GUEST COLUMNIST: Hip-hop still struggles to be heard locally

Everyone's heard car stereos playing rap music so loud that it rattles the car. A lot of those people (maybe even you) have thought: "It all sounds the same." Or, "It's teenagers blasting stupid rap songs."...

Megan Sennie. Herald photo by Sarah Kolberg.

Everyone's heard car stereos playing rap music so loud that it rattles the car. A lot of those people (maybe even you) have thought: "It all sounds the same." Or, "It's teenagers blasting stupid rap songs."

But to hip-hop artists and fans in Grand Forks, hip- hop is a culture and, for some, a way of life, a way to express themselves and to make a statement. Despite the local interest, local hip-hop shows and performances just aren't happening.

Hip-hop artists often are known for talking about big rims, big jewelry and how much money they have, but hip-hop's more than that. Its artists also talk about social and political issues. Some lyrics are derogatory and profane and are censored for radio. But there are other, positive messages too.

For example, Young Jeezy's song "My President" is about the election of Barack Obama, the hurricane in New Orleans and even the earthquake in China. The music is accompanied by instrumentals and beats. Some songs have guitars, pianos and even violins.

Hip-hop has different styles, such as techno ("Forever," by Chris Brown), old school ("Rapper Delight," by the Sugarhill Gang), and club banger or dance hip-hop ("My Dougie" by Lil Wil ft. Soulja Boy).


The artists and fans of hip-hop -- many of whom are young -- bring hip-hop to their dancing. At clubs (or pretty much any dance) you can see people break dancing and locking and popping and these are all forms of hip-hop. Hip-hop can be the way you dress, whether it be baggy pants, big T-shirts or even skinny jeans and colorful shirts. Hip-hop art, too, is colorful. If you've ever seen the graffiti on train cars, you've seen an example of hip-hop art.

Hip-hop certainly has made it into the mainstream worldwide, making stars out of artists such as Kanye West, Common, Eminem, Tech N9ne and Twista. Each region of the country seems to have its own style of hip-hop. The East Coast is known for being lyrical, West Coast for gangsta rap, and the South for their party-going music. Midwestern hip-hop seems to be a mixture of influences from all regions; sometimes it's described as the darker of the regions. The music is personal and about real situations of day-to-day life.

Grand Forks has art festivals, blues festivals and rock shows, but so far no hip-hop shows to give local artists a chance to show what they can bring to the rap table.

Hip-hop is a different kind of talent that the businesses and people of Grand Forks don't appear to embrace. But many hip-hop fans wish there were more diversity in the music scene here. Yes, people from North Dakota can rap. Flashy cars and big diamond-studded gold chains definitely are not their flow. The local music is more the stuff that is part of our lives.

The local music scene, like a panting dog, needs some refreshing and Tommy Delacruz and Shawn Trottier -- called Tha Union -- are here to bring that fresh bowl of water. Delacruz, 18, of Grand Forks, performs as Lyraflow; Trottier, 17, who grew up at Fort Totten, N.D., and Grand Forks, performs as Real Truth, They have been friends since seventh- and eighth-grade. They write music and record, usually in Tommy's basement or at Shawn's house. They are putting together a recording of their work and looking for places to perform.

The two formed Tha Union two years ago after they had a fallout with the group Mo Money Clique. Here's an interview with them, edited for length.

Q: So, how often do you get to perform?

Real Truth: We never have, but we kick freestyles. That's a performance right? It's better when there's a big crowd, like, more people performing. Mike's Pizza (where they sometimes perform at open mic night) always puts the hip-hop performance last.


Lyraflow: It segregates hip-hop.

Q: What are your songs about?

LF: Personal stories, events that happened in our lives.

Q: Define Midwest hip-hop.

RT: It's more of a storytelling style, more serious, not goofy. It can be though.

LF: (It's) the most colorful of the national hip-hop scene. You have Mexican, Native, Chinese, black and other nationalities. We laugh at s--- so we don't get mad at it.

Q: What do you like about hip-hop?

RT: Umm ... Where do I start: It gets me moving and is a way I can express myself in a way I know how to.


Q: Who are your music influences or who do you look up to?

RT: Tupac and Biggie, that's an obvious. Bone Thugz.

LF: Biggie and Tupac. I don't really play too much of the same music. We don't sound like anybody else. We are the original originators.

Q: Do you collaborate with other local artist?

RT: Smokaholix and Un-Xcepted, I'll throw those names out there.

Q: Is there anything that you want readers to know?

LF: We're not like other rappers, we are lyrical, not hype men.

RT: We're trying to bring a hip-hop scene to Grand Forks and trying the hardest we can.


Sennie is a senior at Grand Forks Central High School. To contact her, e-mail and your mail will be forwarded.

Tha Union
Local hip hop artists Shawn Trottier (standing) and Tommy Delacruz write and make music as Tha Union. Herald photo by John Stennes.

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