Creatively Boundless

The Pittsburgh Sound – AJ Allen & Kai Roberts by ajallen92
August 9, 2009, 1:44 am
Filed under: Features

Art lives on the corner of Baum and South Highland, at Shadow Lounge, where local artists congregate to express themselves. Though this venue offers a way for artists to grow collectively, some say many Pittsburgh artists are looking out for solely themselves. Many artists say selfishness, arrogance, and pride keep Pittsburgh artists from prominence.

In a glance around Pittsburgh’s hip-hop scene, one is exposed to a dismal reality.  Hip-hop appears to be a dying movement, illustrated through voiceless emcees, mere remnants of old graffiti art, gig-less D.J.s, and b-boys out of shape from inactivity waiting for hip-hop’s reincarnation.

The hip-hop music industry is dried up and an under-accomplished enterprise suggests E. Dan, the owner and operator of I.D Labs Studio, in Lawrenceville. He says there is not a much of a hip-hop scene in Pittsburgh, and that past years have shown there are little means for expression and production. He says the music industry was better a few years ago, but has declined as time progressed.

Over the last few years, Pittsburgh has shown that it has the capability to produce big name artists such as Wiz Khalifa and Pittsburgh Slim. The recent news of the closing of WAMO radio station is no help either.  “WAMO closing is sort of like the nail on the coffin to me,” E. Dan says with a slight chuckle.  He adds that WAMO is the only radio station that is dedicated to hip-hop and R&B.

With the lack of active establishments and means of promotion to local listeners, the status of the Pittsburgh music industry might be deterrent for young talent.   Other underground hip-hop enthusiasts see WAMO as a station that fails to adequately support its local artists. Though it is the only black-owned radio station in Pittsburgh, local artists such as Tim “SMI” Guthrie feels that the loss of the station is nothing to fret over.

To remedy this problem, what are local hip-hop artists doing to aid local talent and build a stronger hip-hop industry in Pittsburgh?  E. Dan said that to build the industry, Pittsburgh artists must take chances on venues that will showcase hip-hop music and elements of hip-hop culture.  He adds that there are very few establishments that are bent on showcasing and recording.  Two notable exceptions were the Shadow Lounge located in East Liberty and I.D. Labs.  E. Dan calls his studio a place where local artists can record, collaborate with one another and market their products.

The Shadow Lounge attracts a diverse group of people who share a common interest in local music. Guthrie, a local artist and co-founder of the Shadow Lounge, believes that the lack of success among local artists has little to do with talent. Guthrie sees a lack of marketing and production.  He also believes that success is relative. In the words of Guthrie, it “depends on what you’re in it for.”  Guthrie describes that the Shadow Lounge is an establishment that showcases local talent and gives local artists the means of expression.

Loran Boksenbaum, a Shadow Lounge attendee, felt the reason for the limited success of local artists was their passivity. Boksenbaum thinks local artists need to be more proactive in promoting their music.

Local poet Luqmon Abdus-salaam has an optimistic attitude. Abdus-salaam said that talent is not hindering local artists but selfishness amongst local hip-hop artists is. He adds that many artists are looking for their prosperity for themselves but not their fellow artists. Instead of working together to achieve success they conflict with each other, Abdus-Salaam said.

Another local hip-hop figure is Armstead Brown, the co-founder of a hip-hop competition called Rhyme Calisthenics, which is held at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theatre in East Liberty. Brown calls it an emcee competition that challenges the diversity, skill, style, and endurance of 16 local rappers.

“We wanted young rappers to be more expressive and more versatile with their music, ” Brown explained.  Established in 2007, the competition has continuously grown in popularity and funding.  Now with corporate sponsors such as Nakturnal and community support, the competition is gaining influence in the Pittsburgh area.

“Pittsburgh has a lot of great talent,” Brown says in agreement. He said that young artists have to learn to embrace the hip-hop culture, and to create an individual and creative voice in their music.

Aside from establishing venues and programs, E. Dan believes that the responsibility rests on the hip-hop community. “It’s up to the artists,” he says.


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