February 19, 2012

Akshun spits on hip-hop

Editor’s Note: We’ve made enough ruckus about South Carolina being the only Southern state without a lasting hip-hop star. So instead of continuing to write about the fact, we’re going to profile the people trying to put S.C. hip-hop on the national map instead. Here’s the fifth of several stories:

Rappers, particularly those trying to assert a threatening image – whether believable or not – have taken to claiming themselves as the last of a dying breed. Kevin Langston is exactly that, though he’s not trying to push tales of drug deals and street shootouts.

Langston, whose rap name is Akshun, is the last of a conventional dying breed: People who go to the record stores on Tuesdays, the music industry’s traditional release day, to buy CDs. This year, analysts expect digital sales to overtake CD sales for the first time.

And Langston prefers shopping at Manifest Disc & Tapes, a so-called mom-and-pop store, rather than big retailers. He’s watched hip-hop sections expand in record stores – and then recently retract. He owns more than 1,000 hip-hop CDs.

Langston, a 31-year-old Richland Northeast High School graduate, regularly posts links to music on his Facebook page. And he asks questions like this: “Sc rappers. Real talk. How many of y’all are actual FANS of sc music, NOT including the people you work with and are friends with.”

He’s followed hip-hop in the state, both as a performer and as a fan. I met up with Langston, a rapper on Dan Johns’ Magnum Opus label, to talk about the overall state of hip-hop, and where South Carolina fits – if at all – in the genre. The following is an excerpt of the interview.

Drake’s concert at the Colonial Life Arena is Tuesday, a rare mainstream hip-hop show in the area and the first since The Roots concert at the South Carolina State Fair in October. How was that? I thought it was good, but it was not what I expected. I expected a little bit more hip-hop, a little bit more fierceness from Black Thought.

Where does Black Thought, the Roots’ rapping frontman, stand? That is literally every rapper’s favorite rapper. He’s in my top five. He’s super-duper consistent. Like, I can’t even think of a wack rap from Black Thought, and I have everything he’s done. From a technical standpoint, he’s right in the pocket each time.

Is 50 Cent, who hasn’t had a hit in years, done?

I don’t care how many dope beats he gets – and don’t get it twisted, I like some 50 stuff – but it’s to the point where it’s redundant. It sounds like he’s spitting the same exact rhyme. It’s generic. That’s the thing. In my opinion, he’s always been generic. He’s a good chorus crafter. That’s been his thing.”

Singing choruses. Isn’t that what he vilified Ja Rule for doing? He basically accused him of doing something, got him out the way and then took his market. He did the ultimate chess move.

You’re a fan of what we’ll call authentic hip-hop. So how do you explain Rick Ross’ success and how he won his feud against 50? He’s probably going to be the keep-it-real killer. It’s real simple how Rick Ross excels – he keeps making good music. But he literally makes stuff up. I don’t mind when he talks the rich guy stuff, because he is a rich guy. But when he starts talking about getting it off the boat, he got Poppi doing this. ... How Rick Ross beat 50 Cent, he made better music. What I’ve heard is that he’s a real businessman. He doesn’t do the rapper stuff. He just acts real professional. And he can rap.

Speaking of rappers who sing, what do you think about the beef between Drake and Common? Drake talks that talk. He gets cocky, which every rapper does at some point and you have to know if you put yourself in that position, you’re going to be checked by somebody. Contrary to popular belief, I think he would’ve hung with Common. And this is the thing, as much as I love Common, Common now is not the Common of 1996 when he was going against Ice Cube. Common has been coasting every since he’s been with Kanye. I’m not going to say he’s wack because I enjoy his music, but lyrically he’s not what he was.

Why do you go to the store to buy music? Tradition. I like to open up the liner notes. I read albums. I remember getting (Nas’) “It Was Written” and reading every single lyric. I like seeing who did what. I like having that physical copy. I like to have that collection. Ever since we were old enough to get an allowance, we used to go to Manifest and go through A to Z in the hip-hop section.

Is the era of drug dealer/thug/gangsta as the best rapper ever going to end? Honestly, it will come back when people start buying records.

You’ve pointed to dancing as a hip-hop turning point. That’s one thing that’s missing. A lot of underground groups don’t realize that a lot of these guys that had platinum records that were “real” hip-hop were making dance records at the same time. If you’re planning on reaching the masses, you have to get them on the dance floor.

You’ve been rapping for more than a decade and you’re still recording. Is it for the love of hip-hop? At one period in time, it was in pursuit of getting something bigger, but at this point it’s for the joy of doing it. The music we make, though still relevant, is not as popular. And even in the industry, as far as dealing with other underground artists, it’s just as shady as it would be on a major label. There’s a lack of unity, lack of communication. I guess because they don’t want you to move ahead of them.

Your performance at Bluetile Skateshop in May was really hype. You won the crowd over immediately. It’s that adrenaline rush. It was kind of a situation where it was so easy to feed off of the crowd.

The closest the state has come to a breakout a star is Lil Ru. Oddly, his debut single for Def Jam, the Ross-assisted “Yeah that’s Money,” wasn’t pushed hard locally: The thing with Lil Ru, in my opinion, it was a jealousy thing. Because I don’t understand how this guy was so popular in this state and then all of sudden, it just turned into, “I don’t like him.”

Every other Southern state has birthed a hip-hop star. Why not here? You have to be proud of where you’re from. I always found it funny that people didn’t embrace South Carolina outside of Gamecock football. You can’t talk about the Gamecocks without being crucified.

When it comes to music, it’s like people don’t gravitate toward it. And the music’s there. There’s tons of dope artists. I think people have to learn how to work together or how to build a team. That’s probably the hardest thing. I was talking with (producer) MIDI Marc, the rappers with the big teams that can get radio, can get shows are the wack rappers. It’s like anybody good comes around, nobody wants to help out that guy. It’s because he’s competition. With South Carolina, I think everybody wants to be the first.

Will there ever be a first? I’m pretty sure people are ready to hear South Carolina music because we’re an untapped market. We’ve broken so many artists that are popular now. We just won’t break our own artists.

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