Simply existing as a rap group in Utah is no longer unique. The “who knew that quality hip-hop could come from a state known for white Mormons?” storyline needs to be retired like Drake’s Degrassi wheelchair.
For a while, it did in fact seem like Utah hip-hop suffered from a self-prescribed inferiority complex. But at this point, rap is a global canvas—a space where demographics are blurred and originality is the only currency that matters. Salt Lake City’s Better Taste Bureau (formerly known as Hurris & Gig) probably understands this concept better than most.
Consisting of emcees Ben Harris and Shaun Bussard and in-house producer Mason Brewer, the Better Taste Bureau has figured out a way to create polished rap that both fits outside of Utah’s borders and remains remarkably local.
“Honestly, we don’t compare ourselves to anyone locally,” Harris says. “We compare ourselves to artists like Kanye.”
Sure, this comparison might come across as a presumptuous Yeesuz boast. But Better Taste Bureau’s most recent release, the free-to-download Better Taste EP, is a short and potent exhibit of how a rap group can break the rules of locally produced hip-hop.
At only four tracks deep, it might seem like The Better Taste EP doesn’t cover a lot of territory. But in less than 15 minutes of music, the EP fires through Cudi-inspired hooks, stream-of-consciousness boast raps and even indie-pop anthems. It’s this EP’s overall diversity that earned it a spot on City Weekly’s “Top 10 SLC Rap Releases of 2013” list a couple of weeks back.
The best example of this overt originality is the opening track, “Lookin’ Back.” Brewer lays down a sample-free collage of marching-band bass lines, rolling snares and Xaphoon Jones-like synths. The sound seems to be crafted less for rappers to fill bars and more specifically for local singer Luna Lune, whose haunting voice seamlessly floats between Harris and Bussard’s methodical raps. As Guru once said, “It’s all about the voice,” and Lune has golden pipes. The track is a massive effort, and it’s also a fair glimpse of Brewer’s musical prowess.
Without a doubt, this 22-year-old producer is the backbone of Better Taste Bureau. His production is painstakingly purposeful, and it’s clear that Brewer enjoys breaking out of traditional rap formulas and taking risks that other producers won’t. The fact that he “barely even listens to rap music,” Harris says, might contribute to this.
But the thing that really sets Better Taste Bureau apart from their contemporaries is their ability to craft serious, meticulous raps while somehow coming across like they’re actually enjoying themselves. “Beans and Brews, Beans and Brews, life for me is just Beans and Brews,” Harris rhymes on the track “Too Many,” a song that humorously jabs at Utah hipsters who often attend rap shows. The lyric is a glaring plug to Schoolboy Q’s “weed and brew, weed and brew” line from the single “Hands on the Wheel.” It’s these little wordplay nuggets scattered throughout The Better Taste EP that ultimately make this project fun to listen to.
However, it should be mentioned that Bussard and Harris don’t have too much fun—they never swear, ever. “I don’t even think about it anymore,” Harris says. “When I first started [rapping], I was like, ‘I’m not gonna swear,’ but now it doesn’t even come to mind. It’s a syllable, really.”
Thanks to that decision, the group has often been confused as an LDS rap group, but that’s not the case. “When we performed at U92’s Summer Jam, everyone thought we were from Provo, but Shaun and I live in the Avenues and Mason lives in Holladay,” Harris says. “None of us are active members [of the LDS Church], and we’re not Christian rappers by any means.”
But their choice to not use the always-popular “B-word” or all the other cuss bombs usually heard in rap music doesn’t really matter. After all, Jay-Z and Beyoncé recently went vegan, so one could argue that just about anything and everything is acceptable in rap music. And, despite what you’re probably thinking, Better Taste Bureau still delivers lyrically without the Will Smith corniness.
“You and me, we are not alike. You rap to other rappers and we sell out weeknights,” Harris spits on the track “Out West.” Perhaps Utah rap will always suffer from little-brother syndrome, but The Better Taste EP stands on its own, and it’s refreshing to stumble upon a project that is simply a good time waiting to be heard.