Beyond Kevin Gates and Torrence “Boosie Badazz” Hatch, most people would be hard-pressed to say Baton Rouge has produced many successful hip-hop acts. While those local superstars aren’t playing many shows in the Capital City these days, there is a wealth of talent working hard to explode from the underground.
Outside of Trill Entertainment, Hatch’s record label which also boasts successful artists like Webbie and Foxx, the rap scene in Baton Rouge is small and disjointed. Plenty of independent acts are releasing music online, but few hip-hop-oriented venues exist for live music or collaboration.
But that’s not a problem for these five artists. Whether they’re trying to push the scene forward, make another hit record or graduate high school, they represent some of the best hip-hop talent Baton Rouge has to offer.
Mouse on tha Track
Formerly an in-house producer at Trill Entertainment, Jeremy Allen, known as Mouse on tha Track, has had a hand in creating some of the most popular music to ever come out of Baton Rouge.
He made the beats for Lil Boosie songs such as “Wipe Me Down” and “Going Thru Some Thangs,” as well as producing artists like Bun B, Pimp C, Juvenile and Paul Wall.
If he hasn’t gotten the same recognition as some of his collaborators, he doesn’t seem to mind.
“I just love music,” Allen said. “I love recording, writing, producing, rapping, being behind the boards mixing.”
Growing up in Baton Rouge, Allen was surrounded by hip-hop. It wasn’t until he started going to clubs that he realized music was something he could make a career out of. He saw how DJs and rappers could control the mood of an entire room by picking the right songs. He knew that was what he wanted to do.
Without any commercially successful rap artists out of Baton Rouge at the time, Allen was inspired by New Orleans rapper and producer Mannie Fresh of Cash Money Records. Fresh, whose real name is Byron O. Thomas, was influential in the development of a distinctive New Orleans style of production that bred the success of Lil Wayne and Juvenile.
Trill Entertainment gave Allen a reliable job, and he was a natural fit. Timing was key for Allen’s entrance to the Trill world.
“Their in-house DJ had just happened to leave when I went in, and they like my beats, so I stayed,” Allen said.
Now in his early 30s and having allowed his Trill contract to expire, Allen is relaxed. He does as much rapping as producing these days. In August, he released a self-produced mixtape, “No Commercials.” He still frequently works with Trill artists. He produced Boosie Badazz’s single, “Like A Man,” released earlier this year.
Allen said his success and experience in the industry have given him an opportunity to help the Baton Rouge music scene as a whole. With the right guidance, he said, there are plenty of Baton Rouge artists with the potential to hit it big. Among other projects, he’s currently executive producing “Bring the City Out,” the first in a mixtape series that will showcase Baton Rouge rappers.
“In the next five years, we’re gonna be in a good situation,” Allen said.
Recent Release: “No Commercials,” mixtape available on Soundcloud
Upcoming Release: “Bring the City Out Vol. 1,” mixtape, due 2016
Now, hear this: soundcloud.com/mousedatme
Caleb Brown & Alexander
Caleb Brown and Chase Alexander Franklin both perform solo, but when they collaborate, they shine.
“What he has is what I lack, and what I have, he lacks,” Franklin said of their partnership.
“It’s like yin and yang,” Brown chimed in.
The two make an unlikely pairing. Brown is lanky, intense and animated. Franklin, who makes music under the name Alexander, is more laid-back and laconic. An odd couple, their differences only seem to make them work better as a duo.
Both only 16, Brown and Franklin said they have to balance their musical work with the more mundane demands of being a high school student — Brown at Central High School, Franklin at Baton Rouge High. While they’re frequently writing verses in their heads during the school work, they mostly save music for the weekend.
“I’ll go to the studio Friday, Saturday night and literally be there until three or four in the morning,” Brown said. “Then Sunday, it’s right back to school work.”
The hard work is paying off. The duo’s single, “Breathe,” was featured on influential hip-hop blog “Pigeons and Planes” last year. The track delves into issues like police brutality and urban blight the two see surrounding them every day.
Brown, the youngest of five children raised by a single mother, said the social consciousness in his music comes from seeing other children without father figures fall into drugs and crime. He said some older listeners were surprised to hear young people taking on these issues in their music. He feels it’s important to make his story heard.
“It’s not a problem to be taken seriously [by older listeners,]” Brown said, “It’s about them wrapping their head around it, that this is the subject matter we’re speaking on.”
“It’s about making music that feels true to us,” Franklin said.
Upcoming Releases: Caleb Brown — “Song About Girls,” single due out Oct. 10
Alexander — “7,” free album due out November
Now, hear this: soundcloud.com/alexander-caleb-brown
Quadry Winters might be just 19 years old, but you can’t accuse him of not knowing his history.
Winters, who raps under the name Quadry, said he gets his love of music from his mother, Elonda, who frequently played old hip-hop, funk and soul records in the house when he was a child. As a maturing artist, he’s starting to see how his mother’s favorites influence the music he loves.
“I was listening to [rapper Kendrick Lamar’s album] ‘To Pimp a Butterfly’ and I realized he’s sampling [John Coltrane’s] ‘A Love Supreme,’ that my mom used to play all the time,” Winters said. “I feel like I’m on the right track creatively if Kendrick is making classic records sampling the music my mom played since I was an infant.”
Winters, a Baton Rouge Community College student, said he has been on a creative roll since he began working with London-based producer Tev’n, who was made beats for all of Winters’ recent music. The two connected through a mutual friend, and they clicked instantly.
The two trade ideas through email and Twitter, and Tev’n mixes and masters recordings Winters sends him. Though Winters recorded his first songs in his bedroom, the quality of the recordings speaks to a mature ear and work ethic.
“I’m definitely a perfectionist,” Winters said. “I spend 45 minutes on a song, getting things right, until I hear something that speaks to me. I’ll just go take after take after take.”
While most of Winters’ musical presence exists online, he has plans to engage more with the Baton Rouge scene. He and a friend, rapper Joe Scott, are planning a collaborative album with the working title “In A Minute,” to be released around the end of November. Throughout October, Winters will also release a separate four-song series.
Recent Release: “N9’ne (2lbs Act II),” single released Aug. 26
Upcoming Release: “In A Minute (working title),” album with Joe Scott, due November/December
Now, hear this: soundcloud.com/quad-6
Marcel P. Black
The label “conscious rapper” can be almost a slur, but that doesn’t faze rapper Bryan Marcel Williams, who makes music under the name Marcel P. Black.
“I don’t care. Nobody criticizes mainstream rappers for glamorizing black death or black violence, misogyny or rape,” Williams said.
Williams, a 32-year-old Southern University Graduate from Oklahoma, has been rapping since his cousins taught him LL Cool J’s “I’m Bad,” at six years old. At 18 years old, Williams started recording music with rap group The Outland.
The son of a social worker and a juvenile probation officer, social issues have always been on his mind.
The trick, Williams said, is to put the lyrical content he is passionate about into music that is modern, accessible and, most significantly, fun. He said conscious rap is too often stuck in a backwards-looking rut of boring drum beats and depressing moods. He cited the success of his 2013 release “Trap Hop,” a hard-hitting project that mixes club-ready beats with lyrics focused on black empowerment.
“I have the turn-up right next to the socioeconomic stuff,” Williams said with a laugh.
But for Williams, making music about community issues is only half the battle.
In 2012, he founded the Baton Rouge Hip Hop Project — a collective of rappers, DJs, music journalists and radio hosts — with the goal of providing a hub for independent rap in the capital city.
The Project has hosted a number of open mics and rap battles curated by Williams. Next year, it will ramp up its services to provide resources for up-and-coming rappers. He said his years of touring, recording and promoting his own music have given him experience he can share with younger artists.
“It’s about showing that you can offer them something,” Williams said. “I can show them how I have done it.”
Recent release: “Black Collar,” album available on iTunes, Bandcamp, Google Play and Amazon
Upcoming Show: Friday, Oct. 23 at Chelsea’s Café in Baton Rouge
Now, hear this: soundcloud.com/marcel-p-black