Millz Davis poses during a photoshoot for one of his upcoming projects.
Photo by Millz Davis.
By Kaleb Partilla
It has been three years since South Carolina’s urban music was silenced. Derek McAllister, known to hip hop and rap fans as Speaker Knockerz, died at 19. He was on his way up in 2014. His music videos attracted a few thousand views to three million plays online without a record label.
After his death, the late rapper received over 200 million views, and trended as a popular hashtag on Twitter. McAllister’s most notable video has amassed over 93 million plays on YouTube where it remains playable.
Today, over 3,000 recorded artists across the state of South Carolina follow Derek McAllister’s music marketing regimen. Each person makes a series of social media accounts, and each page is updated once new art is created.
“The scene has changed in the past five years because of the internet and social media. It’s easier to gain attention without having to move around or travel because you can reach an audience by the touch of a button,” says Millz Davis, the CEO of Department 803, a hip hop, R&B and rap group.
The analytics sections on Twitter.com allow you to see just how big your audience is, and what they enjoy about your page.
“Respectfully, there really wasn’t anyone rapping lyrically before me and pushing it as much as I did,” says Davis.
Listening to Davis’ discography, he epitomizes the opposite of braggadocio rap. Having a unique style in an area with a smaller market has produced over 750,000 plays on his tracks online.
Davis runs Creative Music Studios, founded in 2014. He is planning to open his first full-fledged production studio in South Carolina next year. Contrary to some, Davis believes remaining in South Carolina will get him noticed. He says his skills will be displayed in a market with fewer signed hip-hop artists than in other states. Davis can sing, rap, rhyme and produce his own beats and songs.
Two years ago, the legal removal of the Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse grounds drew national attention. “I remember seeing a few artists in Columbia after the removal of the flag. Some claimed it’s the only reason they came [on tour] to South Carolina,” says University of South Carolina senior Daniel Kelly.
“I don’t think I know too many of the new hip hop and rap artists in South Carolina,” Kelly says. ” I do have a friend who produces for a lot of artists in the state.”
Welcome South Carolina music producer Jordan Sudderth. He is known as “Jumpman” by his fans.
“I have produced multiple tracks for big name artists but I can’t speak about them quite yet,” says Sudderth.
The complex contracts and unwritten rules to abide by in the music industry are obvious here. It is clear the producer knows his way around the business; as well as crates of well-kept electronic devices in his organized bedroom.
Sudderth is a self-taught master of music. He began creating beats with a bootleg version of Fruity Loops Studio 12. This odd name reflects a D.A.W. or digital audio workstation. Music creations and audio edits are made in these programs.
“I still spend hours in the program every day. Sometimes I get producer’s block and just keep the program open until I get something,” says Sudderth. He began producing two years ago and is slowly learning how the music industry works outside of South Carolina.
“Artists need to look out for work-for-hire contracts. These give the artist or producers a large sum of cash up front but strip your name from the credits entirely,” Sudderth says.”
“That means the original creator does not receive royalties or profits from the plays because their name is taken off the credits,” says Sudderth. Having credentials on a hit song could generate much more money over time as opposed to one upfront payment.
Sudderth is edging on 600,000 total views in a collaborative video with another artist.
“When it reaches a certain point, I’ll cash out on my AdSense account from YouTube views. I can do all this without ever going to a real studio.”
This tech-savvy way of generating an income without a music label for promotion and distribution deals is another way social media websites are helping artists. Both dependent and independent musicians can profit off this strategy.
Someone looking to push the boundaries in the Palmetto State is Johnathan Hymes, an upscale clothing designer from South Carolina. Hymes targets each pop-up event and applies to be a concert sponsor with his brand Clothesed Corporation. This showcases his product for niche consumers while they are enjoying a show.
“Rap and hip hop are straightforward when it comes to expressing what’s at hand, and Clothesed Corporation is reflected by past, present, and current events on financial subjects,” says Hymes.
He suggests his brand’s high-quality clothing garments reflect the rhymes of a person who acknowledges his or her wealth.
There are currently two big cities in South Carolina holding Clothesed Corporation’s threads: Columbia and Charleston. Hymes’ clothing brand has sponsored 12 shows in those two metropolitan areas.
It’s important in the hip hop and rap scene to consider where an artist is from, and where an artist is making music. Some artists go to other states with larger hip-hop music cities like Atlanta and Charlotte. An urban artist who frequently charts on Billboard is Jeezy, a rapper from Columbia,. Although he is from South Carolina, Jeezy moved to get his career going.
Nick Grant is another artist who relocated to Atlanta from South Carolina. While he is proud of being a South Carolinians, he paid attention to the success of artists from Atlanta. His talents eventually led him to cosigns from Talib Kweli, Nas and Andre 3000. These three artists have earned millions from making music from platinum record sales.
Grant’s 5,000-person town — Walterboro — shaped his musical sound. But many of his followers see him as being from Atlanta because of his success there.
“Just because someone is born somewhere doesn’t technically mean they’re ‘ from there,’ ” Hymes says.
He says people leave their hometowns as children or for various reasons as adolescents and young adults. This pattern parallels that of an athlete. While many athletes come from smaller towns, they spend their careers on teams based in larger cities. So when they stop playing their jerseys are retired, but retired from the largest team for which they played.
So metaphorically, while Speaker Knockerz was born in New York, his jersey eternally hangs somewhere along Two Notch Road in Columbia.
Right now, there are only five rappers associated with the official Wikipedia page for rappers in South Carolina. Additionally, no current musicians from South Carolina possess rankings on Billboard charts. The exception is country music singer Darius Rucker. Hip hop and rap artists from South Carolina may face a similar uphill battle.
Partilla is a mass communications senior.