in Uprok's open-mic night demonstrate their verbal skill, highlighting
the power of Salt Lake City's underground hip-hop scene.
do people think about when they think of Salt Lake City?
The pretty architecture? The returned missionaries? The breathtaking
and majestic Wasatch Mountains? Or do they think of dropping a phatty-bom-batty
beat while making fun of your overweight mother in rhyming couplets?
For some, it’s the former. But for the select few who frequent
Uprok Records and DJ at the best parties, Salt Lake City is a breeding
ground for purveyors of crazy beats and wicked rhymes.
the history of hip-hop music is not unlike describing the history
of America. The best and easiest way to do it is to list the names
of the people that shaped the style into what it is today. The Forefathers:
Kurtis Blow. GrandMaster Flash and the Furious Five. The Sugarhill
Gang. There are also the ones who broke barriers, who took what
was once “just a fad” off of the disco stage and made
it in to something new and exciting: NWA. Public Enemy. Run-DMC.
The Beastie Boys. There are those who added organic beats and mixed
jazz elements into the equation, turning hip hop into an art form:
A Tribe Called Quest. The Roots. Digable Planets. There are even
those who have added sex and violence to the mix, making records
that you have to hide from your parents: Ice T. 2 Live Crew. Black
Now meet the next generation of hip hop. They come from your own
The Salt Lake City underground hip hop scene has been growing with
amazing speed in the last few years—and word on the street
is that our tiny town is about to explode onto the international
stage. This week, RED takes a look at some of the up-and-comers
that are ready to take the city and the country—and maybe
even the world—by storm.
Coffee (Undergrounds in the phone book) is a small coffee shop with
generally no more than a half-dozen customers at any given moment.
All the makings of an SLC coffee shop are here: local art on the
walls and randomly strewn chairs and couches. Peaches, an Undagroundz
barista, plays with her baby girl Mya on one of the two couches
in the store. She escaped the temptations of Southern California
for the mountains of northern Utah. “California made me into
a bad person,” Peaches said. “I moved out here because
of my dad…Now I live with my little one here.”
The details of the store make the place unique. There are the two
turntables by the front window waiting to be tickled, touched and
scratched. There are the pool table, arcade games and entertainment
center open to all who want to do more here than just drink coffee.
And, of course, there are the beats emanating from Uprok, the hip-hop
CD and vinyl store adjacent to the coffee shop. Welcome to the epicenter
of the underground hip hop scene in Salt Lake City. This is hip
It is here that many of the best and brightest local acts congregate
to network and celebrate the burgeoning scene. Here is a sampling
of perspectives from some of those talented groups.
HeaDriftaz consists of J-Stench (DJ), Form (emcee), Steezy (producer/emcee)
and B-Minor (emcee). The group has been together for close to four
years. Steezy and Form were high school buddies and at a different
high school, J-Stench and B-Minor were also buddies. They met through
mutual friends and have stayed together thanks to their common love
of hip hop. The group can often be seen at Brick’s, Lazy Moon,
Club Manhattan, Urban Lounge and Zephyr Club.
Form, by far the easiest member to reach, lists as his influences
some of the biggest names in rap—NWA, Wu-Tang, Jay-Z and Biggie—and
some groups you may have never heard—The Beatnuts, Big L and
Brand Nubian, for example. The sounds from these groups come through
clearly in Form’s music (which can be heard on MP3.com), as
is true for any burgeoning emcee who listened to such influential
pioneers. As far as local acts are concerned, Form lists some of
the best and brightest of his peers. “My favorite locals are
Brisk, The Agents, Foekus, Enee-1, Sam I Am and of course myself
“Anyone who wants to have a good time and hear some live hip
hop should come see us,” said Form. “Basically because
we get live and have fun.”
Under his alias, The 45 Felon, Form has supported the Salt Lake
City hip hop scene by making mix tapes of the various underground
groups—and he isn’t shy about putting his own cuts on
there as well. He pushes these CDs as KNOWONEKNOWS and gives them
out to friends and fans at local shows. (One of his favorites was
Sam I Am, after all.)
Right now, KNOWONEKNOWS is up to Volume 12—although it’s
only the 10th CD. “I did one through eight and started doing
evens for some reason—eight, 10, 12, etc. Volume 12 was released
as a compilation of nothing but local artists. We got my boy Fancee
Free, Concise, Steezy, Real Eyes and of course I had four solo tracks
on there, too. Volume 14 will have more exclusive tracks from me
and my crew, but we'll be introducing a couple new producers—and
the studio has recently been remodeled so it's gonna be real nice!
The love from the hip hop scene in Salt Lake City has also been
a significant motivator for Form’s music. “Yeah, [HeaDriftaz]
definitely get a lot of love from the scene here. We’ve had
some cool opportunities to open for groups like Mystic Journeyman,
Ghostface Killah and Raekwon from Wu-Tang. Every so often I hear
about a shout out from [local hip-hop and R&B radio station]
U92. Foeknawledge will always give us a shout out to any show he’s
doin.’ The Agents and Expression show love, too.”
Form may get love from a lot of local acts, but he’s willing
to give love, too. He ended the interview giving big ups to “Steezy
Wondah, Finale, Brisk, all of Netweight Records, threesixfive records,
The 45 Felon [yes, himself] at Right Hook Music, Fancee, Utahgraffiti.com,
Draztikbeatz.net, Uprok, and anyone else holdin' it down! PEACE!!!”
Agents, made up of Facts, Everest and Illumino, are Salt Lake City’s
premier hip-hop group. This status was cemented when they won this
year’s SLAMMy Award (City Weekly’s annual award for
the local arts) for Best Hip Hop group. Facts, one of the emcees
in The Agents (which also include fellow agents Everest and Illumino)
called winning the award “surprising.” He said, “Just
because we’re not technically from Salt Lake City and we don’t
have as much of a name as some of the other acts might, I was surprised
we got the votes to win it.”
Everest was equally stunned and happy about the win, calling it
“Crazy. Plus, we got a shiny trophy.”
The Agents has been a group since 1997 when its members met at a
Numbs show through mutual friends. With their love for similar flavors
of hip hop (all three cited A Tribe Called Quest and The Numbs as
big influences), the three emcees seemed like naturals. “We
just had the same vibe as far as music,” said Illumino. Everest
gives a slightly different reason for the group’s formation.
“They were the only rappers I thought were good.”
The Agents have played numerous shows at Urban Lounge and the Lazy
Moon and also at Muse Music in Provo. The group also released its
debut CD, The Long Road Times Up, this past June, was part of a
record compilation last year called The Idiots and is currently
working on new songs for a 12” single.
The Agents have quite a few upcoming plans. The group’s new
Web site, agentshiphop.com, is scheduled to be up at the end of
As far as the hip-hop scene in Salt Lake City is concerned, the
response from The Agents is positive. “For sure the emcees
and other groups [show us love,]” said Illumino. “Sometimes
the crowds are harder to pull with all the competition with the
SLC night life.” Facts concurred: “SLC always shows
us love.” It’s this kind of love and support that drives
the hip-hop scene in Salt Lake City, and makes the emcees here a
generally down-to-earth and affable bunch.
“Cop our album at Uprok Records or get at me for a copy [at]
email@example.com,” Facts said. “Just keep supporting
the local music scene, y’all.”
Illumino ended the interview with a rallying call for his fellow
rhymesayers. “Let’s unify the local scene!”
Hip Hop from The Filthy Unit
Salt Lake City has a lot of secrets. Between the construction
signs and the bright white streets, beneath the gaze of smarmy
tourists and the glaze of Latter-day charm, there are enough
nooks and crannies to hide crime, grime and in some cases,
Just north of State Street, pawn shop prime, on the west side
of the road between 300 and 400 South, there’s a big
boldface black-and-white sign that says “UPROK,”
squeezed in between the graffiti and the homeless vets. Outside
Uprok, I first found the core members of The Filthy Unit,
Salt Lake City’s best-kept bright new hip-hop secret.
“DJ Cool Kel Love: A Bad Motherfucker,” The Filthy
Unit’s DJ introduced himself over the phone using his
regal full title. He is the proud owner of Uprok, now in its
fifth year. “I’m not rich, but it’s a whole,
whole lot of fun,” he admitted amiably. On Oct. 13,
2003, Kel was voted City Weekly’s favorite DJ for 2003.
He’s Red Bull’s official DJ. His backbeats for
the group are smooth, cognizant, complex and fresh. “Kel
does a lot for the hip hop community, and he likes long walks
off short piers just to get his feet wet,” mused one
trippy Mike Boothe, The Filthy Unit’s emcee and engineer.
”He single-handedly holds this city’s hip-hop
community together,” chimed in loyal Pig Pen, the Circle
What the hell is The Filthy Unit? “The best fucking
thing to happen to Utah since Joseph Smith,” offered
Boothe. Boothe was the founding father, so to speak, of the
crew. The group met and hit it off beautifully at an open-mic
night (every Friday night at Undagroundz). Once the initial
ice was broken, the ragtag lineup of emcees just tumbled together
naturally, with Kel Love as the sturdy skill set foundation.
“My unit’s really not that filthy,” Pig
Pen stated for the record. Mike Boothe, Pig Pen, Abnorml and
Task are the four core emcees who take turns laying down rhymes
and spitting cutting insults at each other whenever there’s
a microphone available. Boothe hooked me up with a demo copy
of their album straightaway. The licks I was privileged to
sample were not the radio pop hop I’m used to hearing
banged out on demo discs all over the valley. Instead, the
majority of the project is fresh, chill and ripe with potential
Each filthy emcee has his own distinctive and unusual style.
Complementary in contrast, they trade and toss rhymes at each
other like Frisbees and make it seem easy, casual and effortless.
It’s fairly obvious to any ear that Abnorml has been
freestyling hip hop long enough to learn the language—and
he’s just a whippersnapper, 18 years young. He started
flowing hip-hop rhymes when he was 14, after he met Kel. “When
I started out, I was all bumpin’ that mainstream shit,”
he admits. “Like Jay-Z, that kind of shit. I didn’t
get into underground hip hop until I moved here to SLC.”
And who would ever have thought that the hip-hop scene of
Salt Lake City, Utah could save sidetracked souls from the
siren’s song of mainstream pop-hip-hop plastic bunk?
Pig Pen, The Circle Jerk is too charming and affable for his
title. “We do dirty hip hop. That’s why they call
me Pig Pen—’cause I’m a dirty writer. That’s
what makes me a circle jerk.”
Still, I’ve been slowly exposed to his flows and his
rosy prose, and The Circle Jerk isn’t a real jerky jerk.
He takes his shots like any cocky emcee, but for the most
part his vocals are butterscotch. Although he’s just
as Utah as you and me and your mom, Pig Pen manages to let
a little Brooklyn leak into his voice, not just on stage but
also in casual conversation. Perhaps it’s because the
inadvertent result of overdosing on East Coast hip hop; possibly,
a self image concept manifesting itself. Most likely, he just
knows how dang sexy and hip it makes him sound.
Evidently, Abnorml and Pig Pen, The Circle Jerk go way back.
They bitch at each other like an old married couple. But that’s
how all the Unit interacts. Mostly it’s just funny and
harmlessly juvenile. Sometimes they’re vicious, verbally
clubbing each other down, maybe in pursuit of the alpha emcee
title. After getting to know the Unit, I still can’t
help but look at Boothe as the unofficial leader of the pack.
He is enthusiastic, driven and wound tighter than a spring.
So far, all that I’ve seen of his day-to-day life—from
the way he moves or walks sometimes to the way he spits rhymes
like sunflower seeds—belts out “hip-hop boy”
like a war cry.
The smart-assed, smug, sharp and self-righteous mentality
that he wears like a broad-brimmed hat is crystallized and
made into what sometimes turns out as brilliant art, the moment
he steps behind a microphone. He experiments with unexplored
altitudes of death-defying internal rhyme scheme and mad-flowing
speed. He has balls. With slim to no chiding he was talked
into freestyling an impromptu bit in front of Uprok. The flow
wasn’t impressive, but it was heartfelt.
The last emcee to introduce himself to the invasive journalist,
Task could easily be mistaken for just another lanky, anti-social
average-looking city kid with a bit of hip-hop-stylized flair
to him. Then, when he opens his mouth, he brings us bread
and butter for the beat-driven soul. In person he is a relatively
reserved kid, at least in comparison to the rest of The Filthy
Unit. Behind the microphone, he tends to transform into one
sharp-tongued vicious emcee.
“Growing up in the Sandy-Little Cottonwood area, we
had a little scene where kids would come and kick rhymes.
The Uprok kids were always the best, always seen as intimidating,”
said Task. Unlike most young hip hop musicians, Task skipped
the mainstream hullabaloo phase. “I just never really
liked that…stuff,” he shrugged. Instead he dove
directly into the scene’s holy heart, finding his place
at local house parties, in the spotlight behind the mic. Two
weekends ago, Task and Abnorml cleaned out the Unite Battles,
held annually at the Kiwanis Club on 900 East. Task took first,
These boys aren’t just fooling around—they take
the whole scene almost too seriously. They record once a week,
every week, affiliated at present with Sleestack Records.
They’re constantly promoting, playing out, performing
more or less anywhere and everywhere they can. It’s
rare in a scene so small and unpretentious to see such dedication
and genuine, self-motivated hard work. The Filthy Unit’s
album is a worthwhile slow work in progress. It should be
available for purchase by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, the group members will continue to dominate the
microphone whenever possible. Catch them at Bourbon Street
on Wednesday Nights for “Humpin’ Wax and Throwbacks
Wednesdays”—or of course at Undagroundz, where
they sling coffee and, on Friday nights, trade brutal, sick
rhymes. The first Friday of every month, Undagroundz is a
host to rap battles of all walks—“Raw-dog-dirty
mo’fuckin’ hip-hop, man,” is how Boothe
put it—and the group has tour dates lined up for a month
of Sundays. See them and Kanser on Oct. 25 at Undagroundz,
(344 S. State Street). See them again at Brick’s (579
W. 200 South) on Nov. 15. You can track bits and pieces of
their gorgeous progress on UtahGraffiti.com. Or you could
put on your I Am Not Afraid Hat and stroll up State to Uprok
once in a while—eventually, you’re bound to run
into something good.