In a continued search for an organic sound, native to the 17th state on this trip, North Dakota, I figured I head to the most populous city in North Dakota, Fargo.
While I had to expand my search radius for events and artists online, I quickly stumbled upon an album titled Brotherman by Madi Smith Bandcamp. She had moved from North Dakota, but forwarded me to her friend Danny Savage, who with Jordan Eslinger and others merged from a group called Northern Lights, into a band who now go by the name of ‘Mooncats’. Even though they were in Beulah, the other side of the state, their campfire blue-grass sound was just about as organic of a sound as I was looking for, and worth the 4 hour trip from Fargo.
Along with social media updates and online artist discovery, check-in calls with the fam, and restroom breaks, this particular long drive gave me more opportunity to listen to their music, a fitting soundtrack to the Dakota open road, and various agricultural fields that seemed like never ended.
Danny and Jordan had me meet them by a lake in a park, a spot where they often come to jam out or just draw inspiration from. They talked about their journey from Northern Lights to Mooncats, their passion for music, the changing music scene in North Dakota, genre, coining their own term 'Ameri-conscious Folk', as it related to their own style. They defined it as Americana-Campire-Folk, a combination of the traditional Americana style blended with their own versions of storytelling to tell around the campfire, and even gave me a sample after the interview. Danny busted out his banjo, and Jordan his guitar and harmonica and they got in their zone. See instagram post below along with a few screenshots from the footage.
15th State - South Dakota - 15th Interview Rascal Martinez
Next stop, home of Mt. Rushmore, the 15th state on this project, South Dakota. While struggling to find an artist with the limited time in SD, I figured I reverse my search tactics. Instead of looking up hashtagged posts on Social Media, or going through SoundCloud or Bandcamp, I looked up bars/restaurants online that had live music. As I sat in a Starbucks, (my usual go-to spot on this trip), I cracked my knuckles and got to searchin’.
It was refreshing to see a good amount of places offering live music, opportunities for local talent in South Dakota, so it took some time to go through event posts past and upcoming, looking up the sites of the featured artist and listening to their music. I found an event that was happening my last night there at a bar called Fernsons. The artist featured was good, quality voice, had a professional sound to him, and from a genre standpoint, was different from the artists I met up with so far. His name is Rascal Martinez. There was a phone number on his site, he picked up right away and was on board for the interview.
When I arrived to Fernsons, I knew I was at the right location—there was a trailer hitch in the parking lot that had Rascal Martinez written on it in big letters.
Adjusting his microphone on his shirt, he talked about how he was also on tour in the midwest and had just did a radio interview with South Dakota Public Broadcasting a day prior. As busy as he sounded with performing shows, doing interviews, working on new music, he was super chill, calm and collecting. Stylish, happy and super laid back, is how I can describe Rascal Martinez. He was all smiles and welcoming, and had this Modern James Dean look about him. As soon as we wrapped up the interview, he hit the stage with his drummer and bass guitarist and immedialty got into character.
Not only was the locally brewed Fernson beer great, Rascal Martinez and his band killed it. Putting his own Americana spin on covers and originals, he had everyone in the bar on a vibe, and drew more people in. He did everything from Originals, to Folk, Classic Rock, Motown, and current hits. Check out some intagram posts from his gig below - the first clip he remixes Jay-Z's 99 problems, putting his own spin to it, and the second, his rendition of Pina Colada.
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16th State, Minnesota - 16th Interview, Pinkie Promise with Eleanor Elektra
It just so happened that there was another cross country road tour happening. Three musicians, Minnesota-native Crispin Swank, Brooklyn’s Kaitlin Pelkey who together play in a group called Pinkie Promise, along with Eleanor Elektra from Boston were on their 5th stop on their 18-city music tour across America. I stumbled across a facebook post, checked out their music and liked their experimental drift. There was this mystic-soul, folk vibe about their sound and I wanted to learn more. So I reached out and there were nice enough to do the interview literally right before their show at The Tiny Diner.
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The diner had an outdoor patio where people ate, drank and laughed. Surrounded by large bushes and flowers, there was a machine tucked in the back of the bushes behind the Mic area that periodically blew out bubbles. It definitely added to its intimate environment, perfect for an acoustic set, especially the dreamy and jazzy melodies from these three. Eleanor Elektra kicked it off mixing jazz and folkish blues, followed by Pinkie Promise mixing folk rock and dream folk performing until the sun went down.
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They had their merchandise booth setup by the entrance, so after their set, with all the change I had in my pockets, I made sure I furthered my support and bought some merch. As they caught up with friends I said my goodbyes and hit the road to the next state.
Check out their Music
8/15/18 - Omaha, Nebraska
Day 23: 14th Interview, 14th State
While I thought finding an artist in Omaha would be a challenge, a few hashtags on Twitter, and I stumbled on a Soundcloud post, a track titled Drowning by Naylon. The cover image caught my eye and it had several thousand plays at the time, so I was intrigued. Her voice begins around 25 seconds in, and it immediately draws you, powerful and seductive with a lot of soul. If there was a comparison I’d say a mix between Ariana Grande and SZA, and coincidentally enough she’s got clips of her doing covers of their songs and killing it! Check em' out, including more covers by Frank Ocean, Kehlani and more including some originals on her YouTube.
As good as her voice is, I was surprised to see she only had a few tracks on Soundcloud. But no worries, she teased of new material in 2019.
“...be on the look out for some cool new music, some cool songwriting...”
We met up and did the interview at Edward Zorinsky Lake Park. It was raining all morning long, which stopped right before we linked up, so perfect timing. The only caveat was bee’s kept attacking her during the interview and a few deers got curious as well. Other then that, it was dope getting to know Naylon a bit more, hearing about some of her previous work, upcoming plans, her inspiration, some of her favorite musicians she likes to listen to and see live, and apparently concerts get to her, but in a good way. When responding to why she cries a lot during concerts, she said:
“It’s just a surreal feeling to see people giving their all, and doing what they love.. its inspiring”
She credited Ariana Grande and Taylor Swift as her two favorite concerts she ever saw live. Maybe one day sooner then later, they’ll share the same stage. One artist she did have the opportunity to share a stage with, was none other then grammy-nominated hip-hop artist Logic. Earlier this year Logic sold out a 2018 Spring Concert hosted by Mavericks Productions at the Baxter Arena in University of Omaha, the same University Naylon attended. They wanted someone from the school to open for Logic, and out of the 12 thousands students enrolled they of course chose Naylon, who at the time went by Maria Corinne.
Below is her cover of Thinking Bout You by Frank Ocean
From growing a fan base of over 33k on Vine (RIP), to opening up for Logic in spring of 2018, to growing a listening audience of over 40 thousands on an original song on Soundcloud without any marketing. Naylon is a star in the making and a musical force that continues to shine, continues to write and continues to sing. I wonder what achievements lay ahead for her in 2019???
Afterwards we met up with another one of her friends at a cool sushi bar restaurant called Blue Sushi Saki Grill. I’ve had some great sushi, but this was definitely up for the running. Our waiter, who recognized Naylon from school, recommended this dank dish, and dank it was...It's called.. "Triller"
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After the 14th interview with Naylon, singer in Nebraska, the 14th state in the trip, we and her friend dined at @bluesushisakegrill Who would’ve thought Nebraska has amazing sushi! This dish was called the ‘Thriller’ #bluesushisakegrill #thriller #sushi #naylon #diversalstate2state
Off to the next state, South Dakota...
8/14/2018 - Davenport, Iowa
Day 22: 13th Interview - Xavy Rusan
Where many would say living in big cities like NYC or LA places them in an advantage over others, hip-hop artist, Xavy Rusan says being from a place no-one has really heard of, gives him the advantage.
“...you’ve heard the story of what it’s like to be in Brooklyn, Compton, Detroit, Miami, but you don’t know what it’s like to be from here…”
Good point. Referring to where he’s from, Davenport, Iowa, apart of the metropolitan Quad-Cities, Xavy Rusn said he could only speak for the eastside and not the west side of Iowa, but mentioned that opportunities and fan bases were mostly geared toward Folk and Indie Rock genres. So as a hip-hop artist from Iowa, “you got to pave your own way”. To him, this differentiation is a plus and opportunity to stand out. He went on to say that there wasn’t yet, a pioneer in rap, no one in the hip-hop community really speaking for them. This lack of representation in rap, along with his older cousin, were his inspirations for getting into music back in 2013--the same year he released the video for his single "The Christening".
As passion drives us to fulfill a need, his was being able to be that voice in hip-hop for his hometown, for Iowa, for the middle of the map.
As I wasn’t finding any luck or substance via Facebook Open mic events for the time I was going to be in town, I turned to searching for artists via hashtags on Instagram and Twitter. This is how I found Xavy Rusan. I was diggin’ as I did in every city I went to, and I found myself listening to his projects from 2016 posted on Paste Magazine. His confident swag in his tone, thought-provoking and visualizing wordplay with that southern-authentic hip hop vibe, had me like “OK IOWA!”. The vibe took me bobbin' to his YouTube and Soundcloud. He got some hits coming out the middle of the map! Quad City Times even listed him as one of the top 5 local artists playing 'the soul of Quad Cities'.
So what should we look out for from Xavy Rusan moving into 2019? A continuation of his catalog of good hip-hop. According to Xavy, projects, collaborations, and a lot of visuals.
“I’m trying to get people to look into this world I live in”
#hiphop #xavyrusan #iowa #middleofthemap
8/13/2018 - Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Day 21 - 12th Interview - Cullah
Previewing his music via social posts of his project Cullahsus released April 27th, 2018, I was expecting a first impression personality to reflect those vibes on that project, which was energetic, funky, upbeat, etc. (It's really good, y'all got to check it out..) Not only that, just stream through his videos on Youtube, a mix of chill, fun and upbeat, funky vibes, with hiphop lyrical flows and some of that soul-sanging. When meeting Ian McCullough who goes by the stage name Cullah, he was surprisingly very calm and collected, poise, soft-spoken but with a lot to say, and extremely intelligent. From the historic forested and rolling hills of Wisconsin, to its deep germanic roots, and the earliest breweries in America and Milwaukee, and much more, Cullah was full of interesting facts, one after another. He was also full of wit, joking around with me for possible pun-titles of his album project next year set to release on April 27th, 2019…’Spectacullah, Cullahtavation, Cullahflower...' Spoiler Alert.. he’s already chosen Spectecullah, so stay tuned.
We first met at Colectivo Coffee, but then decided to do the interview across the street, right off the water. While getting to know Cullah a bit more while walking there, through his answers during the interview and then afterwards as we kicked it a little bit shooting some pool at nearby bar called Vintage, although very poise and calm, there’s an undenying fierce energy for his passion for music.
I asked what genre he considered himself, and it was hard to pinpoint one genre he resonated with, rather, he accredited many genres being influences over the years, from electronic, to hip-hop instrumental, to folk, blues, parsimonious funk, drum n’ bass, uptempo, downtempo, and more. He did mention a cross-discipline or cross-fusion of multi-genre and Future Blap. Check out his Soundcloud and you be the judge.
Beats and Open-sourced
When he’s not laying down raps on stage over funky and groovy AF vibes, Cullah is also a talented producer, producing his own beats he’s flowing on, and they’re good. Just check out his catalogs at https://cullah.com.
Prior, he was also a computer engineer, and actually makes a correlation between music and code, stating music should just be like code, open-sourced.
“...It’s information, just like code. Music should be free and accessible….”
Via Creative Commons, all his albums are open-sourced, as he believes in the beauty of royalty-free music, which is how he builds his fan base—collaborators using his music on their own projects, usually film, credits his name, people here it, and he gets new Spotify listeners, about 20k listeners per month to be exact. That’s correct two, zero.. 20 thousand.
“People get access to them, you get YouTubers with Influence, people hear about it, then they go on my Spotify, and then thats how I pay rent”
Come to find out through several stories of people recognizing him, and the name, Cullah, he’s also pretty popular, especially around town. While playing pool someone recognized him from a performance at an open-mic years ago. We ended up playing doubles…and of course won.
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But back to the music..
Milwaukee Music Scene
He discussed the scene out in Milwaukee, saying there’s a lot of talent there and 'things are changing', yet many creatives he knows are leaving and going to larger cities like NY. But there's definitely a scene and opportunities for artists are changing for the better. While there’s a lot of Punk Rock, he’s seeing a lot of success and shows being sold out in the hip-hop community and Americana Folk, two genres (of many) he fuses together within his own music.
When asked what his goals are he responded about Spectaculluh releasing next year and also mentioned his open-sourced goals. ”I’m planning to release free music every year. By 2020 I’ll have done an album a year for 50% of my life. That’s my next goal..”
If you like to support Cullah for upcoming projects, check out his Patreon Page. https://www.patreon.com/Cullah
August 12th - Chicago, Illinois - Xavier Keyz
I first met Chicago-native R&B singer Xavier Keyz back in 2015, through AnywhereButHome (ABH) singer/rapper from Northern Virginia, who I would interview apart of the DMV area later on in this trip. We and another Chicago-native hip hop artist, R.O.E., caught up at Heartland Brewery Co. downtown NYC after an event held by Xavier's friend Ryan Leslie. I didn’t attend the event, but them three did and had a chance to chat it up a bit with Ryan. The motivating vibes carried to our discussion at the brewery as we ate and talked our about each and one of our grinds and goals.
So after three years it was good to finally catch back up and like the other two artists, R.O.E and ABH, Xavier Keyz has been working, growing his fanbase, selling merch, and performing outside of the U.S, doing international tours across Europe and Asia. He’s performed so much that now his time has been devoted to not only working on future projects, but also setting up his own Masterclass where he’ll be teaching the art of performing live, overcoming stage fright and more—so stay tuned for the knowledge and insight he's about to drop.
Xavier Keyz style of music is mostly R&B and hip-hop, but demonstrates some of that pop/dance sound as well checkout some of his tracks below.
Link up, Interview
When we linked in Chicago it was only right that I greeted him sporting his fitted-branded hat I bought a few years. He got a good kick out of it and it was a good seg-way to kick off where we left off, talking about the grind. He’s got his hat now in different colors, which you can select and buy here. He choose to do the interview where, according to him, his love for music began, Kenwood Academy his old high school.
Ironically it just so happened to be the day where his school was having a reunion block party for all the classes. So after the interview we walked around the ticketed area in the parking lot, which he caught up with some old friends and then ended giving me a brief tour down memory lane inside the school.
The need for grub was real, so he recommended we check out one of his favorite spots to eat at, an authentic Jamaican Cuisine call Ja’Grill, downtown Chicago. People… this place DOES NOT DISAPPOINT. I got his recommendation which was their ribs with their jerk seasoning, and damn they were amazing, the flavor was juicy to all types of levels, and the meat slid off the bone and everything as they say a characteristic for some good ass ribs. It was a nice hot day so we sat outside in their seating area, the atmosphere was right and the prices not bad, definitely not bad for the quality and amount.
A week prior, Chicago made national headlines with a spree of shootings and killings, a reason why I didn’t want to stay in Chi-town overnight, but Xavier mentioned that the violence is only in some parts and that the city is often overshadowed by the negative media. The area where he lived, went to school at and where we ate at was safe. The funny thing though, while we waited for food, we heard shouting down the street that got everyones attention. A fight was about to happened, a guy got out his car, while people were holding him back yelling at another dude. I kept the camera rolling… Police soon came though and broke it up, so all good.
While we left, walking back to the garage, we stumbled across an art show tucked away in that same plaza. The art was friggen ridiculously dope, and actually symbolic to anyones experience driving around and taking in the artistic nature of Chicago. Sculptures and wall murals decorate the colorful city. The artshow was hosted by Chicago Top 5 with Connect Gallery. See below.
TURN YOUR DREAMS INTO REALITY
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