Best of Utah Music 2015 Winners | Best of Utah Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Best of Utah Music 2015 Winners 

Meet the champs: Fictionist, House of Lewis and J Godina

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HOUSE OF LEWIS
For a lesser rap group, making a big entrance wearing wrestling masks or wearing a suit covered in flowers could be mere gimmicks that call attention away from sub-par material. But when Provo/Salt Lake City crew House of Lewis, the 2015 Best Rap Group, performed their winning set during Best of Utah Music, every aspect of their performance—not just their ostentatious costumes—was turned up to 11, and their larger-than-life stage presence was matched only by their rapid-fire rhymes and explosive delivery.

And this was no off-the-cuff set thrown together hours before show time. House of Lewis had planned everything to the smallest detail, rehearsing multiple times to get it all nailed down. Because unlike their appearance at the 2014 City Weekly Music Awards, which had been fun but executed more casually, this year, House of Lewis arrived ready to attack. "We wanted to win, and we felt like we could," says Scott Knopf, aka Atheist, "so we made a really tight set with no dead spots and really clear transitions, and had all these ideas about showmanship, and tried to make it the most entertaining show."

Judging from the awestruck looks on audience members' faces as Knopf spit bars while flailing in a full-body yarn suit that made him resemble a fuzzy swamp monster, it would seem their planning paid off in spades. There are four other pillars to the House of Lewis, and during the performance, each of them had the opportunity to flex their own unique skills. Emcees Donnie Bonelli, Adam Hochhalter (aka Apt, wearing his signature flower suit) and Chance Clift (aka Chance Lewis) all had their moments in the spotlight, and Gabe Ghent (aka DJ SkratchMo) kept the beats and scratches coming.

Fresh hip-hop and flower suits might seem like an unorthodox combination, but no one can say that these guys are trying to be anything except themselves, and that authenticity resonates with their listeners.

"I think what's really cool about House of Lewis is we're really honest about who we are," Ghent says. "We're not trying to be something we're not. And a lot of rap is really about putting on that hard front, and really, it's an urban style of music, and so that just kind of comes with it." But instead of taking on personas as phony as wrestling masks, "I think we're able to just be ourselves and have a lot of fun during our shows, and that's why we were able to do goofy things at our set like put on flower suits and just jump around and have fun," he says.

They've been marching to the beat of their own DJ since 2012, when the long-standing duo of Clift (who also produces the group's music) and Hochhalter became House of Lewis, and were joined by Bonelli and Ghent. After Knopf moved to Utah from San Francisco and joined in 2013, the group—which they officially term a "collective," i.e. a "stable of artists that all operate under the House of Lewis name, and we just help each other out with our projects," Ghent says—was complete.

Since then, the entire crew or portions of it have appeared on solid rap albums including Atheist's Topanga (2013) and Bonelli's Shakeface (2014), created by those individual emcees and released under the House of Lewis umbrella. They all jump in and contribute verses to one another's solo projects, but each artist has the freedom to express his own style. "I've always wanted us to retain our individuality," Clift says. "I think our strongest stuff can still be our solo stuff, but we all back each other live doing it, and we do a couple group songs, too."

Their combined powers got put to the test in August 2014, when they performed at the Rooftop Concert Series' first-ever rap show, opening for headliner Can't Stop Won't Stop. A significant turning point for House of Lewis, the successful performance—which featured a crowd-surfing Knopf—was the moment when they realized that together, like some kind of nerdy hip-hop Voltron, they could get a crowd on its feet and hyped about their music.

"A lot of our songs we've sort of built with hooks that are supposed to be easy to catch onto so the audience can get involved in the show, and it was nuts to hear like thousands of people know the words to 'Shakeface' by the end of the song, singing along, and shaking their faces," Bonelli says.

House of Lewis attribute part of their accessibility to their approach to writing lyrics. Sure, they throw around some braggadocio from time to time, but more often, their songs are easy to relate to thanks to the group's emphasis on rapping about what they know. "We're not like, 'OK, time to put on my rapper hat and I gotta be what hip-hop is,' or whatever," Hochhalter says. "Hip-hop is the thing that we can express ourselves through, so we sit down as like, 'This is the rap song that I want to make, about things I care about,' so you get video-game references and Ninja Turtle references."

Listeners can expect that unique House of Lewis style on the many projects the crew have coming out this year, including Hochhalter's (Almost) (out April 17), Bonelli's Brolesque (out late summer), Ghent's Lickity Split (out Sept. 8), and Knopf's Spoiler Alert EP and the debut album from his band/online variety show Rhyme Time Television, titled Gnarly.

For House of Lewis, their Best of Utah Music win is further validation that you can make music out of whatever you're passionate about.

"If you're 30, and you have kids, make a rap song about that," Knopf says. "If you smoke weed and it makes you paranoid, thinking your heart's gonna explode, make a song about it. If you're sick of partying, make a song that's about being sick of partying. If you love computer programing, make a dope song about computer programming—I mean, who cares?"

House of Lewis
TheHouseOfLewis.com

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Best Use of Ski Masks
DINE CREW

When a bunch of rappers wearing ski masks start jumping around like they're '96 Wu-Tang Clan, you pay attention. When they start climbing on any elevated platform they can find and waving mic stands around as they deliver a barrage of high-powered rap, you get up out of your chair and proceed to give yourself a gnarly case of "hip-hop arm." It goes without saying that Dine Krew's set Feb. 20 at 50 West Club was amped up from beginning to end, but the group also had skills equal to their insanely electric stage presence. It's almost unfair how much potential these guys have, and their performance was a prime example of the way they consistently bring the ruckus—and earn respect from the judges and their fellow nominees in the process. As one judge succinctly said: "Dine Krew is fuckin' sick."

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