As a longtime fan of rap music who became both a performer and label owner, Nashville’s Kevin Davis considers the field of hip-hop far more diverse than many people realize.
When he joined forces in 2000 with business partner Calvin Lane to form Hunnedspoke Entertainment LLC, the duo was conscious of what was in the marketplace and what they wanted to do differently.
After being in business for nearly seven years, Davis says Hunnedspoke has slowly but surely established itself among Music City’s hip-hop labels, and its current CD Chicago: The Low End Theory has already had the lead single “My Whole Squad Aped Up” air on top urban and hip-hop stations in Chicago, Atlanta and other cities.
“Our music is definitely urban and street-oriented,” Davis said. “But I feel that there’s many other things that you can do within that field, and that’s what we’re looking for in terms of acts. We’re interested in everything within the field from A Tribe Called Quest and Jay-Z to Young Joc. I don’t think you should limit yourself when it comes to music, and that’s what we want to encourage in the acts that we consider signing.”
Besides Drupy and Davis (Big Kev), others who are part of the Hunnedspoke family include Koors and Young Chance.
“We’re trying to represent hip-hop as a whole,” Davis said. “I’m kind of in the middle when it comes to the whole controversy over image and content. A lot of rappers will say that they are just reporting what they see, talking about things in their lives, and that’s certainly true and a fair thing to do technically. The problem comes in when you feel that’s the only thing you can ever talk about. There’s a whole world out there beyond just your immediate area or neighborhood, and if you’re not willing to talk about something else then you are selling yourself short and you’re selling hip-hop short. Why not try to sample something from rock, or heavy metal rather than just going to old-school soul every time? It’s time for rappers to step up, vary their content, take some chances with their production and really extend the tradition and improve the quality of what they’re doing.”
Davis deems himself neither a pessimist nor an optimist when assessing the current local climate for rap and hip-hop, instead labeling himself a realist.
“If you’re asking me whether there’s a core of extremely talented performers here, great producers, top studio people and facilities, then Nashville’s right up there with any city in the country,” Davis said. “People like Shannon Sanders, Craig King, Fate Eastwood, Charlie Duckets and Nice are producers who are well known and highly respected around the nation, yet many fans in Nashville don’t know who they are. Eastwood produced one of the best singles on our new CD, and all these people are very much in demand. If I need someone to sing on a track or need a good remix or production, I can just pick up the phone and right away I know who to call. So in that area, there’s no problem.”
“But the difficulties come in when you start talking about support and publicity push. We’ve gone down to Music Row and asked the label offices to help us with individual projects and they’ll tell you right at the front desk that we don’t do hip-hop here, we do country. They’ll refer you to the main office in Atlanta. We do shows in Atlanta all the time and down there you can get the label support and promotion that you can’t get in Nashville, at least at this time.”
“The other thing is local radio support. When 106.7 was in business, you could go over to their offices, play music and get feedback, and they’d tell you exactly what they thought and what you needed to do to at least have a shot at getting your songs on radio. Occasionally we’ve had some singles played by 92Q (WQQK-92.1FM) but for whatever reason up till now 101 (WUBT-101.1FM) just doesn’t seem to have any desire or interest to really assist the local rap scene. You can do all the MySpace promotion in the world, but there’s exposure and power from local radio that you can’t match online. When you have artists coming up from local communities, making solid recordings, but they can’t hear them outside their own neighborhood, that’s bad for morale. We’re not trying to tell anyone what to play, and we’re perfectly willing for anyone to tell us that our music isn’t competitive, but we’re not even getting basic interest and response.”
For the record, Pamela Aniese, program director for WUBT 101.1FM, responded by saying her station is not opposed to playing songs from local performers, but that the station doesn’t have a large playlist, and exposure is limited for everyone.
“If I have a choice between playing a hot record from Jay-Z for example or one from an unknown local artist, and I’ve only got one spot available, then it doesn’t make sense for me not to play the Jay-Z,” Aniese said.
But she said the station is airing music from Music City urban and rap performers as much as possible.
“So we are trying to do our best here to help the local scene. But sometimes if you’re not playing particular people’s music, then they claim that you aren’t doing anything.”
Regardless, Davis is upbeat about the prospects of Chicago: The Low End Theory.
He adds that there’s been one area entity whose help has been critical in ensuring not only the viability of Hunnedspoke, but also hip-hop and urban music in general.
“The people at LoveNoise have been phenomenal since day one,” Davis said. “We’ve done shows at their venue and sold CDs and they’ve been solidly behind everything that we do. They’re one organization that really is committed to helping the local hip-hop community, and they’re also not afraid to give you constructive criticism either. That’s all Hunnedspoke and the entire hip-hop industry here is seeking — realistic opportunities, fair chances and genuine interaction and support.”
Davis said one of Hunnedspoke’s next projects will be a collaboration with an area rock band, and also said the label is always interested in hearing from prospective clients.
“They should just send things to our MySpace site (myspace.com/hunnedspoke) and we’ll listen to them, give you feedback and talk more with you if we’re interested, or tell you who to contact if it’s not something we think will work for us.”