We — as in the city of Denver — are not known for rap music. However, any Denver rap fan knows this city has more than enough talent to feed a healthy addiction to it. In 2019 we saw triumphant drops from Jay Triiiple, The Reminders and more. TheyCallHimAP dropped two notable albums this year and has been cited as pushing for an early release in 2020. Jakob Campbell served as a fan favorite on Netflix’s Rhythm + Flow, which features T.I., Chance the Rapper and Cardi B. Trev Rich is nominated for a Grammy. But what is to come of this success? As we head into a fresh decade, it is worth taking a look into what we can expect in our music industry, and evaluating where our community as rap enthusiasts will be in the future.
The fact is, Denver is a hub for talent that goes largely underestimated. The consistency of quality music coming from our own is great, but Denver has yet to break into mainstream music on the national platform. It is time for our musicians to shine and in the new decade, there will be opportunities for both artists and fans in the Denver area to assist in making this happen. Where do we start? Where do the professionals working within the community see our rap scene heading?
“I feel that Denver is about to have a breakout in the next three to five years, and it will be a hot spot for music,” explained Francois Baptiste, co-owner of 3Deep Productions — an entertainment promotion company that has been driving the Denver hip-hop scene since the ’90s. “I think Denver is finding its own self, Denver has multiple artists that can make it nationally.” Finding our own sound and culture within rap music is certainly the best way for it to reach recognition, but with all of the talent in Denver, why hasn’t this happened yet? One of the reasons Denver has not been able to accomplish creating its own nationally seen culture simply boils down to the fact that we haven’t had a lot of recognition for it yet.
“A lot of this music industry stuff in Denver has never been done before so there’s a lot of people who just don’t know the current trends in music or industry news and formula to figure out how it works,” said Ru Johnson, director of Roux Black — a creative branding firm. “You can read about how to make it in the music industry from history’s perspective but things change so quickly, you can’t write a book on how to make it. You have to be intune, have a team and be dedicated to playing the long game. It’s not always sexy.”
This amount of work is non-stop, and not every artist will be up to this challenge. We live in a world of constant internet accessibility, but watching the process is not as interesting as immediate results. An unwillingness to put forward this effort is a weakness that runs in the community of Denver’s music and will always be the downfall of careers. “I think that with all of the information that we have access to on the internet, I don’t think that artists teach themselves or get a mentor to really find out what is going on behind the scene,” expanded Baptiste. “I think you see this stuff on Instagram and you see picture and clips of certain things and forget it’s show business. Sometimes you get to see more show and less business.”
No one knows this better than an artist who has spent time putting in the work and recently received a triumphant breakthrough. Campbell was recently featured on the Netflix show Rhythm + Flow, returning after his stint to thousands of new followers on social media and a new platform to rap on. Campbell knows what it takes to get attention and understands the work that goes with a career in music. “People aren’t going to support you if you aren’t doing anything,” he described. “I feel like a lot of people don’t put in the work, and throw out one song out there and no one gets behind it and feel like Denver never supports anything.”
However, beyond the realization of hard work and dedication comes the other side, support from those who create the buzz — the fans. “Denver is really a ‘see it to believe it’ type city, continues Campbell. “It’s hard for them to see things while they’re blossoming. They like to get behind things when it’s already up and on. It’s just support — they have to see something before they get behind it.” While we can be slow to support our own, Denver is known for being a city that loves music. We have famous venues and host major national artists every night of the week.
“Denver is one of the hottest concert destinations in the county,” explained Baptiste. “I don’t think people understand that Denver is almost top five if not top three markets for concerts.” So, it can be frustrating for a hardworking musician to feel like they have to make it nationally before they receive recognition in their own city. However, that simply proves that our rappers and producers are resilient, and up for a challenge.
“My favorite part about the rap scene is that some of these cats don’t give up,” Johnson elaborated enthusiastically. “There’s a determination to make it that’s admirable because rap is not an easy sport. I’d imagine it’s harder to not live out your dream, though, and there are some rappers in this community who believe it’s their destiny to rap. I respect that a lot.” Campbell resonates this notion, noting that he depends on himself to break the mold for Denver music, to assist in bringing the light on others. “I feel like we have to step it up and apply pressure,” he said. “We have to show people that we have something to say and we have something here.”
Though proving we have something here is not a long shot, Denver’s future in rap music is bright. “Trev Rich will probably win a Grammy either next year or in the next two years for song-writing,” estimated Johnson. “Ray Reed will likely be the first artist who goes on tour with a major artist, TheyCallHimAP is going to become famous for his lyrical dexterity and have a Freddie Gibbs style cult following in about three years.”
From here, all Denver can do is support our musicians by showing up to live performances and stream their music. If we want to see our location as part of the national conversation within the rap scene, we need to get up and help break the barrier. Find your favorite artists and get on their tail to catch their social media and live shows.