Josh Boots: Step Your Bars Up
Step Your Bars Up
Words / Josh Boots
Photos / Leif Ramos, Josh Boots
“You got a sec? I want to play something for you,” my boy Jared said to me in the middle of one of my many stops for the day. It was late in the summer of 2000 and I was 21-years-old. I had enormous dreams and the confidence to match. He pressed play and the Taft Street apartment in Spenard filled with the sounds of Akream’s AK Blunted EP. The music immediately caught my ear. I listened closely while I examined the CD artwork, it was a clever play on the Swisher Sweet box, complete with the Arctic Flow logo. It wasn’t that AK Blunted was the best song I’d ever heard. It was the professional presentation of the project that initially grabbed my attention. It had been mixed, mastered, and stood on its own next to any release I’d seen, locally or nationally. This was during a time when few people had the ability to create material on par with industry standards and quality. In those days you needed some serious bread to make that happen.
“Who is this,” I asked Jared.
“That’s Jerremy. Jerremy Santacrose, from back in the day,” he told me.
I knew Jerremy when we were kids. He was from my neighborhood, but I hadn’t talked to him in years.
“Bro, I need to link up with him. Let me get his number.”
“For sure. He already told me he wants to talk to you. He just heard the Star Spangle Grammer album.”
Star Spangle Grammer was the first project I ever put out. It was a mixtape before we knew what mixtapes were. Together with my friends Soiled Seed, Nauseous, and OB-1 we recorded it in the summer of 1999 at Apogee Studios in Anchorage. We had 200 copies pressed up and we sold them. They went fast and we got a great response from the city. The music was sick, the sound quality and artwork, not so much.
The next day Akream pulled into my driveway in the same old, beat up Cutlass that would later be pictured on the cover of his first album, Way Too Cold. He hopped out of the car with a briefcase and we greeted each other like old friends. He has always been an intelligent guy and at that time he was way ahead of the game when it came to the business aspect of starting a company. At that first meeting he already had the business license, logo, trademarks, artists and producer contracts for Arctic Flow Records. We had a long talk about our plans for the future and it seemed like we shared the same vision. He played me a few songs from Way Too Cold. When I heard the beat for “Hustlers Lifestyle,” it was a wrap. That day we decided to combine our efforts and the journey of Alaskan hip-hop artists collectively known as Arctic Flow Records began.
Over the next few years we carved out a solid following in Alaska. As we prepared to drop my first album, Cold Weather Survival Guide, in the summer of 2002 we were well on our way to becoming one of the premier labels in the state. I truly expected and believed in my heart that we would take over the world. We were flying back and forth from LA to New York buying beats, recording and mixing. We hired the best engineers, graphic designers, lawyers and anyone else we could afford. We sold music hand to hand, performed and traveled together from California to Amsterdam, on a mission to make it happen. When it came to our local scene we set the bar higher than it had ever been. We were bound to blow up. It was only a matter of time.
When I was 22-years-old we booked 10 days at Unique Studios on the corner of 47th and 7th Ave in New York City. We were about to mix CWSG. The atmosphere on the 10th floor in the lounge of Studio C was everything you’d imagine it to be. Sitting there in that smoke filled room, overlooking Times Square, I remember feeling an overwhelming sense of accomplishment and pride. Like, for whatever reason, at that moment I had made it. By “made it” I mean farther than anyone else from Alaska ever had. I’m not sure why that was important to me at the time, but it was. True or not, that’s how I felt. I paid my own studio time in cash, all 100s on some Slope Rich shit. It felt BIG and the feeling was as intoxicating as the lifestyle that enabled it. We were having the time of our lives and the music we made was reflective of those experiences.
Sitting here, twelve years later, looking back on it all I’d be lying if I told you that I always felt we lived up to our full potential. There were opportunities missed, hard drives full of unreleased music and big ideas that never got executed. At the end of the day though, we did what we could. For a long time I measured our success against who I thought we would become and honestly it became a heavy burden to carry. As time went on I realized that if I continued to think along those lines I would probably just become a salty old man depressed about some dream he used to have. Instead I decided to start appreciating what we did, rather than dwell on what we didn’t do. These days I am truly grateful for everything that we accomplished. It’s amazing how differently things stack up when you’re looking at them from a positive perspective.
We were lucky enough to come up in a time when the Alaskan music scene was young, fresh and hungry. It was a time before everyone and their mama was a rapper. An era before YouTube, Facebook and Twitter enabled a world full of mediocre artists to oversaturate the game with trash. It was a time when respect was earned face to face, one fan at a time. Together with other notable local artists such as Joker the Bailbondsman, Idefinate Etticate, ODC, AK 49ers, Hip Hop Anonymous, Hawg Life, Shadik, Alaska Redd, Tubby, Phonetic and others, we paved the way for those that followed. There was no blueprint for what we did. There was no road map that gave us directions on how to get where we wanted to go. We were driven by heart, passion and a determination to succeed. It’s satisfying to watch guys like Muldoon Manny, Keezy, Darius, D. Hagood, DC The Sav, Sk8God and Pedarock, among others, do their thing today and know that we are all a part of their history.
When I think about the impact I’ve made on the community the first thing that comes to mind are the fans. To this day I still get stopped at random places on a regular basis by people who recognize me (“Dude, are you Josh Boots? I fucking love your music. When’s the next album dropping?”). After all these years, people are still just as excited as the day it began. As an artist my goal was always to be the best. Rather than trying to fit in, I focused on making music that stood the test of time. Music that was real to me. The fact that I can still rock any venue in Alaska with songs like “Independent Hustle” and “No Show Sox” and set the show on fire is a testament to the timelessness of what we created.
Through it all I have had the pleasure of doing hundreds of shows and shared stages with a list of world famous acts too long to mention. I’ve seen many rappers come and go. I’ve lost relationships that I thought would be there forever. I’ve also developed friendships that will undoubtedly last a lifetime. I’ve crowd-surfed on multiple occasions and electrified shows a cappella. I’ve had the honor of being considered one of the best lyricists from Alaska ever to do it by peers and fans alike. In terms of legacy, the beauty of it is that the story is still being written. I don’t know what the future holds, but I do know one thing: I’ll still kill any song I’m ever on. So step your bars up!
"Step Your Bars Up" originally appeared in Crude Issue 03 / Arrogant Minds.