This is the first of a two-part series from about Chattanooga’s hip-hop scene.
It’s impossible to deny that Chattanooga has long been a hub for music and the arts. Within its city limits (and various neighboring areas), there are countless artists and musicians of all types, backgrounds and aesthetics. This activity is apparent in the daily/weekly concerts, art shows and DIY gallery showings that punctuate the end of any given week. But what might not be so readily apparent is just how much Chattanooga’s hip-hop scene has grown and evolved over the past 20 years.
What was once merely a rumble among the noise of overlapping voices is now a sustained force of beat-driven rhythms and fervent lyricism. The South has always been synonymous with various veins of rock and rap music, but Chattanooga is positioned in a unique way to allow the formation of a cohesive musical movement that invites musicians of all disciplines to mingle and collaborate with one another in an environment free of convention and rhythmic assumptions.
It can be difficult to talk about the different aspects of hip-hop in Chattanooga without idly referencing the sounds of musicians who’ve made a name for themselves in the national and international music marketplaces. It’s easy to say that someone is mimicking the drugged-out R&B tendencies of The Weeknd or Drake without providing enough detail to explain why they also are breaking new ground in their own way. Much in the same way that Southern rock groups aren’t all like Lynyrd Skynyrd or 38 Special, artists who linger in these various hip-hop landscapes aren’t simply regurgitating the sounds of their influences in mass melodic expulsions.
There’s such a wide variety of artists who call Chattanooga home that it’s often a challenge to wrap your head (and ears) around just how expansive the scene really is. From the laid-back R&B flourishes to hardline rap bravado and socially conscious radicalization, the Scenic City is home to incredible diversity in terms of how these singers, rappers and producers approach their aesthetics.
I recently spoke with some artists who have been working within this scene for some years to get a better understanding of just how complicated and emotionally volatile this music can be.
Singer-rapper Dameka Rochelle said: “I think the scene could definitely use some room for improvement. As in this city, it is a ‘who is more popular’ contest rather then who actually has the talent and the work ethic to follow. We tend to only want to support when it’s beneficial for us. Too many hate and put each other down instead of coming together building a true music scene in this city.”
Echoing Rochelle’s perspective, artist Jason Rayn said: “Since I’ve been doing music, we’ve had tons of different kinds of artists, but I kinda feel like it’s a popularity contest out here. So much talent gets slept on in the city. I also feel like if the whole city came together in music, we could take over.”
I have been accepted into Chattanooga’s hip-hop scene. I have been honored to have had this city’s artists accept me all the way from the country in Northwest Georgia. Of course, there are some “cliques” that are a little politic-y about who they work with and support, but that’s expected in any aspect of large city networking. From the booking agent side, the politics are still there. Some venues have their favorite hip-hop artists, usually the ones they feel safest booking, meaning the artists they feel will bring the best demographic as far as crowd and other guest performers. A lot of venues think negatively about hip-hop artists because of negative stereotypes associated with being a “rapper.” The amount of violence in the city is also seemingly thought to be in direct correlation with “rappers” and their/our friends/fans. That can make it difficult for us to book shows at some of the larger, better-known venues. Chattanooga has a good hip-hop scene overall, but I feel like it could be vastly improved from a variety of angles.
Rapper [email protected] is also frustrated. He said: “As a local artist, my experience has been a lack of support from not just the residential population, but people in commercial positions to help build and showcase the talent that is being unfairly hidden from the world. People who work daily on their craft-it’s almost like a thankless job because no one appreciates the effort that goes into making music unless they know you personally.”
JWDeuce also takes issue with this aspect of popularity. He said: “My experience as a performer in Chattanooga is that only bigger names get love and support. Chattanooga artists all want to be next up. Therefore no one will go-it takes a village.”
Coogi Doogi, on the other hand, evinces a definite enthusiasm for the scene, while still acknowledging that there are things to improve, saying: “I love the atmosphere. I love the life. Although there are too many haters, silent haters. Through the years, I’ve lost partners and family over the violence within the city. But God has kept pushing me-in the industry, not for fake, but real life.”
Musician Keith Austin said: ”Chattanooga really has every different kind of music in it. But its hip-hop scene is by far the most diverse in my opinion-no one sounds the same.”
Joshua Pickard covers local and national music, film and other aspects of pop culture. You can contact him on Facebook, Twitter or by email. The opinions expressed in this column belong solely to the author, not Nooga.com or its employees.