Art, Drugs and Kids: Getting To Know the Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Scene
There’s movement in the hip-hop scene of the upper Ohio Valley. In fact, there’s an actual hip-hop movement organizers are calling “The Movement.” It’s all about lifting up hip-hop artists, and one of its latest efforts to unite and celebrate the scene is the first annual Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Awards. A diverse pool of artists are contributing, and working hard to be be heard.
A Cypher: Pass the mic.
In preparation for the Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Awards, artists came to a studio in East Wheeling to record a cypher. Many artists, including those nominated for various awards, took turns passing the mic, demonstrating rapping skills. Each artist’s verse was recorded and later used to promote the award ceremony through social media channels.
“This is THE studio, Future Entertainment. You can ask around, everybody who has recorded anything or tried to do local music has been in this studio,” said Claudell Whetstone, one of the sound engineers helping to record and mix the cypher. He’s 34 years old and remembers building the studio in East Wheeling in the early 2000s.
Claudell Whetstone is one of the major movers in what is referred to as The Movement in the Ohio Valley. He was also one of the judges for the Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Awards. He says the best hip-hop today can’t be found on the radio or TV, and the cypher and the award ceremony are ways to shine light on talent that’s deep underground here.
Shanne Gain: 'I grew up surrounded by drugs.'
Shanne Botizan, AKA Shanne Gain, was one of the artists participating in the cypher. He’s an Ohio Valley hip-hop artist who grew up here in the Northern Panhandle of West Virginia.
He says he raps honestly about his life. And it hasn’t been a charmed life. He remembers running through the streets of south Wheeling with a group of dozens of kids.
“It was actually horrible,” Shanne recalled. “When you found needles on the ground and people sleeping in the alley and stuff, but, if we all stuck together we were good.”
He says he started listening to rap music at the impressionable ages of 12 and 13.
“Kinda screwed my life up listening to it," he said. "Now I’m old. 30. It’s going by super-fast and I need to grab onto something now.”
When you meet Shanne, you meet an enthusiastic, hopeful and desperately positive person. He’s a man who clearly cares about his family and friends. But Shanne has had run-ins with the law. He raps about societal pressures and a life surrounded by drugs because he says that’s the world he was born into. His musical ambition is to give listeners goosebumps with his explicit, lyrical storytelling style.
Sliiiiick: 'I don’t know what I want to be, probably a brain surgeon.'
At the cypher recording session in Wheeling, Shanne was rapping next to a young man named Alex “Sliiiiick” Raymer. A very young man.
Alex "Sliiiiick" Raymer and his mom Claudia were at the cypher-recording session. Sliiiiick is on the autism spectrum, and she says when he took to writing and producing verses and wanted to be involved in the Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Awards, she wanted to do everything she could to support his passion.
Q: Tell me how you got interested in this. Sliiiiick: Well, it just sparked my interest in this a little bit. I can’t exactly recall how I got interested. Ask me for any advice that I can say or something! Q: Yeah, go ahead. What advice do you have? Sliiiiick: Speak clearly! Go at a medium pace. Q: So is this something you definitely want to do? You want to be a rapper when you grow up? Sliiiiick: Maybe. I could be a cartoonist, I don’t know. I’m shifting around with my interests. I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. Probably a brain surgeon or something.
Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Awards: Meet Ron Scott Jr.
Whetstone, Sliiiiick, Shanne Gain (and everyone else) point to Ron Scott Jr. as the ring leader, founder of The Movement, and the organizer of the Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Awards.
“I thought, ‘What’s the best way to keep this genre and culture in the valley moving but to get a system where we could acknowledge, reward and encourage these artists to keep doing what they do,” Ron Scott Jr. said to a crowd of about 200 people who showed up for the award ceremony at the McClure Hotel in downtown Wheeling.
“Most of these artists that are being honored haven’t received a dime for doing these things that they love,” Scott said in an earlier interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting. “They’re spending their money and never getting recognized. They’re solely doing it because they love it. And nothing drives me more than giving somebody a little push toward something that they love doing.”
More than 19 artists were involved in the awards.
2016 Ohio Valley Hip-Hop Musical Award Winners:
- Artist of the Year – Ponce De'Leioun
- Best New Artist – Poetic Peth
- Duo or Group of the Year – YNC
- Hip Hop Pioneer award – Slick Watts
- Hip Hop Is Universal award – Alex "Sliiiiick" Raymer
- Video of the Year – "Music Is My Life"/LaRon
- Lyricist of the Year – Poetic Peth
- Best Album of the Year – Poetic Peth
Poetic Peth: 'My grandmother wrote poems.'
Josh Pethtel, AKA Poetic Peth, took three of the eight musical awards: best new artist, best lyricist, and best album. During the awards he thanked his grandmother for inspiring him.
“After my uncle passed away my grandmother would always write poems about him," Peth said in an interview with West Virginia Public Broadcasting after the awards. He said watching her use poetry to deal with hard times inspired him as a teenager. He started writing poems, then refining his poetry, then putting verses to beats.
“I didn’t take rap fully serious and understand my effect on people until last year," Peth said. "When I started to realize people are paying attention to what I have to say, I thought, let me put all seriousness into this craft and now I’m happier than ever and getting awards. It’s a trip.”
Chermayne Davis: 'A queen’s gonna shine.'
This is Chermayne Davis. (SheLovesBattlerap on twitter.) She lives across the river in Ohio and was among the members of the public who voted for Poetic Peth in this year’s hip hop awards.
“Here’s the reality. The hip-hop scene in the Ohio Valley is very much alive, it’s booming, it just needs a push from the area.”
“Hip-hop sometimes gets a bad wrap,” Davis said. “People don’t see it for the true art form that it is.”
Davis is also a hip-hop artist and has performed throughout the area. Her definition of the art extends beyond carefully crafted verses set to beats, beyond freestyle cyphers, and music videos. This is Chermayne performing improv spoken word poetry recently at the Towngate Theater in Wheeling.
“What this area would need is for the city to push it, the city to accept hip hop for what it is, to allow a light for this area that it hasn’t had yet. So that it can come together for the Josh Pethtel and Kelz, and the John Nice and just everyone who wants that upper step that shouldn’t have to leave where they’re from to get it from somewhere else.”