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Up & Coming: Five high school rappers take a new approach to classic hip-hop

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Up & Coming: Five high school rappers take a new approach to classic hip-hop

Olivia Brotzge

Olivia Brotzge

Olivia Brotzge

Mattie Townson and Olivia Brotzge

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→ The last couple of decades have seen a major shift in the accessibility of the music industry, and for young artists, this means that they must try harder to get the public’s attention. By tracking artists’ social media following and online hits, Next Big Sound, a music analytics website and Pandora affiliate, determined that 91% of all artists remain undiscovered. With the larger pool of potential artists flooding social media and Soundcloud, those who offer new qualities are more likely to be rewarded. Trash Colony, a local hip-hop group comprised of five local high school sophomores, found an approach that resonated with teens, and it landed them their first show on Dec. 23.

On that day, dressed in a velvet blazer topped off with an Egyptian pharaoh headdress, “Winston Griim,” the alter ego of Mateo Sollano (16) from duPont Manual High School, only needed one more element to complete his performance ensemble. He reached towards the backseat of his mother’s SUV, where the final touch laid, the skeleton mask that separated his everyday life from his hip-hop career and kept his identity hidden. As Griim got closer to the venue, he started to pick at his already short nails and frantically chip away at the leftover performance makeup caking his palms.

“You all right, Griim?” said “Vincent Verrgo,” the character of Manual sophomore Alex Amaya (16), dressed in a hoodie with his mask already on. His mask covered his entire face, detailed with a simple asymmetrical “V.”  

Sollano responded with a large toothy grin and a wicked cackle. The Griim persona was starting to shine through.

The members of Trash Colony wanted to take a theatrical approach to differentiate their performances from other rappers in the local hip-hop scene. Each member has a character and a name. Verrgo was inspired from the double “V” names in Quentin Tarantino movies and Griim from his favorite character in Ghostbusters.

Queer Maggot, the character of Manual sophomore Silas Elmore (16), explained the “reclaiming” behind his name: “I realized that right off the bat, my sexuality was gonna get used against me in some way, so I decided that the easiest way to take control of that was to put it in my name.”

Trash Colony consists of five sophomores including Winston Griim, Vincent Verrgo, Queer Maggot, and Manual sophomore Henry Harbolt-Bosco (15), who goes by NiMRoD. Carter Hofer (16), an Eastern High School sophomore who goes by Yung Melee, is also in the group.

The members conceived Trash Colony in Jan. 2016 and in early October the band released music on Soundcloud. One of their first singles, NiMRoD’s “Crumbs,” gained over 680 plays in a single month.

As Verrgo and Griim approached downtown Spinelli’s, they grew more and more anxious since the audience at past Trash Colony shows had mainly been close friends.

The group began with a few supplies– a computer, a mic, and some basic audio editing software. After each group member saved up their money, they were able to add better quality equipment to have a semi-professional studio in the basement of Griim’s house, complete with a soundproof “booth” originally made from a closet.

The recording studio cost around $2000, and they are earning this money back with the profit from their shows and merchandise.

Using their new equipment, Trash Colony was able to release their first track made by NiMRoD, titled “My Mom Doesn’t Like my Raps” on Oct. 2. That same month, each individual rapper in the group released tracks of their own, showcasing their different styles and lyrical focuses.

“Trash Colony became a thing more on the spot than anything else,” Verrgo said. “We have a lot of people around us that enjoy the same thing and enjoy the same music. It was a matter of trying to come together and create something.”

Though he was excited about the show, Grimm consistently thought of his first time rapping in front of an audience. After he performed his first single, “Cherry Popper,” he left the house and ran to the backyard. Outside, he fell to his hands and knees and threw up from nerves and pure adrenaline. All he wanted was to avoid a repeat of that situation.

When all of the group arrived at the venue, Griim sat at a table swarmed by the incoming crowd, and marked everyone’s hands with Spinelli’s standard black “X” in exchange for the $8 entry fee. Verrgo sat in a booth trying to calm his nerves with other performers playing that night. Queer Maggot stood against the wall, silently rehearsing the rhymes in his head. NiMRoD circulated from table to table, visiting each friend and shouting for no reason. Yung Melee spent his time making new friends and telling joke after joke while keeping a straight face.

After four performances from other local acts – Shadowpact, Dillon McCluskey, Marty Bars, and The Happy Yew, the members of Trash Colony slowly stepped up to the front area of Spinelli’s, lugging turntables and mics in front of an impatient crowd. Winston Griim and Vincent Verrgo, swayed back and forth with their hands clenched together below their stomachs and waited for the other four artists in Trash Colony to finish preparing the set. Griim’s chin raised to the ceiling, revealing skin under his mask. Queer Maggot prepared himself by standing alone, still silently reciting his lyrics. NiMRoD closed his eyes and shook to the beats while sporadically throwing his arms towards the crowd.

Their nervousness and personalities were evident despite their masks as they fumbled placing their five microphones, trying not to mess up in front of a paying audience.

From behind the crowd, the loud voice of the show director, AMC, shouted, “Let’s keep it professional here,” signalling to them that they needed to speed up the process.

After about four minutes of setup, Trash Colony was finally ready to showcase performance skills that they had worked for months to perfect. Vincent Verrgo was the first on the setlist. As his voice boomed through the microphone, the members of the crowd lifted their hands and moved them up and down with the beat that blasted through the many speakers in the front corners of the room.

Next up was NiMRoD, then Queer Maggot, then Yung Melee, and finally, members of the group collaborated on tracks together.

With each song, the large crowd got more and more into the music. Some lost themselves in the intensity of the vocals, and some just stood quietly beside the mosh pit, listening to the melodies inspired by some of the group’s favorite artists, including MF Doom and Aesop Rock. By being there, many came out of their comfort zone by experiencing an alternative twist on classic hip-hop in an environment that was completely alien to them.

Sometimes, the band heard of others questioning their legitimacy because of their young age. However, they continue to collect the sketches, paintings, and scribbles offered to them by a growing teenage fanbase. These works of art adorn their studio walls, sparking their inspiration when they enter the room.

To be successful in the competitive music industry, one must have his/her own unique characteristic to help stand out from the rest of the crowd. The members of Trash Colony have learned this since they first began, understanding that their success is because they’re different.

“I definitely think the blending of perspectives and the different styles and takes that we take on the hip-hop genre is what makes us unique. What we do very well in the group is that we encompass a lot of different styles and art forms,” Griim said.

At the end of the show, after the many farewells from the group, Verrgo and Griim piled into the backseat of a car and drove home in complete silence. The only sounds were the muffled radio host voices and the late-night, downtown road chaos. Griim looked out the window, replaying the show in his head from start to finish. He remembered his first time coming on stage and remembered the audience’s reaction. He attempted to relive what it felt like to not be the only one feeling the music.

“It was so surreal because we put in all this time and to see it pay off was just so rewarding,” Verrgo said, after the show. “It was a weird feeling, but it sort of solidified the group for everybody and solidified that we want to take it further.” •

You can hear their music at: https://soundcloud.com/trashcolony

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Up & Coming: Five high school rappers take a new approach to classic hip-hop