To the people that say true hip-hop is dying, it isn’t. You just have to know where to look. It’s not living on the radio airwaves, it’s not living on the billboard charts. It’s pulse can be felt at your open mic nights and in the home studios of local DJs. I am a huge fan of hip-hop, growing up in NY during the 80s and 90s there was no shortage of spectacular MCs. I was spoiled, put right in the middle of the golden age of hip-hop. Gone are the days when radio and MTV were inundated with the likes of Biggie, EPMD, Eric B. & Rakim, KRS-One, Big Daddy Kane, Nas, De La Soul, Tribe and any DJ Premier produced beat. I know that as time goes on, things grow and evolve; new blood and perspectives come in to play. No disrespect to the new artists, it’s just not the same for me, it has lost some of its soul, the beats have gone poppy and club or the tempos slowed down. It has gotten to be quantity over quality and flash over substance. But I digress, I’m not here to re-hash old memories and reminisce about the “good old days”. I am here to remind you that hip-hop is still alive and spitting fire. Go see for yourself.
I spent last Sunday evening with the Dunedin Lyricist Society, an ever-growing tight knit group of rappers and friends that spread the word of hip-hop on the mic. Rapper Jon “Ditty” Didier, the brainchild of this lyrical faction, brought his love and inspiration home to Dunedin, FL after being inspired by talented artists at a freestyle spot while attending school in Orlando. After 4 years of hard work and dedication, the hip-hop scene in Dunedin (which was non-existent prior to this, by the way) has carved out it’s own spot and it isn’t going anywhere. I was able to chat with Ditty for a few minutes and ask a few questions to get a better understanding of this passion of his.
Libro Musica: What is hip-hop to you?
Jon Ditty: I like the description of “it is building something out of nothing”. Ultimately, in this day and age everyone wants the newest gear and production equipment, etc. But at the end of the day, I can make hip-hop with my hands and my voice. And I think on a soapbox politician-style level, that means a lot. Because I can write something that is phenomenal that could be political, motivational or something that just needs to be said to the world, artistically. I can write it, and go out on the street and start rapping as loud as I want and people are going to hear it. But at the core, it’s the feat and something that you’re proud of where you can stand behind and say I made this and it started from nothing and I built it from nothing.
LM: What got you involved with hip-hop?
JD: *Laughs* I used to hate rap music with a passion, it was one of those things that I wasn’t exposing myself to the right kinds. And I think a lot of people similarly are anti-hip-hop, because obviously there is so much garbage that purveys the radio waves. And it’s kind of funny because I don’t necessarily consider that hip-hop. And I will say that a lot of the stuff back in the day I used to hate, but because I got involved and started understanding it, practicing it, I find a lot more to be acceptable to me. So basically it was a growth process, writing poetry and listening to more hip-hop groups and rap/rock groups and I decided that I wanted to start rhyming and the more and more I delved into it, the more it just got out of hand.
LM: What is your process for writing music, beats first or words first?
JD: Beats first usually, I really like as much of my stuff to be densely lyrical. It always helps me having the music first to be able to, cadence-wise, find something that really vibes well with the beat rhythmically versus just writing to a metronome and then trying to build a beat around it.
LM: Are there any local artists up and coming that people should know about?
JD: They are involved here tonight, I tend to throw people on the bill who I think deserve to be heard. Dea & Saint are progressing amazingly, they’re from St. Petersburg, FL. They initially started as a duo using backing tracks, and now they are playing with a live band. I’ve been a fan of BC for a long time, formerly of Red Tide, he is now the host of WMNF Community Radio’s Hip Hop Flavors show. My buddy Jeremy, who goes by “Foundation-FNDTN” and DJ Hurley, who are performing tonight, they’re really working on some great music together.
LM: And finally, who’s on your top list for top 5 hip-hop artists of all time?
JD: Wow, a ridiculously hard question for me to answer, but Aesop Rock would be on there, I’m a huge Outkast fan. Aceyalone is amazing, it’s hard to give a definitive answer on this one. But those are 3 big ones for me.
During the show there were many energetic performances. It all started off with a freestyle set, where the rappers had a minute to rhyme and then pass the mic to the next rapper. This is a common theme with the DLS, come to freestyle. But, since this was the 4th anniversary show, there were some special planned performances to highlight the night from Infinite Skillz, Irv The Villain, and Sean Shakespeare. There was a Mouth Council session, engineered by Billy Mays III, where he creates a simple beat and passes the mic to people within the group; they add a sound and he incorporates that into the loop, creating a unique rhythm for the contributors to rap to. My favorite segment of the night was an intimate acoustic performance by Dea & Saint, backed by a live band. There was no glitz or glamour, just an emotional and gritty performance produced from the heart.
By the end of the evening, I must say I was blown away. And not just from the amount of the talent in the building, but from the atmosphere. The spirited but friendly competition trading blow after lyrical blow left a dizzying effect on me. Egos were checked at the door and there was no judgment. The love and support that these artists had for each other was amazing. Much respect to the participants who walked up on that stage, regardless of skill, and just had fun. In the end, you got to do what you love.