Seay What? An Interview with Bay Shaun Seay, the Man Keeping Vintage Hip-Hop Alive in Akron

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(Bay Shaun Seay is a Kenmore native and lifelong music fan. He has an encyclopedic knowledge of—and undying passion for—hip-hop. He is one of the driving forces behind the Hip-Hop Preservation Project and the Keepers of the Art, two groups keeping the culture and music of hip-hop alive in Akron. We recently spoke about the forthcoming Grandmaster Flash, Whodini and Chubb Rock show on September 29th at Lock 3 in Downtown Akron. Tickets are $10 and can be purchased at Ticktmaster.com.)

The Interview

What was your first experience with hip-hop?

My first experience with what would become known as hip-hop took place at Margaret Park Elementary School in 1979.  I don’t think the term hip-hop had been coined yet. I was in the kindergarten at the time and remember my classmates and I reciting the words to Sugar Hill Gang’s “Rapper’s Delight” as we lined up for recess. It was probably considered a disco song at the time because of the beat and the dancing associated with it. We all seemed to know the words instantly which strikes me as odd because I don’t recall hearing it on the radio that often. The song had such a strong appeal that you got it after one or two listens. Shout out to Grandmaster Caz for penning the opening verse.

Early on, who were some of your favorite performers?

I lived in Barberton in the early 80’s and missed the introduction of Run-DMC. I didn’t get hip to them until me and my mom returned to Akron in 1984. Early on, I would hear Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five’s “The Message” on the radio, as well as The Rapping Duke and the “Double Dutch Bus”.  When those songs came on I would run down the steps from my bedroom and tell my mom to “Turn it up!”

Once we got back to Akron, I began to immerse myself in the music because that what my peers were doing. I remember running home from school to catch Billy Soule’s video show on Channel 23 to see the newest, latest videos.  I looked forward to seeing the Fatboys or New Edition video.

How has your relationship with the genre changed over the years?

Initially, I viewed the genre as just a form of entertainment and then it became an alternative source of education.  Early on, it was something I would listen to casually while hanging out with friends or as I was lifting weights in my bedroom. We enjoyed the newness of the music and the colorful characters who were bringing it to us in a language and style of dress that we embraced immediately.

LL J Cool, Public Enemy, Ice T, Boogie Down Productions, UTFO, the Skinny Boys, Eric B and Rakim, Slick Rick and Doug E. Fresh are some of the artists I listened to early on. Their cockiness and braggadocious nature of these artists helped me develop the mindset that I needed to play football.

As the genre grew in the late 80s more artists began to speak to the societal problems plaguing inner-city communities across the country.  Groups such as Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions—fronted by KRS-One—began to speak about the cause and effects of the Crack cocaine epidemic with songs such as “Night of the Living Baseheads” and “Illegal Business” respectively.

As the 80’s came to close, Afrocentricity found it’s way into hip-hop and groups like X-Clan, De La Soul, Poor Righteous Teachers, and Queen Latifah moved to the forefront. An Afrocentric approach was hip-hop’s way of healing from the devastation the crack epidemic brought to many inner-city communities.  I embraced their message and began looking at my heritage.

The arrival of NWA changed hip-hop dramatically. Their portrayal of LA’s gang culture through music shocked the nation and blew hip-hop’s commercial appeal through the roof. Hip-Hop was as likely to be heard in a small town in Iowa as was in the South Bronx, NY or LA.

Hip-Hop was mainstream. You could find me most Saturday mornings watching Yo! MTV Raps starring Fab 5 Freddy, Ed Lover, and Dr. Dre (Not of NWA).

NWA had to be the first group that I would consider to be a guilty pleasure for me. I found the violence and misogyny in their songs both disturbingly entertaining and alarming.

Groups like Public Enemy, Gang Starr, A Tribe Called Quest, Ed O.G. and the B.U.L.L.D.O.G.S., and Boogie Downs Production gave me perspective and helped shape my view of the world and myself as high school graduation approached.

I started my college career doing papers analyzing the music of Public Enemy.  Their music was easy to analyze because they were one of the few groups that included the lyrics of their songs in the liner notes.

After I stopped writing about Public Enemy I began to the indulge in the guilty pleasures of music by MC Eiht formerly of Compton’s Most Wanted (His album “Music to Driveby” always takes me back to the dorm rooms of 4th Whitcomb at Hiram College), Redman, Tha Alkaholiks, and Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg.

Gang Starr ’s streetwise, jazzy, boom bap, and minimalist approach to hip-hop kept my attention up through my sophomore year of college.

A Tribe Called Quest’s “Midnight Marauders” was the score to many late night Madden sessions and other things that college kids do when they are away from home.

The breakup of EPMD in the Spring of 1993 made way for genre changing acts such as Wu-Tang Clan, Nas, and Outkast.

The break up of EPMD felt like I lost a family member.

I started going to concerts on a regular basis during this time. Trips to Cleveland and Kent to see some of my favorite artists are at the top of my memories from college.

As my college years came to a close I started to lean heavily toward east coast acts.  Acts such as Group Home, Black Moon, Mobb Deep, Keith Murray, Jeru The Damaja, and Smif-N-Wessun all had a sound and visual style that appealed to me.  I had to have a pair of Timberland boots, baggie jeans, a hoodie, a tapered afro, a backpack, and camouflage as part of my wardrobe. I was a backpacker. If you didn’t have dope beats, dope rhymes, and a New York aesthetic I couldn’t mess with you.  Ice Cube and Snoop Dog were the exceptions.

I wrapped up my senior year of college by doing a rhetorical analysis of the lyrics of KRS-One, using Richard Weaver’s hierarchy of argument to help guide my research. It was the most frustrating and rewarding assignment that I took on in college.  Shout out to my mom for going to 2 Live Music to pick up a copy of the BDP Live VHS concert tape for me, which I used for research. Thanks to my classmate Seku Shabazz who pointed out my need to study dialectical materialism, Pan Africanism, and metaphysics in order to understand  KRS-One.  KRS-One remains a complex artist.  With Seku’s help, I was able to put together a respectable yet incomplete research paper and presentation that I needed to graduate. To this day, KRS-One is my favorite artist. In his music specifically and hip-hop, in general, I found something that I didn’t necessarily get at home, school, or the religious institutions I attended.  I got knowledge of self. I found out who I was not just as a black man, not just as human-being but rather who I am as a spiritual being.

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Bay Shaun Seay

Modern rap is a far different animal than its predecessors. Do you relate to the current incarnation of it?

Not really. The style of many mainstream rappers does not appeal to me.  Mainstream rappers aren’t very creative. Unlike rappers of the past, modern rappers have no problem copying someone else’s style.  “Biting,” or copying someone else’s style, was a violation of the norms of hip-hop in the 80’s and 90’s. You would be called out and/or beaten down for biting someone else’s style. Now it’s almost expected that rappers will copy the sound of somebody that already has a hit record.   That’s a good business model when you’re making widgets, but when you’re creating art, authenticity and originality are a must if a culture is to thrive and evolve.

I commend them for the initiative that has provided some of them a lifestyle that has allowed them to earn legal money.

What contemporary acts are you listening to?

I’m listening to Stalley who is originally from Massillon, OH. I never thought I’d be listening to a rapper from Massillon. Massillon is more known for its high school football than producing solid rappers. His sound and content have a blue-collar Midwestern vibe that resonates with me. His latest effort, “Tell the Truth Shame the Devil,”  his first release since leaving Maybach Music, speaks to compromises one is asked to make to thrive in today’s music industry.

I’m also listening to Westside Gunn and Roc Marciano from Buffalo and Long, Island, NY respectively. They’re a guilty pleasure.  Some younger guys that I work with put me on to them. Their lyrical content consists of handling guns, selling drugs, having relations with beautiful women, buying and driving foreign cars, wearing designers fashions, and buying high-end art. Their production and lyrical delivery appeal to my penchant for artists with a New York aesthetic. They take me back to the 90’s. Westside Gunn and Roc Marciano are principled and sophisticated in a gangster sort of way.

Fans of pro wrestling may like some of the things that Westside Gunn puts out. He often uses monologues from pro wrestlers as skits similar to the way Wu-Tang Clan uses scenes from Kung Fu flicks to lead into the next song. It’s an entertaining and noble nod to the Wu-Tang Clan.

What is your involvement with Keepers of the Art/Hip-Hop Preservation Project?

My business card says that I am the Special Events Coordinator/Resident Visionary for the organization.  In years past I put together our meeting agendas and the meeting recaps to help us stay on task and organized. Also in years past, I would secure vendors for our events.  I also do all the production schedules for our shows to ensure we stay on track the day of concerts.  I also do what I can to ensure that we maintain a presence on social media.

What inspired you to get involved in show promotion?

The inspiration goes back to 2005. I was in the Kenmore Library looking at a calendar that listed all the concerts the City would be bringing to Lock 3 Park during the Summer. They seemed to have every genre represented except hip-hop. There was gospel, jazz, country, reggae, and rock—but no hip-hop.  I thought about calling the City and asking them to bring hip-hop to Lock 3 Park. I decided against that because I knew if they brought hip-hop to Lock 3 on their own they wouldn’t do it right because they don’t know the culture.  So I started putting together a show that I would like to attend if I was going to a concert.  The idea was influenced by the Sprite Liquid Mix Tour that I attended in Cleveland in September 2003.  It was a festival-style event held in the Flats that featured The Roots, N.E.R.D, The Robert Randolph Band, and O.A.R. I had never been to an event like it.  I reached out to a concert promoter who was already doing shows in Cleveland and Akron to see if the idea was feasible and to see if she would be willing to work with me.

About this time, I read an article in the Akron Beacon Journal that discussed the City’s desire to stop young professionals from leaving the City and taking their skills elsewhere. The City had hired a consultant from Wisconsin to determine what could be done to prevent young professionals from leaving.

One of the suggestions the consultant made was for the City to hold more culturally diverse activities at Lock 3 Park. A light bulb came on!  That was my way in! What was more culturally diverse than hip-hop? Nothing! I had to present the idea to the City to see if we could work together to bring a hip-hop festival to Lock 3!  After sharing the idea with a customer at work who told me that I needed to talk to the Deputy Mayor of the City of Akron as he was responsible for events at Lock 3, I put together a letter highlighting the findings of the consultant to help stop the “Brain Drain” as well as the concept for the festival I wanted to hold and sent it off to the Deputy Mayor in November of 2005. This led to a meeting with a representative of the Mayor’s office. They politely told me “no” initially. I persisted and a friend of mine was able to get me a second meeting with the City. This time I went in with my partners who were in the early stages of developing Keepers of the Art and we presented to an audience made up of the Deputy Mayor, the manager of Lock 3 Park, and an officer from the Akron Police Department. My boy Donte Morsettie put a thorough PowerPoint presentation for me giving our audience a 30-year overview of hip-hop culture based on information we provided him.  We had to educate the City on the style of hip-hop we planned on showcasing, assuring them that this would be a safe and family-friendly event. This was the Fall of 2007.

We walked out of that meeting with a commitment to do our first show in partnership with City of Akron at Lock 3 Park Summer/Fall 2008.

Things took off from there.

What are some of the previous events you organized?

From 2008- 2014 I helped organize the Akron Hip-Hop Showcase held at Lock 3 Park.

From 2009-2012 I helped organized the Keepers Lounge Concert Series, which was series of concerts that showcased neo-soul artists in partnership with E.J. Thomas Hall at the University of Akron.

In 2011 I helped organize the Akron premiere of the A Tribe Called Quest documentary, “Beats, Rhymes, and Life” at the Akron Civic Theatre.

From 2015-2017 I helped organize concerts at venues around Akron that featured artists such as KRS-One, Digable Planets, Raekwon, Teedra Moses, Zo!, Carmen Rodgers, Camp Lo, Buckshot and Evil D, GZA, OC, Edo G, Grandmaster Flash, and The CrossRhodes.

When did preparation for the show on 9/29 begin?  What are some obstacles you faced in putting it together?

Preparations for shows are an ongoing thing. We’re always thinking about where the money is going to come from to do a show and how we can make the next show better than the last. Preparations for the 9/29 show began in June, which is not the norm.  When we do a show at Lock 3 we normally start preparing in January for a September show.  This time around we got a late start because we had to secure matching funds for the grant we were awarded.  We also had to revisit the relationship we had developed with Lock 3 Park after not working with them for three years.

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Photographer: Bryan Bedder (Getty Images)

What do you think has been Grandmaster Flash’s contributions in hip-hop?

Flash is a pioneer and innovator in DJing. He mastered and expanded on techniques that are still used by DJs today such as beat juggling, punch phrasing, and scratching.  When I think of Flash, I think of the group he started, Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, which gave hip-hop its first “conscious” record, the aforementioned  “The Message”, a tale of the desperation and  hopelessness experienced by those living in inner-city New York during the late 70s and early 80s.

What has been Whodini’s enduring appeal?

Whodini’s enduring appeal derives from their sophisticated style of hip-hop that spoke to love and relationships, friendship, embracing your wild side, and having a good time. Their style of dress also helps contribute to their enduring appeal. They dressed more like slick R&B singers and jazz musicians than they did traditional b-boys which gave them a timeless quality that allowed their audience to mature with them. Their songs are timeless as well and still resonate with audiences more than three decades after their release. I look forward to seeing them perform classics such as “One Love”,  “Friends”, Freaks Come Out at Night”, “I’m A Hoe”, and “Five Minutes of Funk”.  Their live performances, honed doing arena tours during the 80’s,  has kept them in demand for more than 30 years.

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Photo via ChubbRock.com

Prior to a career in music, Chubb Rock was a National Merit Scholar and a pre-med student at Brown University, how do you feel his intelligence and education has informed his body of work?

I’m not well-versed on Chubb’s catalog. I know he had several hits early in his career that made his audience want to dance and have a good time. He has a reputation for being a good live performance. I look forward to seeing him perform “The Chubbster”, “Treat’Em Right” and “Just The Two of Us” live. Hopefully, he calls members from the Black Greek fraternities to the stage to step while he performs “Just The Two of Us” as can been seen in the music video for the same song.

How can readers find out more information about the show and purchase tickets?

Readers can get more information at www.lock3live.com  and they can follow Keepers of the Art, Inc. on Facebook.  Tickets can be purchased at ticketmaster.com for $10. The gates open at 6pm.

More Hip-Hop Coverage

Floco Torres: Live in Akron (2016)

All Eyez On Me (2017)

Interview: Luminari XI

Defend The Land: Red Rose Panic’s Blistering New Anthem for the Cleveland Cavaliers

Earworm: Doomtree “Bangarang”

 

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