Written by Bryant “Toneyboi” Toney
Title Design by Drew Brown
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Growing up, my parents took me to scores of free, outdoor summer concerts. I was exposed to a wealth of great bands, DJ’s and as a teen, independently explored Buffalo’s music landscape. When there were so many music genres to enjoy in every corner of the city, I was captivated by the city’s emerging, underground hip hop scene. This urban, tenacious society of courageous artists thrived under the radar for many years supported by a loyal, wide-ranging following.
Negative stereotypes associated with rap and hip hop culture – violence, drugs, money and misogyny – are pervasive and have powerful consequences.
As a result, only a handful of performance venues hosted shows when I was coming up in the 2000s. Sound Lab, Club Sensationz and Icon downtown, and Broadway Joe’s in University were popular hot spots where local rappers and DJs celebrated our influential art form. Broadway Joe’s would host so many hip hip concerts with people of all backgrounds, and despite the stereotypes, their crowds were safe, and shows went out without conflict. The Vault Art Gallery in Downtown Buffalo ,managed by Kevin Cain was another one of those venues that went out of its way to provide many emerging rappers with a stage to shine.
Sadly, most of Buffalo ignored this growing movement, and that was a costly mistake. Hip hop now generates more than $10 billion per year worldwide and has moved beyond its musical roots, transforming into a dominant and increasingly lucrative lifestyle. Now that Griselda Records has had nationwide success coming out of Buffalo, how is it that we still lack home support? Milkie’s, Town Ballroom and Mohawk Place are the only venues left willing to host Hip Hop, which has made it hard for our artists to put their talent on display and reach their potential.
Can Buffalo recover its losses? Can it transform into a major music hub like Atlanta or St. Louis? Can we compete with the talent coming out of fellow rustbelt cities like Detroit and Cleveland?
If they can produce nationally acclaimed artists, why can’t we? Western New York earned a lot of recognition over the last few years thanks to artists like Westside Gunn, Pounds, Quadir Lateef and more, but what are we doing to sustain that recognition and cultivate more new artists?
I spoke with a few seasoned rappers and DJs that made their mark on this city and its scene:
DJ Rukkus of Rebel Radio 716
With 18 years of work in Buffalo’s music scene as a DJ and Producer, Rukkus is an authority on our region’s scene. Tune into RebelRadio716.com where DJ Rukkus runs a 24/7 radio station that features mostly Buffalo and Rochester hip hop.
“Losing larger spaces like Icon and Club Sensationz hindered bringing in more national acts. One of my best memories was spinning during a Ghostface Killah show at the Icon, and getting complimented by Ghostface.
“Club Sensationz is now a high end, downtown loft; the Icon has been gated for as long as I can remember. Who knows what the scene would have been if they were still around. Why did these places close?
“It would be nice if there was a good, dedicated venue that supported hip hop shows.”
“Buffalo and Rochester lost numerous venues over the past few years, impacting many. We are relatively small compared to larger markets. We have a lot of talent but need a few more signings before we can compete with those hubs.
“It’s more exciting than ever with the national spotlight finally being turned on Buffalo and Rochester. We all thought that would never happen. Newer artists are coming up. Hopefully those that have had some degree of success will pay it forward and help other artists, and as Rebel Radio 716 grows, we hope to continue to track all the excitement.”
Emcee and producer Short Moscato has been seeded in the Buffalo hip hop landscape since 2011 starting as a solo act in what we local rappers proclaim the ‘Sound Lab Era’. Short is one-third of the hip hop powerhouse 14 Trapdoors, alongside Bendyface and WZA. Thanks in part to the success of Short’s solo projects – The Colour of Air & My First Pair of Slippers – some of the most notable hip hop blogs worldwide like The Source and Mass Appeal are documenting our local energy.
“Early on, the shows at Sound Lab (RIP) while I was a member of Koolie High definitely stand out as some of my greatest memories. More recently, dropping two well-received solo projects has been a whole lot of fun and hard work.
“There’s a bunch of talent and good folks around. I fuck with the multitude of ‘sounds’ in Buffalo. You can’t put your finger on one thing, one type of hip hop that defines us. The only thing holding back hip hop around here is the common apprehension towards our culture by performance venues and most of the press.”
“But… we throw our own festivals, market ourselves… they can’t hold back what we create, so fuck ‘em!”
“People come and go, trends come and go and venues that support us come and go. Artists that endure have resilience and staying power. We have just as much diversity, creativity, and style as any city in the world. Our music is just as good.”
One-fourth of rap camp Ooze Gang, Skate is also a part of Buffalo’s legendary rap group Koolie High. He’s been around since 2010 rapping with his brothers Gaine$ and me, taking the city by storm by adding elite emcees to the collective, putting on amazing shows. You can find Ooze Gangs new project Lord of the Slimes on all streaming platforms.
“When we first started, there wasn’t a scene. There was us (Koolie High), First Class and bunch of hip hop OG’s, but there was still divisiveness. This gap has made it difficult for some performers to bridge. The founding artists didn’t want to pass the torch, the younger ones didn’t want to follow. It’s hard if the powers that be don’t allow us to perform, and space is limited. A lot of people have come here from other cities to steal shit creatively. We need consistency and camaraderie among artists. Fast forward nearly a decade later, it’s a renaissance of love and vibes. People are waking up.
“We had some great memories at Sound Lab. They let us grow into artists. Now, when we perform at the Town Ballroom, we get recognized. I enjoy when younger rappers invite me to their shows. They’ve grown taking notes on our mistakes. Their music is totally different, but these kids get the bigger picture of supporting each other. Right now the scene is in a good place, more artists are trying to get a piece of the pie, but it’s definitely in a good place.
“We just need to make our mark, have the opportunity to show our work.”
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A growing, national spotlight on Buffalo’s hip hop industry has inspired many new artists while reinvigorating the veterans. When asked about the sustainability of hip hop over the next decade, “WE WILL MAKE IT!,” proclaims Skate. “Pay attention, stay tuned. Consistency and camaraderie, the finish line is right there. We’re all up next.”
As a hip hopper, performance venues and overall support are two of our greatest needs. So accept what we do, give us a chance to show it off. It’s time to start the real Renaissance.
Bryant “ToneyBoi” Toney is a local hip hop artist, promoter and sound engineer. His latest album, Ugly Luxury, is available now on Bandcamp.com