April 3, 2008

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Building the crowds
The hip-hop scene is small but festive
By Brian Early bearly@hippopress.com

Although it’s challenging to find more than a handful of hip-hop venues in the area, a strong and growing scene persists, drawing crowds and slowly negating the image of the genre.

“The scene in Manchester and southern New Hampshire is way better than it used to be,” said Erik Seymore, a Memorial High graduate. “Everybody’s working together to get more shows.”

Seymore is better known as Lb, Lyrical bastard. He started seriously working in the hip-hop scene “at the turn of the century.”

“It’s a full-time job,” he said. “I have another full-time job on the side too.”

And he’s not just some Manchester wannabe American Idol. Last October, Lb was named number 20 in the top hip-hop producers on MySpace. He writes and creates his own music.

“Lb is the King of the Queen City without a question,” he wrote in an e-mail.

Mike Capone, known as M.C. Capone in Sons of Kalal, said the negative stereotyping of hip-hop hurts the scene locally. When venue bookers and law enforcement members think of hip-hop, he said, they think of a bunch of violent gun-toting angry men looking to start trouble, when in reality he’s never had a fight at one of his shows. Well, maybe one.

“In two years of promoting ... we have had one fight that was between two 45-year-old white carpenters! Explain that,” he wrote in an e-mail. “So stereotypes are really hurting our scene for no reason!”

Capone started his own company, LFD Productions, as a way to better promote his and others’ music in the area.

For the most part, Milly’s Tavern in Manchester appears to be the only regular spot for hip-hop in the river cities. Lb in his eight years of performing can’t remember a single Nashua gig and only a couple of gigs in Concord. It’s hard to convince bar owners that hip-hop brings in a fun, festive crowd who like to dance and have a good time.

“Pete [Telge] at Milly’s. He’s got to be caking,” Lb said about the owner. “He took a chance on me way back in the day. Ever since, we’ve been making money.”

Many venues book cover rock bands on a regular basis. “It’s starting to spread to Nashua too. It’s an epidemic,” Capone said. “Manchester should be called Cover Band City.”

For many, hip-hop is not just the music, it’s a way of life. Jesse Lannoo, better known as Apeshit on the scene, sees the hip-hop in most everything. It’s about the rhythm. He watched a friend at work walking. “He was walking hip-hop, the B-boy strut,” he said. “It’s the expression.”

“It’s always the best when you don’t have much and make the world out of it,” he said. “I look cooler than a millionaire and I’m broke.”

During the day Apeshit works for an upscale retirement home, and he brings hip-hop to them whenever he can. Even the way he twirls his pen.

“I loves the skills of it,” he said about music, breaking beats. “I just get high off it. It gives me a reason to live.”

He took his name from his early teen years, when he’d graffiti the word Ape different places. “I have a fondness for primates,” he said.

He calls himself a history buff and created a rap of history from World War I to the atomic bomb. It’s a six-minute poem, mostly freestyled, that he performed for the old folks at his work. “All they know is guns and violence,” he said about the old folks’ knowledge of hip-hop. The history rhyme was also recorded and played in a few high school history classes.

Freestyling — rapping and rhyming words that one makes up on the spot — is a skill that took him a long time to perfect.

“It’s multi-tasking. You have to learn to think and talk at the same time to the beat,” he said. It’s about letting go, not thinking about what you look like to others and what you’re saying. It’s about clearing your mind and just going.

“If you’re nervous, you won’t be able to think about the next line, and you’re going to fail,” he said.

While performers would like more venues to prove themselves, they stay positive about what they’ve built so far.

“The hip-hop scene needs more people with our mentality,” Capone said.