“It’s like compost.” That’s how concert headliner and Newburgh resident Decora describes the Hudson Valley hip-hop scene. “It has this strange biodiversity.”
Residents of smaller cities and towns tend to consume hip-hop through mainstream media like television, radio, and social media, whereas New Yorkers have the option to absorb it experientially before moving upstate later in life. This, along with the amalgam of people from various racial, ethnic, and artistic backgrounds that populate the Hudson Valley, creates an eclectic musical topography in our region. “You have people who were born and raised with parents listening to rock and roll music mixed with people whose parents listened to Latin music,” says Decora.
Dylan Owen, an Orange County native and rapper who blends light, alternative rhythms with deeply personal lyrics, considers this fusion to be a consistent source of inspiration. “What makes our area’s music unique is that we are removed from New York City,” he says. This forced Owen to adopt an introspective writing process and produce music reflective of his own story and experience. “I never settled into the music scene of one particular town,” he says. “I was motivated to scour the Internet and find writing inspiration that could complement what influenced me at local Tuscan Cafe shows or coffee shop open mics.”
Despite his isolation from hip-hop epicenters like New York or Los Angeles, Owen doesn’t feel confined by our suburban sprawl. Rather, it fuels his artistic process. He calls the peacefulness of the Hudson Valley “an endless source of creative inspiration.”
“Plus,” he adds, “many of my hometown friends have now become [members of] my musical team.”
Ra STATiiiC, an emerging MC whose rapid-fire lyrical flow compensates for his sparse, heavy beats, cites similar reasons for launching his career in the Valley. Originally from Atlanta, Ra STATiiiC perceives his music as a way to give back to the Marlboro community who supported his endeavors.
Of course, operating in hip-hop back-country poses problems. In many cases, performing usually requires travel, since the number of acoustic spaces in the Valley far exceeds the number of hip-hop venues. Decora summarizes this struggle by quoting his former mentor: “Go anywhere to make your passion a reality and money will follow.”
Yet each of these artists’ words drip with energy and dedication, perhaps because many believe their work transcends music. For Sullivan County musician and spoken-word artist Chosen, an MC is someone who can put action behind his lyrics. With his upcoming albums from Debefore records, Chosen hopes to lay a foundation on which other talented artists in Monticello and Liberty can build. By emphasizing other elements of hip-hop culture like image, DJ-ing, and break dancing alongside his music, the grassroots artist hopes to set an example for young rappers “who would otherwise never have the chance to shine.”
As artists like Chosen, Decora, Owen, and Ra STATiiiC continue to define Hudson Valley hip-hop, opportunities will only grow in availability and accessibility. For now, perhaps Decora captures the local hip-hop scene best: “It’s very experimental.”