Photos: Milk$
Photos: Milk$

DMV Hip-Hop on National Rise

Hip-hop produced in DC offers something unique: its influences. Between go-go music – the very distinct and native soundtrack of the District – and the political culture of the nation’s capital, local artists pull from a litany of experiences that are largely nonexistent outside of the city’s sphere of influence.

Popular DC native Wale incorporates go-go music in his style, and 2006’s “Dig Dug (Shake It)” exploded in the DMV, putting him on the national map. The waves reverberated far and wide,  an unstoppable ascension to fame for the artist, culminating in worldwide tours, record deals and numerous business ventures.

Chaz French says he was a huge fan of Wale growing up, inspired by his use of the DC’s go-go. He’s one of many young rappers from the DMV promoting the area through the genre. DC has yet to rival the number of famous names that hip-hop hotbeds Los Angeles and New York City produce, but Wale brought eyeballs to the area – and some young rappers are taking advantage of the attention.

“It’s getting there, and it’s going to take a few more artists to get it to that level,” local hip-hop artist Phil Ade says. “I don’t think we’ve had another artist that’s gotten to the level of Wale yet. I think it’s going to take a few more years of building and growing.”

Ade and French both cited the local competitiveness as a potential reason for the lack of hip-hop megastars from the DMV. Both used the term “crabs in a barrel,” referencing the feeling that artists in DC are on their own, shuffling about through the area with few instances of assistance. Like the limelight problem though, Wale is changing that attitude and lending a hand to them both.

“The one thing about DC and the DMV is that everyone is very territorial,” Ade says. “People in the inner city and neighborhoods have beef with people across the street. A lot of that attitude carries over to the music scene, and they don’t want to f–k with people from different areas. But that’s changing a little recently, as people like Wale start to make music with others.”

One example of this type of collaboration is the relationship between DC native Parabellum Raps (Leaton White) and producer Average DJ (Kyle Stewart), the two members of emerging group MILK$. The pair have embraced each other’s differences in the name of producing music, and the sound is drenched in DC influences despite their contrasting backgrounds.

“Our city has its own style of music that originated here and has always been something to be proud of,” White says. “DC also has its own hip-hop scene that has evolved tremendously over the years, and it’s surreal to think that I’m a part of that. The history of DC, my childhood experiences, the street language and vocal accent of each quadrant in the District, and the reputation of my city all influence my music heavily.”

Stewart says that although he grew up listening to hip-hop, he never thought he would make it himself per se.

“I started really collecting and digging for records – a cappella, instrumental – just seeing what I could mix and mash,” he says. “The DC influence is relatively new. I didn’t know about go-go music until I moved here. It’s crazy going back and revisiting classic albums from the 90s and early 2000s.”

As the road to collaboration becomes more accessible for young artists in the area, the DMV continues to churn out talented rappers. Chaz French and Phil Ade have both toured nationally – Ade with Wale earlier this year and French at Broccoli City Festival, as well as signing with Capitol Music Group.

Though both are emerging as bona fide headlining acts, neither made it to this level without a tremendous amount of hardship. French’s first taste of rapping was at a talent show, and Ade honed his stage presence during college in Alabama as part of a go-go band performing for one or two dozen in the audience. Despite this, the two have found encouraging success.

“Don’t leave any stone unturned,” Ade says. “Don’t have too much pride and ego to do something or try something. If you have music [and] you feel it’s good, get in front of the crowd.”

With these two touring the country and constantly achieving new sounds with their local influences, and newer acts like the Milk$ duo on the rise, the area is well on its way to national prominence. And while recognition in the national hip-hop scene is exciting, it’s not necessary in the end, because the DMV will always be a unique home for the artists it helps cultivate.

“Of course [DC artists] have our separate lives and [our hip-hop] is new for most people,” French says. “There will be a time when we might have to sit down and push it to the next level, but a lot of people are cool with it being the way it is. DC is just DC anyway. We’re just us at the end of the day. We have what it takes to separate ourselves from those other places, and there’s nothing wrong with that either.”

For more information about these hip-hop artists’ tours and releases, visit their websites.

Chaz French:
Phil Ade: