an ever growing hip-hop scene in Utah, local DJ’s, performers and
labels are all starting to make a name for themselves, better than
some in more established areas.
Since 2004, TML Records out of Salt Lake City has been putting out albums and bringing on board some of the top local talent in hip-hop, rap and reggae. Influencing artists across the board, showcasing some of the best in local music, and even making their presence felt on urban beat stations. I got a chance to chat with label owner and performer DJ HandomeHands about TML, the local hip-hop scene, his thoughts on the industry, and whatever else came to mind.
DJ Handsome Hands
Gavin: Hey man, first off, tell us a little about yourself.
Handsome Hands: I'm originally from Las Vegas were I grew up and at an early age exposed to Hip-Hop. In 1996 I moved out here to Salt Lake City.
Gavin: I read you've been involved with hip-hop since 1998. How did you first get into it and work to doing it for a living?
Handsome Hands: Well I would always listen to 88.1 & 88.5 in Las Vegas. Those where our Hip Hop source stations back in the day. I'd record DJ Warren Peace, DJ EQ,DJ PIZO mix shows and listen to it all week 'til the next mix show the following weekend. I was fascinated listening to the transitions of songs in a mix. That's when I started to follow the DJ element of hip-hop. When I moved here to Salt Lake, I'd hangout at local Hip-Hop store called Funksions where I would watch DJ Brisk & DJ Kool Kel mix and scratch. I used to buy mix tapes every week of different DJ's Like Tony Touch, DJ Premiere, and my favorite DJ Marcus B. When I turned 18 I bought my first house then I got my first credit card. Then I got my first set of Technic 1200 MK2's. I started to get into turntablism buying battle records, then I started doing guest spots with different DJ's back then mostly (DJ Kel Rock). He put me on first at various clubs around town. He taught me everything about ethics and business that's involved in being a full time DJ, in 2004 I got my chance with U92. I submitted a DEMO Mix and a day later I got the call. Since then I've been A U92 All Star Mixer. I do Mix shows, Remotes, and Concert Events. I'm a hustler with a passion for music so everything I'm working on whether its Beats to DJing its all career related. I'm a full time musician.
(DJ Scarecrow and Demise The First)
Gavin: The hip-hop climate has changed drastically over the past decade here in Utah. Did you find it difficult keeping pace with it, did you feel you were ahead of the trends, or did you just ignore it and did your own thing?
Handsome Hands: Since I've been out here it has changed a lot, but that's expected there is a different generation now that's US! (TML). To be honest we are trendsetters as far as for TML DJ's breaking records. I guess we ignored the trends and went for the longevity, creating our own identity. We love making music.
Gavin: How did the idea for starting TML Records come about?
Handsome Hands: TML (That Mob Life) was originally a graffiti crew that I started back in Las Vegas in 1995 In 2003 Scarecrow (DJ/Producer) Demise The First (Artist) and I formed a crew that we called TML (The Major League, The Meth Labb) we had no alliances we wanted to work together and create our own music. So later in 2004 it became a Label.
Gavin: When you started putting it together, was it hard getting things in order or did it all flow smoothly for you? And what were the challenges you met along the way?
Handsome Hands: It was difficult at times just like any other new company or business emerging. We all knew little about the entertainment business. We invested a lot of our own money into licensing, albums, equipment, studio time everything that it took to create a Label. Funding was our biggest challenge. We would set up shows to earn capital. Even after shows it was never enough. So we made changes We pressed up our own product which eliminated the manufacturing cost by nearly half if not more. We felt independent!
Gavin: Did you put together your own recording studio for the label or did you feel that was too much to do?
Handsome Hands: Haha! We all had equipment it was just never together. We used to record out of Scarecrow's shower with cables running through the hall to his room where he had his monitors to mix and master. Most of our artist's record in different locations around the city. The official TML production studio is INCA Studios located in West Jordan. We do our recordings and mix downs at that studio, Rich does most of our engineering on our projects.
Gavin: For those who don't know, who are some of the artists on your label?
Handsome Hands: Artist's are Demise The First (Flagship Artist), Lump Sum, Aaron Taylor, Charlie Soul, and Miles O'Keefe. Producers are Scarecrow, Freshmaker, Apollo and Handsome Hands. And the DJ's are Latu, Dao (TML DJ'S COORDINATOR), Stario, Chassis, Erockalypze, and Handsome Hands.
Gavin: Seeing how you have your own label, can you share with us what it's like looking for new talent and how you decide to add someone or not?
Handsome Hands: I look for personality, work ethics, musical background, work history, I do not care if you think your the hottest artist right now. I really base my decision on your attitude and ability to work with others. Then we vote you in or out, it's that simple.
Gavin: Do you have a longterm goal for TML to become more national, or is your main focus to stay independent and keep it local?
Handsome Hands: Well it depends. For TML producers & TML DJ's we are already making a national crossover. Several of our artist have had potential deals from Capitol/Sony BMG. As for TML Records, I'm keeping it independent and local, plus it gives us more creative freedom being independent and for the simple fact of its piece of Salt Lake Music History!
Gavin: A little on the local scene, how has it worked out being a hip-hop label in Utah where the scene is primarily rock or alternative?
Handsome Hands: It actually worked out to our advantage due to the fact that we were one of the first hip-hop labels out here, so I guess we're sort of pioneers in Salt Lake's hip-hop scene.
Gavin: What's your opinion on the local hip-hop scene, both good and bad?
Handsome Hands: I like the direction the scene has taken no matter what genre of hip-hop. In general it's all a great addition to the way the scene is now. The only bad thing about the scene is the little beefs between crews and shady club promoters. Another thing that makes it difficult in hip-hop out here is the lack of unity within the scene. Some crews seem to have ego's, everyone wants to shine but no one wants to help each other out. That's one of the qualities that distinguishes TML artists from the rest, we are willing to work with anyone. Even at that we still have a solid scene.
Gavin: Same question, but instead on the entire music scene in Utah.
Handsome Hands: Wow! Utah has evolved a lot from the 90's, now days no matter what genre of music you're into there is actually a source for it. There is a lot more concerts coming out here, there are a lot more musicians emerging, the entire Utah music scene has changed dramatically.
Gavin: Is there anything specific you believe could be done to make it bigger or better?
Handsome Hands: Going back a couple of questions, there is a lot we could do to make this scene bigger and better and that would be to let the ego's down and make great music.
Gavin: U92 has done some limited mixing of local hip-hop into their playlist. Do you believe it's helping the scene, or do you believe it's making it feel more excluded?
Handsome Hands: This is a really great question. I wouldn't say it's making the scene feel more excluded, I would say it makes our scene more exclusive. But for the most part U92 has come a long way, now our #1 song for the last two and a half months has been a local artist "Chino 4 Real".
Gavin: Do you wish there were more shows, or even stations, like the Friday Night Fallout, or do think things are fine the way they are at the moment?
Handsome Hands: Things are fine right now at the moment, this is a rock/alternative state and hip-hop is still a fresh face in Utah. I don't believe it's time for more radio shows or stations. What we have right now is just enough for our scene. Having too much of one thing would cause a lack of value in the music, it wouldn't be as exclusive.
Gavin: Most local hip-hop and rap acts tend to play in venues that cater all forms of music. Do you wish you had a genre-exclusive venue, or do you believe it's better for the scene to have different sounds playing every night?
Handsome Hands: I love the fact the hip-hop in Salt Lake has emerged out of different venues, to me it's more exposure to different crowds. It's basically broadening it's fan base. The best shows I've seen are shows where hip-hop, rock and reggae artists both perform at the same venue for different crowds. We are still at the point where people are in constant search for certain music in certain clubs, so with playing at a multi-genre venue this causes exposure to those people.
Gavin: Expanding a little to mainstream, what's your take on the current trends in hip-hop, both good and bad?
Handsome Hands: To be honest mainstream hip-hop, besides the finger snapping toe tapping ring tone flavor of the month, if you could get past that, mainstream isn't so bad. In this generation there are so many different genre's of hip-hop that people can relate to. I guess you could say mainstream isn't so bad, the only downside of mainstream hip-hop is the lack of substance and longevity. In a sense it's just not the same as it used to be. I really feel for the few mainstream artists that are out currently, the majority is basically killing hip-hop. So see, it pays off to be independent but at the same time it's not even music anymore it's just a business. That's what prevents TML from being national, to us it's more music than business.
Gavin: How do you feel about the current downward state the record industry is in, and does any of it affect you negatively or does it help you out?
Handsome Hands: I've been waiting for this question. We all knew sooner or later it was going to reach the state that it's currently in. I have nothing against downloads, it means music is more accessible. The way I see it, if someone downloads my entire mix tape or a Demise album and burns it for everybody on their block that just means more exposure. Our money usually comes from merchandise and shows.
Gavin: To expand on file sharing, what's your take on it both as an artist and as a label owner?
Handsome Hands: I'm all for file sharing, I'd rather have 10,000 fans that download our music illegally, that would just mean our music is just that hot that everybody would want to download. So with that said, Limewire and Bearshare our music all you want, but at the same time come and support our shows!
Gavin: Currently, what albums does TML have out right now? And what are you working on at the moment?
Handsome Hands: As far as TML artists we have Demise The First: Party 'Til You're Broke, Rocky Mountain Standard & Live. Lump Sum: The Grudge, Building Billions, & Richie Valenz. Atwun: The Aaron Taylor Album. Charlie Soul: Soul Sides. Then we have our TML DJ's, DJ Handsome Hands: 63's and Palm Trees, Alice In Wonderland, Underground Beatdown Volume 1 & 2, Yay Area Volume 1 & 2, Baby Mama Mix tape (classic), currently working on The Casino Mix tape. DJ Dao: TML Radio Volume 1 & 2. DJ Erockalypze: The I-Phone Mix tape.
Gavin: What can we expect from you and the label the rest of the year?
Handsome Hands: There are several projects currently in progress, the long anticipated release of Miles O'Keefe (first album), a new Demise album and an array of mix tapes from TML DJ's.
Gavin: Anything you'd like to plug?
Handsome Hands: Hi Mom! For more info be sure to check out our MySpace page where you can find our upcoming shows, club nights and current projects. Big shout out to KPD, The Ghost, Big Fedi Records, Blue Collar Theory, Mindstate, Bad Apples, Roots Rawka, and anybody else that is responsible for making the scene what it is today. Oh and a big shout out to DJ Kool Kel, without his knowledge and guidance I wouldn't be the DJ I am today.