Wednesday, June 1, 2005
"Never judge a book by its cover." That's what I've always been taught. But driving down the road in the monotony of a crisp spring morning, I decided to pop in a sample promo sent to me by a group of young men from an up-and-coming label they call Von Esper.
I expected to hear the loud vocals and Southern slang that are so characteristic of Southern hip-hop. But, much to my surprise, my critical ear turned to one of interest. "Hmm, who are these guys?" I asked myself. They certainly don't sound like anyone I'm used to hearing from the South, but they are in fact from right here in Jackson.
Their love for hip-hop culture and music are the motivating forces that drive them to produce, rap, plan and create so well.
The ages within the label ranges from 22 to 30, and when asked how they all met, they express a belief in a sort of divine intervention instead of scene out of "Boyz n the Hood."
"I think Von Esper was brought together for a reason, because it's not like we came up together as homeboys trying to get something jumped off. I think it's spiritually bonded because although we are all different in our sounds and our lyrics, we understand each other's differences," says 30-year-old Grade A, a rapper with Von Esper.
Understanding each other's strengths is key, too. The guys agree that Grade A (real name Jimmy Hunt) is Von Esper's best freestyle artist.
"He'll freestyle his whole interview to you," says Shelby Saddler, 22, CEO of Von Esper, who also raps under the name Sinvicious. But through all the jokes, high spirits and free-flowing talent in the room, they make it clear that they are all very thorough and ambitious about the business of Von Esper and are even more serious about the music.
"From the most hardcore artist that we have, to the most conscious, we 'rap from the ribs.' We talk about life," says Karlos Taylor, a 29-year-old graphic-design professor at Jackson State University who raps under the name Eulogy. "Nobody's talking about 'I'm rollin' on this' and 'I got that.' That's not really happening yet."
"We want to get to that, no doubt, but at this point I think the life aspect of music is what you're really gonna get from us that you don't really get from a lot of music in the South," he continues.
As far as musical inspirations go, almost everyone in the group cites rap artists from old-school hip-hop—artists such as Eric B and Rakim, KRS-One, Pete Rock and CL Smooth and, of course, 2Pac and Biggie. They all agree that much like their past musical inspirations, they want to remain true to themselves and not get caught up in many of the trends associated with present-day rap music.
Quincy Bingham, 23, whose alias is Quasar, explains: "Music that's set in trend is just what it is—a fad. We want to make music that's timeless."
The labelmates at Von Esper say that they are at the beginning of a massive promotional campaign. Grade A's debut mix tape entitled "Hard White" will be in stores, and the company began much of their performing this year. Potential and current listeners can find more information detailing where and when to catch the artists of Von Esper on JFP's music calendar.
As for the extended future of the Von Esper label, the guys promise a little bit of everything, from music to fashion and even videogames all under one roof. In the words of CEO Shelby Saddler, "We want to be the Wal-Mart of the industry."