “My man Promise went to school for music engineering and he constantly pushes me to find that sound. We just sit in the studio all day going back and forth.”
Hailing from the birthplace of Uncle Sam is Eugene Muniz, who performs under the name Genetic. Originally from Brooklyn, Genetic moved to Troy at a very young age, however that 1990’s BK sound is apparent in his music.
“My music is mostly about personal things but I keep it with a strong lyrical content,” describes Genetic. “It’s definitely towards the boom bap, original lyrics because that’s what I like listening to.”
Despite there being so much hip-hop talent in the capital district, there are very few outlets where the artists can perform. It’s like that scene from the movie “Jurassic Park,” where after being told that the dinosaurs in the park cannot breed because they are all females, Jeff Goldblum’s character says “life finds a way.” That is what’s happening with hip-hop in the capital district–it’s finding a way with little to no support from city officials, events, and nightclubs.
When the subject of why there is little support for hip-hop in the capital district, the artists are quick to point out several things, the incident at the Migos concert at the Armory in 2015 where six people were stabbed, the Cabaret Law which forces bars and clubs that have a DJ or live music to end at 2AM, and a lack of support from festivals and events put on by the city. Because of this, artists have to rely on other means to ensure that their music is heard, including making use of the internet, getting support from local radio DJs, performing at various showcases, and traveling out of town to perform.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the politics of venues who may be afraid to attract a certain clientele to their venues, which to me has a little racist undertone to it,” said Joshua Mirsky, who has been instrumental in the local seen for many years as a producer for local and national artist as well as the leader of the alternative, hip-hop, and r&b band Mirk. “I think the venues are influenced by the politicians, the police, and probably more so the state liquor authorities. The bottom line is that Albany is a diverse place and it shouldn’t be a place where only the bros go to party. And don’t think that there aren’t any fights when the bros get together, there’s fights in the street and they yell ‘World Star’ just like when there’s a fight at a more urban venue.”
Two of the major events in Albany are the Tulip festival in May, and the Lark Fest in September. Both events have live music, the Tulip festival mostly going the old folkie route with their musical acts, and Lark Fest having mostly alternative rock. Representatives of both events acknowledge the lack of hip-hop acts but claim that they are not opposed to having them on there.
“We try to hit the broader strokes, the live music that will bring in people from all ages, all creeds, and all races from 20-50,” said Dan Atkins the chairman of the Lark Street BID. “So we try to keep it generic, with live music that is mellow.”
But despite the ambivalence to hip-hop, there are several annual and monthly events that are geared for the culture and gives local artists the opportunity to be heard.
The biggest and longest running event is the annual Beat Shot festival which will celebrate its 10-year-anniversary next year. Every year in July, the Beat Shot festival presents a weekend full of performances from local rappers, poets, beatboxers, DJs, and occasionally nationally known artists which have included Pharoahe Monch, and J-Live.
“There’s a certain sound and feeling that permeates through Beat Shot,” said DJ Trumastr who started the festival along with his two friends Ralph “Oddy Gato” Marrero and Jody “Lo-Fi Lobo” Cowan. “You’re not worried about anything one minute you’re like ‘wow everybody feels good here. Ok, that rapper is super duper obnoxious and misogynistic and I’m going to walk away.’ And then when you come back the next rapper is not that way and you’re like ‘oh there is something for everybody.’ That is something I think we brought to the capital district.”
For the past four years, Siena College in Loudonville has held “Hip-Hop Week,” which both celebrates the culture while also educating people about the culture. The event is open to the public. It begins with a keynote speaker (this year it was the legendary Sha-Rock, one of the first female MCs), has panel discussions, a hip-hop karaoke, documentary films, and a 518 night that features local artists.
“The events of Hip-Hop Week have become more dynamic over the past four years,” said Todd Snyder the creator of the event and Associate Professor of Rhetoric and Composition at the college. “We had a humble beginning that first year, now we have a keynote speaker to kick the event off. In the past we’ve had Grandmaster Flash, Chuck D, Professor Griff of Public Enemy, and this year Sha-Rock of the Funky Four Plus One More. We’ve had local professors who have written about hip-hop culture from U Albany and Siena College. And thanks to Gwendolyn Hayles who has helped us stay connected to the hip-hop community of the capital district, she has brought in local DJs, producers, engineers, and rappers to come in for 518 day so that the students and teachers can get an idea of what hip-hop is like in Albany.”
Every Friday night from 10PM to 12AM, Jordan Hill plays hip-hop, Afrobeat, reggae and other forms of music on his show “Revolution Radio,” on 90.9 WCDB. Hill, who is also a hip-hop artist and percussionist, uses his radio show to feature music of local artists as well as interviewing them.
“I’ve been exposed to a lot of artist here and I’m a fan first so I have to go out and get all of their music and listen to it,” said Hill who has been doing his show for the past six years. “Sometimes they are surprised when I know their lyrics. There’s a lot of talented artists here. I follow a lot of the artists as they are finishing up their projects, putting it online and seeing them perform it for the first time is cool.”
Recently Mic Lanny started Rap Night at the Allen St. Pub in Albany which takes place the first Tuesday of every month and features an open mic for local rap artists to perform their music.
“It’s different from month to month, and we have a good three or four steady mc’s who come out every time,” said Mic Lanny. “On the last event it was packed, we had people waiting outside to get in, but we’ve also had a few nights where there was just ten people. But we just play good hip-hop music, people have drinks and hang out, and the night goes on.”
Out of all the issues faced by local artists, the biggest problem they all mention is the lack of support amongst the artists. Since there is such a variety of styles, sounds, and different sub-genres of hip-hop in the capital district getting some unity has proved difficult. The subject of that lack of support was brought up in a Facebook post from Mirsky recently and he got a wide range of replies about it.
“I just wanted to know why our scene was so apathetic, and I’m coming from it as someone who sees the different sub-scenes, I’ve worked with a lot of the people in these sub-scenes and they don’t even know that each other exists,” said Mirsky. “There’s no place where the drill rappers, the club rappers, the New York backpackers, and the west coast style dudes can come and show off their skills to each other and encourage each other and inspire each other. That doesn’t exist here.”
Hill believes that if the different artists did come together it will help spread introduce different audiences to the different talent in the area.
“I think we need to collaborate more with each other and support each other and those collaborations will help bring each other’s supporters together, “said Hill. “It’s just about taking the initiative, are we going to collaborate on a project or just talk about it?”
Clear Mind tries to do all he can to support other artists in the area, something he feels would help make the scene better as well as improve his karma.
“I’ve been working with plenty other artists, I offer my support, I share, post anything I can on [social media]. When I have a show, I hit up other artist and tell them I have 25 minutes, and I’ll give them ten. I also go to people’s shows to show my support.”
All of the artist can be found online–many on soundcloud and others on their own websites:
Photos by Robert Cooper