Last month, J Berd and his Makeshift Deluxe imprint kicked off the Last Saturdays hip-hop series at the Church Street Pub. Held on the last Saturday of each month, the series plans to profile different underground hip-hop artists with a show featuring a smorgasbord of talent from near and far.
In August, Baltimore rapper UllNevaNo headlined the event and on Saturday, Maurice Daniel will lead a lineup set to feature LJ Heiss, Bushido Brown, Benjo and The Higher Class, among others.
We recently sat down with four of the series’ organizers, Jay Keating (J Berd), Che Coffin, Ray Wade and Jonathon Saulten to talk about the current state of local hip-hop, what we can expect from the series through the rest of the year, and which unknown rappers we should be checking out.
So whose idea was it to start Last Saturdays?
Jay Keating: Basically, we had a monthly event in Hagerstown that we used to do and we brought in all these different groups, so that’s how we connected with a lot of the groups that we book. We used to do a lot of shows in D.C. and Baltimore, but then a lot of spots just started shutting down. We were without a place to play, so we created our own spots and events so we could still do shows. We did a tour last summer. We went to Pittsburgh, Philly, New York, New Jersey, and we just wanted to keep performing. Makeshift Deluxe is more of a collective than a group. We perform together, do songs together.
Che Coffin: It’s like a support group, like a family.
Ray Wade: I’ve never met a bunch of guys who have been this true to the game. These three gentlemen are loyal dudes. They’re brothers to me.
Where do you think hip-hop exists within the Frederick music community? Do you think it has a shot at thriving?
Jonathon Saulten: It’s tough because the younger people listen to a different brand of hip-hop than what we do. We’re really on the Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul influence. The Golden Age stuff. Keating: There’s no trap to this. It’s just guys who are artists doing music.
Coffin: It’s not tough-guy talk, it’s not a bunch of jargon. It’s hip-hop culture. It’s not rap music, it’s hip-hop.
Keating: As far as Frederick, when I used to go to Baltimore or D.C. or Philly, they would say, ‘Where are you from?’ And I would tell them Frederick. Finally, I think people are starting to be proud of Frederick or people are starting to be proud of being from Frederick. Those are the ones we’re gearing it more towards.
Coffin: I think with the shows I’ve done with Jay and Makeshift, there was a lot of non-believers before they heard a line come out of any of our mouths. But as soon as as they saw us live, there was no more talking. And that goes for everybody that was on the tour. We walked in New York and they looked at us sideways. By the time we left New York, it’s three o’clock in the morning and promoters are chasing us down the street. We always try to improve on what we do because we’re serious about it and we love it.
Wade: Everybody here isn’t just MCs or DJs — we are all the essence of hip-hip. I’m a graf-writer, he’s a graf-writer. We all have touched other essences of hip-hop. It’s not like we were sitting around one day and said, ‘You know what? I’m just going to start rappin’. Literally, hip-hop has changed my life in so many ways and it went in so many different angles that every time I got older, I just evolved into something else.
The live hip-hop thing is tricky. Because even in the mainstream, Kanye West or Jay-Z or Lil’ Wayne or Drake can tour. But when you talk about underground or backpack rappers, or socially conscious rappers, the audience for that isn’t that large. So it’s hard to create that pocket of a scene in any music community anywhere. How do you guys deal with that? How do you guys get people to come out?
Coffin: If you got three people at the show, you rock it like you got 300. You do it the same. That’s a respect thing for your audience, too. Wade: Everybody who we deal with has great personalities. Everybody in this room will go out and talk to anybody in the crowd. Literally, if you want to talk to me, and so on and so forth, let’s talk. It’s all about hip-hop. Everybody is friendly. We try to make people we’ve never met family. Like, guess what? We hope to see you next time. We try to remember your name. Welcome to the family.
Keating: It becomes a communal thing. That’s the hope. The reality of it is that if you even know what backpack rap is, you’re of a certain age. So it is harder to get a younger generation. But we got a kid playing this week, Benjo, he’s in high school. I look at this kid and I’m like, ‘I probably know your parents.’ But he played with us at The Cuban Place and I was amazed. Amazed not only because he’s talented, but to know that this is going to continue on. Maybe a younger kid comes to our show and that inspires him to start doing it. I want to keep the quality of the events without sacrificing that for somebody who could sell a bunch of tickets. That’s how it worked when we were coming up — if you could sell a lot of tickets, you would be put on as an opening act for a major artist. With that, you might sit through a couple groups who make you want to leave before you see Rakim or somebody like that. If we hear someone and we like them, we’ll reach out to them. We want to get fine younger artists and help them and let them learn from the old-heads.
What are some of your goals with this series? What things would you like to achieve?
Keating: The short-term goal is to have a one-year anniversary show. That would be great. The other thing we’d like to spin off of this, is if it can get big enough, we move it to another venue, but keep it in Frederick, and bring in bigger acts. Maybe like a Action Bronson or someone like that. That’s what we would like to do, but we have to build that support group first.
Coffin: There is a shift with fans, too. Underground fans will always be loyal and they’re always going to dig just a little bit harder than what they’re hearing on the radio and TV. So, they have more interest in it already than, say, somebody who just listens to what’s thrown at them. A lot of our shows, I think we get those kind of people, people who hear about us from somebody and they really want to come check it out and then they come and check it out and they keep coming back. I’ve never seen somebody come to a show and not have a good time.
Wade: What I dig about it is networking. Literally because of one person performing or one person that came, Ill Logic hit me up and asked about the show, saying he’d love to come spin for us one time. I love the fact that my team has enough good stuff going on that we have outside people asking us to come holler at us. That’s awesome. I literally see promoters beg artists to come and it’s cool when you’re sitting at home on Facebook and you get a click up and it’s like, ‘Hey, look. Is there any way I can get on?’
Keating: The other part of the goal is that we want to increase our fan base. We want to kind of build something like Stone’s Throw Records, where the label and the shows help each thing. It goes hand in hand. They ignore the rules and they don’t worry about what else is going on. But they are into a lot of different things and that’s admirable.
Give us somebody we should be listening to, who we don’t know about.
Keating: I’m going to say 1 Ton. He’s totally underrated. His wordplay is ridiculous. If you’re really into MC’in, he’s got the voice, he’s got the wordplay. He’s got the patters.
Coffin: If you think you’re a rapper and you hear that dude, you’re going to shut up real quick if you really listen to what he’s saying. I’d say Jay Berd (Keating). He’s one of the most lyrical dudes I’ve ever heard. His albums are straight classic. He’s a great representative of what the culture was built off of and now what it is nowadays. When I hear Jay’s music, it’s above and beyond most of the stuff coming out of the area or anywhere.
Wade: Mine would be a kid I took under my wing, Maurice Daniel. He’s from Hagerstown. We were tight for years and he disappeared and he came back and his lyrical foreplay was on a total new level. I felt dumbfounded. I remember we were sitting around and out of nowhere, we were in the studio and I was like, ‘Stop. What just happened?’ He’s definitely come a long way, and he’s a kid I could see signed to a major label in a heartbeat.
Saulten: I’m going to give you Che (Coffin). Because Che is a veteran, like Berd, and this guy stays true to his style. Wade: This dude is so real that if you take his tongue out of his mouth and you copped it up, it literally would form hip-hop. The letters would form out of his tongue. Saulten: This guy is the essence of hip-hop. I’m also going to say Universe City Press. And UllNevaNo. He just got booked to do five shows in L.A. He’s all over the place.
In five words or less, give me what should we expect from Saturday’s show.
Wade: The realest show you’ll ever see.
Coffin: Hip-hop will live.
Keating: Original rap.
Saulten: The best show you’ll see all week.