Paying Dues | Cover Story | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly

Paying Dues 

Local rappers make names for themselves while living in a city that doesn't always get it

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A Whole New Rap Game
Most Utah rappers don’t even bother with management. Sheffield’s been doing it on his own from the beginning.

He’s had some success. Over the past year, Sheffield has been traveling nonstop, touring the United States and Canada with legendary Rhymesayers Entertainment emcee Abstract Rude. “I’ve played some pretty cool festivals, and I’ve been working on new music. I released an EP back in April 2012 called An Apple a Day that was received pretty well, so I am touring in support of that for the next six months.”


Unlike Concise Kilgore, Sheffield never had a big-name rapper like Rasco to help him out. The 22-year-old Utah native built his fanbase the old-fashioned way—winning over your home turf and building a scene from scratch—with a 21st-century twist, thanks to Facebook and social media.

“Online is huge,” Sheffield says, “especially YouTube videos right now. That’s where the masses are. They aren’t watching TV or listening to the radio anymore. They’re going online and they’re watching YouTube. When a fan finds a new artist they like, they can get to know them and get to know their personality through their videos and their Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts.”

If Sheffield’s not releasing new music, he’s leaking unfinished beats through Soundcloud or uploading videos of himself and his friends clowning around in the studio.

But it still takes more than just courting fans online.

“This kid used to come into my shop [Fourth Street Records] all the time and tell me about his friend Stu [Sheffield], who was making beats on Reason and rapping over them,” Chase Loter says. “Finally, he brought in a CD and I was like, ‘Holy shit, this is really fucking good … this kid is gonna do good things.”’

Sheffield has also been quietly building up Salt Lake City’s rap scene through his promotional company, Wasatch Renaissance. Essentially, it’s a two-story office space complete with a music studio, art rooms, a screen-printing room and space for people to be creative.

“We do seminars and teach kids how to make music, record and do graphic design—anything that can help out the artistic scene, we’re trying to do it,” Sheffield says. “Basically, trying to fill that niche as best we can. We’re trying to bring this small community together and help connect the dots.”

One of the rappers who Sheffield has helped connect is Dope Thought.

“He got me on a bill with Murs, which was my first show here locally,” Chapman, aka Dope Thought, says. “I only did maybe two songs, but Lance Saunders and Will Sartain (of S&S Presents) were like, ‘We see you can sell tickets, and we want to start putting you on more shows. They started giving me opportunities, and I kept capitalizing. For a while there, me and Burnell were the only two local rappers being put on bigger hip-hop shows.”

Over a span of just four years, Chapman has performed with the likes of Schoolboy Q, Brother Ali, Aesop Rock and The Sweatshop Union.

“A lot of artists that come from here don’t represent Salt Lake, but we’re trying to build pride and a scene here through our music,” Chapman says.

Don’t Quit Your Day Job
The efforts of Chapman and Sheffield seem to be paying off, as people are slowly starting to show interest in good local hip-hop shows again. Like the once-prominent Scribble Jam, Sheffield has managed to create his own rap gathering through the monthly Hip-Hop Roots showcase in rotating Salt Lake City locations. “We usually have one out-of-state headliner and then six or seven local openers,” Sheffield says. “It seems like we’ve been averaging about 300 people or so. It’s been cool, people come for the music, but we also have live graffiti and break-dancing. It’s a nice way to get the community together.”

The scene is still far from viable. There has yet to be a rapper from Utah who lives the stereotypical rap lifestyle, like those seen on MTV Cribs.

“Look, I work in pharmaceutical distribution at nights,” Mason says. “As long as I’m here in Utah, I’ll never not have a day job … gotta get those benefits with the $20 co-pay.”

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SLC Rap Connections
The industry’s biggest names & their ties to Utah’s talent

Slug This Midwest rapper destroyed Tavie Mason, aka Concise Kilgore, in a freestyle battle at the 1998 Scribble Jam. He is one half of the group Atmosphere and CEO of the Minneapolis-based Rhymesayers Entertainment, which includes notable names such as Brother Ali, Freeway (of M.O.P.) and Aesop Rock.

Rasco Mason’s mentor, this Bay Area rapper kick-started Mason’s career by hiring him as a hype man for many of his national and European tours. Known for his work with Planet Asia under the group name Cali Agents, Rasco is considered to be one of the most respected names in underground West Coast hip-hop.

Evidence The Grammy-winning rapper was Mason’s first big feature on the album Kobain. The Los Angeles native is known for his work with DJ Babu and Rakaa Iriscience of Dilated Peoples. He’s done production work for groups like the Beastie Boys and Linkin Park and, in 2004, co-produced Kanye West’s album College Dropout.

Bahamadia Arguably one of the greatest female emcees of all time, the Philadelphia-based rapper met Brisk at The Lyricist Lounge Show in San Diego and agreed to release a single with Concise Kilgore called “Plead The Fifth.” She is known for her guest appearances with artists like Talib Kweli and The Roots and is part of Guru and DJ Premier’s East Coast rap collective, The Gang Starr Foundation.

Talib Kweli Local rapper Dope Thought says he’s working on a track with the Brooklyn-based conscious, afrocentric rapper. Kweli rose to prominence in the late ’90s for his work with Mos Def as the legendary rap duo Blackstar, and is the co-owner of the indie label Blacksmith.

DJ Revolution While in SLC for a show with Evidence, the SoCal producer and DJ agreed to scratch over Concise Kilgore’s track “Tech Noir” while hanging out in Brisk’s basement studio. DJ Revolution rose to prominence in the late ’90s as the resident DJ for Sway and King Tech’s national syndicated rap radio show The Wake Up Show.

Abstract Rude: Part of celebrated groups like Haiku De Tat, The A-Team and Project Blowed, the Los Angeles-based rapper has been a friend and mentor to Burnell Washburn after Washburn opened for him at a show at Kilby Court. Abstract Rude was one of the original emcees to come from the Good Life Cafe open-mic sessions that would go on to produce Jurassic 5, Freestyle Fellowship and others.

Action Bronson The Queens, N.Y., emcee recently signed to Warner Bros and Vice Music alongside Snoop Dogg. After doing a show in Park City, he threw down a verse for Kilgore’s track “Octopussy Tentacles,” which would later hit No. 1 on College Radio.

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