Other standout up-and-comers make beautiful noise in North Knox
The house lights dimmed, the crowd swelled toward the front of the stage and DJ Black Sheep turned up the volume. The night already had seemed close to peaking even before this primetime slot at MixTapez -N- Mingle, a Cinco de Mayo-themed music/networking event at Modern Studio replete with margaritas, tequila shots and chips. But now it was time for local hip-hop heads to bask in stirring music from some of the most creative artists in the underground scene.
Loud Music is the ethos, brand and unofficial label of up-and-coming rapper, singer, producer and sonic auteur Lamont. Over the last few years, he has been prolific within the Knoxville music scene, putting out a steady stream of singles and mixtapes both solo and in collaboration with several other local players. Most recently, Lamont released “There Are Werewolves,” a full-length concept album with Ukamea that is simultaneously dark, spaced-out and confessional.
Lamont says he’s been performing since he was 12, when he did a showcase for some A&R folks at a local hotel. In the past few years since finishing high school (Central and Paul Kelly Volunteer Academy), though, he estimates he’s released upwards of 50 songs. In that time, he also has opened for national touring acts like Waka Flocka Flame, Curren$y and Lil Uzi Vert. He continually remixes and adds on to songs by bigger artists like Loudii in order to build his audience, as well.
Before the Modern Studio show, Lamont presented himself as being shy and low-key, demurring at compliments and stating he was getting over being sick. But as soon as he hit the stage, he exuded spastic, dynamic energy and exhibited a fiery lyrical flow. He was joined onstage that night by friends and fellow artists Boobie Cambridge (featured on Lamont’s newest single, “Lyft”) and Fky9 (with whom he’d appeared on the “Pipe Down” single). The trio collaborated on Fky9’s “Save Your Life.”
Lamont, Cambridge and Fky9 all worked the stage and ventured into the crowd, whipping it into a frenzy and bouncing with its members, many of whom already seemed to know the lyrics and sang along with gusto. Photographers and videographers circled the stage with professional gear, shooting footage for a possible live music video, which prompted even more audience participation with individuals anticipating making it into the final cut.
An earnest Lamont shares his secret to making personal music that is relatable and accessible to others: “I make the music really for me … it’s basically just music I’d like to listen to myself.” As a producer, he likes to experiment with his regular voice, then see what his collaborators can think to do with it with regard to applying effects, panning and mixing as he goes. “I like to kinda put people in their place [in the mix] just to give you a vibe,” he explains. “It’s hard to understand while I’m doing it, [but] I know what I want.”
Lamont’s lyrics and sonic tones often evoke the phantasmagoric and the macabre; “Lycan Life” and “Dracula,” for example, are rife with strong sci-fi metaphors related to dealing with inner demons. “I’m big into movies … weird movies,” he says. “That’s strictly me … it gives me a flashback.” He also employs the grinding, trap-style mechanism of coming in slightly late on the beat and repeating phrases in slightly different tones in order to make each hook sound extra sticky.
Lamont says he would go on the road were the right opportunities to do so to present themselves.
V Woods, the head honcho at Elite Entertainment, the company that produced the Modern Studio event, says of her artists, “We definitely travel.” A Knoxville native and a University of Tennessee alum, Woods lives in Atlanta but returns often and shuttles her artists back and forth between the two cities. “We’re just trying to get something going on the scene [in Knoxville],” she maintains, although she reciprocates, as well: “I bring my artists to Atlanta to grow their fan bases.” Woods manages Dope Boy Bandit and Aszellee J, a female rapper who rocked the showcase with an excellent performance. Boasting an infectious stage presence and a retro setup that included backup dancers, she dazzled in true ‘90s fashion.
Another one of the artists Woods got involved was the event’s opener, Too Sicc Jackson, recipient of the most votes in the category for best hip-hop album in the inaugural Knoxville Music Awards presented by Knoxville Music Warehouse. Jackson won for “Bleach Tape,” which features other up-and-coming, independent hip-hop and electronic artists like Dee Smith and The Verns. Scene veteran and renaissance man J-Bush (The Theorizt, Good Guy Collective etc.) engineered another of Jackson’s works, the “Still” EP.
Jackson, who also makes his own beats on FruityLoops and produces himself, creates highly lyrical music. In contrast with Lamont, for example, he goes drier on the effects, instead using the elasticity of his voice to generate variance, vacillating between mumbling, hard enunciating and screaming for emphasis at different points. His songs are packed with observations, feelings and philosophical points about relationships, politics and race.
Whereas Lamont cites Drake and Lil Wayne as early influences, you can tell that Jackson has really been affected by Kendrick Lamar – something that he readily admits. He says he also looks outside of hip-hop for lyrical or sound ideas, saying he works off “whatever [he’s] hyped on that week.” He calls himself a “black hippie” who wears tie-dye and listens to Black Sabbath and Pink Floyd. Jackson is quick to promote his friends and collaborators, directing BLANK readers to check out Dirty Gene, Kyd Krazy, benji3eyes, GhostFaceV, Stract and his roommate, the aforementioned Dee Smith.
So new that she has no recordings in circulation, Tamora McLemore (stage name TAMIS) won the distinction of being the freshest artist on that night’s bill. With a trio of EPs on the way, however, that is about to change. “It’s been a long time coming,” she says about the three upcoming volumes of “Fruition.” TAMIS sings a version of neo-soul R&B that references everything from Lauryn Hill to Sza. “To put it simply, music has always been a part of my life,” she says. “The project itself is very ethereal … it tells a story. It’s very much about finding yourself … very much self-love is what the project embodies. I’m a gentle giant, and I am excited to share my world with them.”
Between the Good Guy Collective, the Secret City Cyphers and other like-minded artists, Knoxville and the surrounding area for several years has been home to a good amount of strong activity in the underground hip-hop scene. However, this burgeoning talent pool seems to indicate that things are just beginning to heat up.
Aszelee J performs at the Southside Reunion June 23 at the Alcoa Optimist Park. After egging his followers on to 150 retweets of the teaser clips, Lamont recently released “Loudii,” his remix video of the Tekashi 6ix9ine hit “Gotti.”