There is something happening in Los Angeles. Of course there are all kinds of music deals being made, and music careers being made, and doors being open and shut in the great big game of music business. But outside of the rigamarole that most of the nation recognises as music-at-large there is a group of artists behaving peculiarly.

What they're doing isn't new or novel, because all they're doing is using a highly refined craft informed by their unique experiences to render new experiences. That has been around as long as humans have been painting on caves. And further, these guys aren't new. This isn't the revelation of some previously unheralded group of titans with cosigns from the upper echelons of music cred. Although these guys likely get praise from the upper echelons in private (or get ripped off by them), they're not the type to be paraded through the music industry machinations that churn out big time commercial success.

No. These artists might have more in common with ECM than TDE. At a recent screening of Chewing Busdriver exclaimed, "We are the anti-brand." And to understand the work of the Hellfyre Collective is to see that being out of sync with the standards is central. They don't figure out a way to work in the given system and modify their art to fit in hopes of currying industry favours. They know what they want to do, and decide how to make it happen. It's a slight distinction, but it makes a world of difference in the world of art. Busdriver, Milo, Nocando, and Open Mike Eagle were the central figures of the Chewing documentary, but they're part of a longstanding hip-hop scene in Los Angeles that is being cast in a new light as technology, art, and society shift into a new era.

With direct ties to Project Blowed, these are artists whose place in hip-hop influenced hip-hop as we know it, and defined what it means to rap and be a rapper. However, their place in the common history of hip-hop is more so scant and rarified than regarded and revered. Until the relatively-recent release of This is The Life it was nearly impossible to know how influential Los Angeles' underground rap scene was without asking someone who could tell you. And even then, it was limited by what this person knew of Project Blowed and what happened there. With the exception of people like Busdriver who were actually a part of Project Blowed, no one else could really know the story. Project Blowed's place was definite and irrefutable within the underground rap message boards of the early internet, but those accounts were insular, they didn't commingle with popular media the way blogs do, and they were not complete. Without the relatively recent advancements of technology that allowed for culture to disseminate so readily, so freely, and so widely it was difficult for people to fathom a Los Angeles rap scene that didn't involve major labels.

The value of what's happening via Hellfyre is not that it's flashy and catchy, and easy to sing along to, and easy to ignore the vocals because you just like the beats. What's happening in Los Angeles is not the result of views, PR, contracts, publishing, or anything else that sustains the business end of music. What's happening in Los Angeles is the result of everything that sustains the artistic end of music. What's happening in Los Angeles is artist being fearless artists driven by their art. That's why I made the comparison to ECM earlier. ECM was not just a hugely influential jazz label. It was the work of an artist whose vision was so astute it came to be synonymous with Jazz itself. What is happening in Los Angeles is not just another local US rap scene blossoming on the internet.

What's happening in Los Angeles is the result of an ongoing local scene of enormous import being revealed for the first time via the internet. This is not the work of artists who picked up rapping in the last 5 years, or even the last ten. In whole, this scene is defined by the work of artists with 15 years, 20 years, or even more invested in rapping here. And this scene is about the fundamentals of creating hip-hop, it cultivates the dynamic skill set that renders the kind of immediate art that defines hip-hop. You've got dudes who are revered for being brilliant poetic artists participating in battles. And that means there aren't a bunch of rappers all offering their version of one style.

There are a bunch of rappers implicitly challenging each other to always be evolving and adapting to the times, the trends, the expectations, and the freedoms that come with making rap music. The result is a group of artists whose craft is highly refined, and whose work reflects all walks of life, all manners of existing, and generally mirrors the vibrance of life on earth rather than tracing some paltry element of it ad nauseam until everyone moves on to a another trend. Stay tuned over the coming weeks for some more in depth accounts of the myriad wonders of some of Hellfyre Club's members.

Hellfyre Club: Bandcanp / Twitter / Facebook


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