Hip-hop doesn’t seem to be mainstream here in Utah, even though it’s an insanely popular genre nationally. But it is here, and the scene is filled with passion.
I had tea at the Beehive Tea Room with Young Sim from Feel Good Music Coalition, and solo artists Kiliona Palauni (who performs simply as Kiliona) and Emerson Kennedy. The three met through their local producer, Wes Thompson.
Sim’s label offers a foundation for artists in rap, soul and other genres to deliver quality rhymes and music about real life. And they currently perform quarterly live showcases of Feel Good artists at Legends Pub & Grill in downtown SLC.
Emerson and Kiliona have performed on the FGM bill and collaborated with each other on recordings. They agree that the hip-hop scene in Utah is low-key, but there is an immense amount of support within the community. Sure, there are cliques like anywhere else, but Sim believes that since he moved here from Pennsylvania in 2006, the support and the music has grown significantly due to more passionate artists wanting to share their skills.
Besides the Legends showcases, you can regularly find rap gigs at venues like The Urban Lounge, Kilby Court and In The Venue, even though there isn’t a venue to exclusively see rap shows in Utah.
The talent’s definitely here, though. One favorite of Emerson’s is young rapper Definition (Dean Risko), who recently moved to California. Emerson also has representation in Los Angeles. “Don’t be a halfway artist,” Emerson states over his second cup, acknowledging his ambition to work beyond Utah’s borders.
One chord that struck me was that Emerson’s mother told him not to leave with only potential, and that shows in his music. “I would just like to tour full time,” said Kiliona, whose current act includes videography and modern dancers. “It’s nice to give [the audience] a ‘present’ rather than just hearing you singing rap.”
Utah’s ski scene is a major part of the hip-hop world here, too; on our ski resorts, you can often find slopers jamming to a local rap act. Kiliona chimed in after his chocolate mint buzz that MC Skinwalker, a local favorite, pulls a lot of skier/snowboarder guys.
Sim has high hopes for original, passionate hip-hop to grow in Utah due to the booming business done in Salt Lake City. These men aren’t merely being dainty meeting me at the Beehive Tea Room, but they are dreamers. Not everyone has such high hopes for Utah’s hip-hop scene, but these guys are proof there’s definitely something good brewing.
You can see a Feel Good Music Coalition show at Legends about every three months, with about six different artists on each bill. Visit FeelGoodMusicCoalition.com for more info.