Renaissance Era: The Next Wave of Alaska Hip-Hop
Over the last few years there has been a wave of new talent entering the Alaska hip hop music scene. In the span of ten years, I've witnessed the talent pool increase tenfold, as more and more talented, young artists continue to find their voices and make a name for themselves within their community and our beloved music scene overall. However, within the last two to three years, that wave of new talent has grown exponentially. So, as we enter a new year, I feel like sharing five artists who are major contributors to this growing wave. These five artists have shown so much potential in 2017 that, as we enter 2018, it's only right you all get familiar.
I recently spoke with Lukie B and Kvsper of Rage City Records, two young men with albums that are getting a great response among the college demographic; Leak Leisure, who's Soundcloud smash "YahYah" is being played at every party in Anchorage; Fairbanks rap artist Lee Jones, who is slowly but surely claiming his throne in the Golden Heart City; and longtime local hip hop producer DJ Allegiance, who recently collaborated with some of the state's hottest rap acts.
Five artists from different backgrounds, different walks of life, with different stories, but all with the same agenda: to make a name for themselves and have their music heard throughout Alaska and beyond.
Welcome to the Renaissance Era.
How'd you get into hip hop? Do you remember a significant moment in time where you knew hip hop was something special and something that was going to be a major factor in your life?
DJ Allegiance: Being that I'm older than most of these dudes (laughs)… One of the first songs that stuck out and made me say, "this is what I want to do for the rest of my life" was Run DMC's Peter Piper.
Lukie B: In high school, sophomore year, I got my heart broken and felt hella sad for a bit. I started listening to random music that I'd find on the Internet and I found Acid Rap by Chance The Rapper, and that was a big turning point for me. I started hanging out with homies and started freestyling. I started out with my first crew, Lambros, went off to college and when I came back for winter break, we got a mic and got more serious with it.
Leak Leisure: I know everyone says this, but I grew up around music. My dad was a musician. He raps as well, [and] was known locally. And my mom did poetry. It was just always around.
Lee Jones: I got into hip hop at an early age. My mom had Tupac posters in her room when I was young. She was real West Coast. My mom was a 16-year-old rebel. A lot of her family didn't approve of black culture, but my mom loved it. There's a picture of me at 6-years-old, I had headphones on and in the Walkman was Tupac’s All Eyez On Me, and ever since then it stuck with me. I was made to entertain, for real. My mom used to do slam poetry. I used to watch her open for people. I was made for hip hop.
Kvsper: I grew up in Wasilla, so I was into alternative rock and heavy metal. It wasn't until like sophomore year of high school that I got into hip hop. My friend suggested I get this Dizzy Wright album, so I copped it and went down the rabbit hole at that point.
When did you decide to get into rapping and what sparked that motivation?
DJ Allegiance: ‘95-‘96, I heard Marsh B & Sleaze [of Fairbanks’ rap crew DayBreak] recording at our homeboy Cameo's house. I got me, Tony Fingers [of Fairbanks’ rap collective OSL] and another friend, Nut, and we went and recorded our first song over there, and that was ‘96. I never really wanted to rap, I always wanted to be the DJ.
Leak: When I was 8-years-old, I wrote a rap with my cousin, Malik, who's in my crew Space League as well. That's when I knew I wanted to do this, but in 7th grade, I recorded my first song and performed it at our middle school dance, and I loved it. That was it for me.
Lee Jones: I was in college at the University of Dubuque. I started at wide receiver. I was ballin’, but then they moved me to tight end and it wasn't as fun anymore. I played the rest of my years out. I even played overseas; I played in Italy, Spain and France. Then I got cut by the Minnesota Vikings three years ago, on the first day of rookie camp. My dreams shattered in my face. But the whole time at school, I had a MacBook and Garage Band and I started recording myself for shits and giggles. And I realized that I really liked doing it. After my coach noticed I wasn't as dedicated as I used to be, I started choosing music over football without even knowing it. Rapping was more fun. I was getting more out of it, getting a better result—I record my voice, I have this track, I have this song.
Kvsper: I was doing music as a young kid, doing talent shows and stuff. I played piano and guitar growing up. It wasn't until two summers ago, me and a friend were talking about making a little album together. I had a mic and our boy Blanco made beats, and around Christmas 2016 was when I started recording music.
Who are artists that are/were major influences to you musically?
Leak: Growing up, to me first it was Bow Wow. That's who I look up to as a kid celebrity. Omarion from B2K, Outkast…
Lukie B: Definitely Mac Miller, and Action Bronson. He's carefree and just raps about bullshit.
DJ Allegiance: Redman, Nas, and Biggie and Kool G Rap. But when it comes to beats, it's always DJ Premier. Premier is thee guy for me. He's number one.
Lee Jones: I could say the names everyone would say, J.Cole, Kendrick, Drake, I can say all these guys, but really my influence came from my mom.
Kvsper: Definitely Kendrick Lamar. I'm also into guys like John Mayer and Ed Sheeran, they were huge influences when I started out with my piano and guitar.
If you had to describe your sound, your music to someone who's never heard your music, how would you describe it?
Leak: I'd say it's unique, it's melodic. It's just straight at you. I can't even really describe it. Melodic, definitely.
Lukie B: I feel like I make different types of music. I work with four producers, Dirty Mike and Blanco, which are really good at trap, 808 type shit, and then there's AK49 and ERIK, who grew up on jazz and piano. So I would say, jazz with trap, if that makes any sense at all.
DJ Allegiance: I would consider my music boom bap. I'm not afraid of 808s either. There's a place for everything. I'm a sampler guy. I cut and paste samples. I'm old school.
Lee Jones: My music... It's honest. It's educated. It's now.
Kvsper: I've been asked this question a lot and I'm never able to give it a good answer. I guess dark, glitch hop. Dark beats, ambient hip hop.
Kvsper / Photo by Hunter Route
What are your thoughts on the current state of hip hop, both on a mainstream level and on a local level?
Leak: I think rap now is more fun. I don't want to say careless, but it's hype. Back then it was more serious, which is awesome, but nowadays that's changed. With the local scene, I didn't see it before, but I see it now. People are connecting. There's so much talent. I love it.
Lukie B: I feel like the shit now—like Uzi Vert, Famous Dex, Lil Pump—that type of shit is for entertainment purposes. It's great for parties, I'll head bang to it, get hype to it, but it's not music that I would listen to by myself. There isn't many artists in the mainstream that I think got the sauce.
DJ Allegiance: On a local level, I think it's the greatest it's ever been. I think people are going to really start taking notice. There's so much talent around here and all of the guys are hungry. It's really different from when you had Hellrazor and y'all were beefing with Twisted Souls [referring to a historic rap feud back in Fairbanks in the early 2000's between Blade Gang and Twisted Souls]. It's totally different now. The game is really different, and it's great. There's a lot of dope dudes out.
Lee Jones: It's a blessing to be in the 21st Century. Social media plays a major role. You could be an overnight come-up just by making a song, bullshitting with your friends. Mainstream music has lost its integrity, but I ain't gonna lie and say I don't like it. I like some of it. As far as the local scene, we're competing in a sense, but we're all from the same place. When I see guys like Frozen Founders, I like that. I feel like where I'm from we're competing, but we're on the same team, if that makes sense. I refer back to football: we both play the same position, but come Sunday, one of us is gonna start.
Kvsper: The hip hop community itself is beautiful. I think our local community is really important. I believe it's all about community and coming together and showing respect for each other. We're all in the same place. Let's help each other out. As far as mainstream, I personally hate the radio. I think showing love to the little guy is important.
Who are some local artists you listen to and are motivated by, whether as just a fan or on a competitive level?
Leak: Definitely Kvsper. He's super talented, his work ethic is crazy.
Lukie B: I feel like my competition is Kvsper. Kvsper and Leak Leisure. They got it. They can sing as well as rap. They do that new wave Post Malone type sound. They're super dope. Kvsper's one of my closest friends right now. Dirty Mike also. He kinda took me under his wing. He's like my big brother/uncle type shit. We're working on an EP right now.
DJ Allegiance: I really like Johnny Kohler. I like that dude a lot. I like Darius a lot too. As a producer, I really like what they do. They don't get enough credit. There's a lot of talent. I like Double Dose and Madd Angler. The talent is all over.
Lee Jones: Someone who works really hard at his craft that doesn't get a lot of credit is Loki Ogie. He makes his own beats, he writes 32 bars at a time. That is not easy. Another guy is Tony Taylor. The way he is on the business side of things, he motivates me. I would think of an idea, and he's already on it. It's like he's in my head. Frankie Delux, Bishop Slice and Starbuks. Bishop and Starbuks been here for a while. I only been rapping seriously for two years. I want to make that kind of progress just as fast.
Kvsper: Number one is Leak Leisure. We went to the same high school, but we weren't really friends, but I've been listening to his shit since he dropped. It's awesome. I was listening to his stuff a while back and wanted to make a beat and do a song with him. This summer we worked on Dreamcast. All those Space League guys, too. LoveSongDesmond… yeah.
What's the ultimate end game for you?
Leak: I just want to make music and touch the people. To have a kid come to me and say I helped him out or inspired him to start making music. That's the best feeling in the world.
Lukie B: My ultimate goal is to travel around the world, doing shows with the homies. I want to get to a point where I can bring my friends. Travel the world and do shows together. That'd be so dope.
DJ Allegiance: I want to just work with everybody. I just want to help put this music out. I just want people to see the greatness that I'm trying to do. I'm not trying to be better than the next man, I just want to be appreciated.
Lee Jones: I'm very passionate about what I got my college degree in. I could start a job right now that will pay me $170,000 a year if I go do three months of training, but given the circumstances—that I like to do music—I can't do that yet. So, while I'm young with no kids and no wife, I'ma do this.
Kvsper: I've never really had an end goal. It just started off as a side project. In a perfect world, just making music for the rest of my life, that would be nice.
If someone who never heard your music asked you to give them one of your songs to listen to, just one, which song would it be and why?
Leak: “YahYah,” because of the way it's been interacting with people.
Lukie B: Oh, shit. that depends on who the person is. That's a hard question. I'd say “Shoebox" with Kvsper. A lot of people like "Easy Bake." It'd be a toss up between those two.
DJ Allegiance: It's a song for your [upcoming] compilation, called “Hold Me Down.” It's a perfect marriage of what my sound would be and the type of music that I'd like to make forever.
Lee Jones: The “It Ain't Safe” track with DJ Allegiance. The way the horns are being played, the drums, it was just something that hit me. I started writing to it and didn't stop.
Kvsper: Probably “Fading,” ‘cause it's a good introduction to my sound. You joked [on #TubbysManCaveProject] and called it emo music and at first I didn't know how to take that, but I feel that (laughs).
What can people expect next from you?
Leak: I don't have a title yet, but I definitely have a project coming out. I'd say January.
Lukie B: A lot of shit coming out of Rage City [Records]. I got a collab coming with Jamal Reed. Me and Dirty Mike are working on an EP. Me and Kvsper are talking about doing an EP. Just trying to expand, ya know.
Kvsper: You can expect a more mainstream, more darker sound. Darker tones, grimier beats. A little bit more psychological, so you can see my perspective of things.
Lee Jones: What you can expect is a lot of consistency and a lot of passion. I got a project with DJ Allegiance. I got a project with Johnny Kohler and Darius. I got songs with Kvsper. I got music with Loki Ogie. I got a project with 574 Ent with Galax-C and Choze out of Wasilla that's sponsored by Bearly Blunt. That'll be out in February. I'ma keep working and keep connecting.