Grand Rapids, MI Hip Hop History
This is living online documentation of Grand Rapids, MI Hip Hop history. Historical content will be added as it is shared with grhiphop.org
Historical account of TMF Cloak / NXICON (5/26/22)
I moved back to Grand Rapids in 1987 after being released from probation in Lansing. I was already into music by then having performed for the then governor of Lansing and at various festivals in and around Lansing. By the time I came back to Grand Rapids, I was going by the name of The Gangster Prince and had hooked up with a DJ/Beatboxer, Roosevelt Brown aka DJ Rose. He was a part of another group. I can’t remember what they were called but it was him, Michael Bray, Will Russau and Tina Patterson. I became a part of that group but too many issues kept us from moving forward so the group disbanded. DJ Rose and I stayed together and began going to Stockbridge Studios off of Leonard around 1989-1991. That was where I first started recording my demos. I was staying on Delaware at the time at my grandmother’s . Vito and Freeze stayed around the corner on Watkins. I came across Vito first. I think it was at a performance when they were known as EURO-K. At that time Robert S had came out with Big Words and they had I think, Wild Thing. I got to know Robert S because my cousin and his sisters were and still are lifelong friends. At the time, I was still getting the feel of the studios and recording. Up until that point everything was freestyles, rap battles, and live performances. There weren’t that many people really out there like that at the time doing rap. There was LONDEN E (Donnell Adkinson RIP) and BROOKLYN VON SHADE (Gerald Cage) of The LYF SUX POSSE (LSP) and there was a female group called CLECHE’ that sang mostly. There was Janice Brown. I don’t remember her stage name but we formed a group (short-lived) called BASSHEADs and then she became apart of another group. I want to say they were called PROPHECY and they released a single on KJ RECORDS.
The biggest thing out of Grand Rapids at the time were DeBarge and The Red Hot Chili Peppers. Even after I moved back to Grand Rapids, most of my rap battles were outside of the city. Grand Rapids really wasn’t battle rap city to me. Grand rapids was on a whole other level as far as that went. We all tried to collaborate. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. But there was never, to my knowledge, any REAL rap beefs in Grand Rapids. Everybody found their lane and that’s pretty much where you were.
I came across WEHB and The Other Brothers around 1989 and that was where things started to take off radio wise. I was performing in various spots around Grand Rapids. The old Intersection was my first club performance. Then I performed at another club where I was the opening act for a Rock band called THE NAMELESS. At that time Hip Hop was really just coming into Fruition in Grand Rapids. Not a lot of venues were open to booking rap at that time. If you got a venue to book you, that was a big thing.
So I would say that Robert S and EURO-K were the trailblazers as far as rap and hip hop in Grand Rapids. ICEMAN JA (John Trice) was coming up with DANCE TRANSFORMER within the Miami bass movement. Robert S was on EPIC and EURO-K was signed to Profile. So they really became the go to for a sense of direction, advice, and insight. The rest of us were trying to get to that point. The biggest problem then was EGO. We may not all have been able to work together but we did support each other. That’s what made Vito different in my book. He always answered the questions. Always willing to teach. Always willing to listen. That was where I learned about beat programming. There were so many people trying to do music in Grand Rapids but nobody really put that much into it as they should have. That’s what I remember. There were so many that could have been great but now they’re nameless faces of the industry.
DJ Mikey Mike and Franky J were the hottest DJs in Grand rapids on WEHB 89.9. To me WKWM was their only rival. They broke a lot of new and independent artists that WKWM ignored. But once your star shined on WEHB then WKWM wanted you on their station. They played everything I recorded and because of them, I started gaining some notoriety. You had Ben Mcgliechy and Emmanuel “Mackaroni” Davis (RIP) throwing events and trying to help out artists but those artists were flash in the pans, that is, here today gone tomorrow artists. A lot of them fell off with the Grand Rapids Arts Festival. They wanted to perform as they recorded and if anybody knows Grand Rapids, especially if you’re born and raised GR, you know they are not having it. So a lot of potentially great artists limited themselves by not wanting to alter their lyrics for the audiences. I even pushed the envelope at the time because I wrote and performed a song at the festival intentionally directed at two GRPD officers that had harassed me. I intentionally mentioned their names in the song and pointed them out at the festival because they had shown up there. That was in 1992 or 1993.
There were the house parties that The OTHER BROS threw on the weekend that gave artists a place to have fun and bless the mic. There were no shootings. There may be a fight here or there but it was never anything major and the beefs never lasted or got anybody killed.
I’d say around 1990 or so, Robert S and his DJ Diego did production on my first OFFICIAL demo song called “UNKNOWN FACTOR” and introduced me to ROB REISTER of FAST TRAX Studios in Jenison. I was experimenting with sampling then and Robert was the guy at that time for that. Because of the sampling issue, though, I couldn’t push the music like I wanted to. I still continued to perform live. After that, I moved on to continue recording and producing and continued working with THE OTHER BROTHERS. Because of them a lot of people were noticed. Through them I was introduced to Mackaroni and Ben who had heard about me and eventually got to see me perform through STAR CONNECTION.
Jim Krews ‘The Spoon Man’ and Star Connection was a talent agency in Grand Rapids. Jim Krewsinki played the spoons but also worked as a booking agent for other talents. To my knowledge, I was the only rap artist affiliated with his agency. Working for him got me traveling to various cities. He opened a lot of doors for me which led me to Mackaroni and Ben. Mackaroni introduced me to PRICE WEST who was just starting KJ RECORDS. That was where I met Janice. We were the first two artists that Mr. West signed to his label. My signing made the GRAND RAPIDS TIMES. It was through KJ RECORDS that my album DO OR DIE was released under TMF CLOAK.
People can say what they want but Grand Rapids had and still has some bona fide talent. But the history of it has to be understood with ALL of the people that made it possible. Not Just Robert S and EURO K but ICEMAN JA, Eric Smith of Stockbridge Studios, Rob Reister, Red Eye Studios on Eastern Ave (I was recording at Red Eye Studios the day that 2PAC died in 1996), LSP, LESTER KEY of OFFBEAT Productions, the Londens and Brooklyns of Grand Rapids, and others. No not all of us made it big but we all contributed to the hip hop movement. The Grand Rapids Arts Festival was where it was at. Everybody keeps saying Detroit this and Detroit that and I’m not knocking or hating on Detroit but there was just as much if not more talent in Grand Rapids at that time. The problem was that the major labels always wanted you to claim Detroit as your base even if it wasn’t and a lot of us took the bait.
No, Grand rapids wasn’t a Hip-Hop Mecca but it still earned its place and it was OUR Hip-Hop Mecca. We had a camaraderie unlike any other because we supported and stood by each other. You rarely in those days heard of anybody beefing in music. If there was it was extremely minor because it was always about the music. We may have had street beefs because of the click that ran around but this was outside of the music. People that left always came back. It was all love. No jealousy. No animosities that I ever saw or encountered. From East Grand Rapids to Wyoming and beyond. We all had the music in common and simply wanted it to grow, to be accepted, and to be recognized for our contributions to it. We all represented Grand Rapids in our own way and it showed. Constantly and consistently.
- TMF Cloak / NXICON
History of Grand Rapids Hip Hop pt. 2
All the rich characters, events and music that helped shape what became and is becoming Grand Rapids HipHop. May 15th, 2017 include some of the 2nd/3rd generation hiphoppas on a panel which includes artists that were on the fringe of the 2nd generation 86/87 of GR Hiphop and those who kicked in the door on the 3rd generation 96/97 of GR HipHop.
This series, brought to you by Wealthy Theatre, The Wege Foundation, Grand Rapids HipHop Coalition and The Love Movement Inc.(Official HipHop Non Profit), will be ongoing, generation by generation as we are filming each episode for an official History of Grand Rapids HipHop documentary.
James (Jumbo) Owens
Troy (Ceaser) Braden
Tychuis (Shorty TY) Martin
Will (Raw G) Grandson
Will (DJ Rush Da Guillotine) Blackmon
Jimaine (SixMan) Wilson
Charles (Pofani) Ambrose,
Maurice (Izy Dope) Scott
With a special keynote address from Minister Server.
May 15th, 2017
Video Production by
Wealthy Theatre & GRTV