By Evan Barber
Despite the sparse and largely derelict local rap scene, Fayetteville-based “indie Southern rap” duo Ben Adams and Justin “JC” Crenshaw have enjoyed notable praise for their music in the region.
They call themselves Bassbeat Music, and they’ve been together making music and beats since early 2010.
They’ve had opportunities to open for Kid Cudi, Wiz Khalifa, Ying Yang Twins and Machine Gun Kelly. Locally, they’re probably best known for their redub of Wiz Khalifa’s “Black and Yellow” track about the Arkansas Razorbacks football team, which eventually became the team’s official theme song.
When the director of marketing for the Athletic Department first heard “Black and Red,” he was impressed, and being longtime fans of the team, Bassbeat was happy to offer it over.
“I’m a huge fan of Razorback football,” said Adams. “We’re proud to have our song used by those guys, and we’re re-recording it for the fall semester. The original version had a line about Petrino in it — ‘Everything we do, we do it big, and that’s nothin’/ We got Petrino from the Falcons, that’s somethin’.’ — so, obviously now we’re taking that part out.”
Since they were young, Adams and Crenshaw have been immersed in music. In 2004, Crenshaw played lead guitar in a band called Last in Battle, which opened for Fall Out Boy in Dallas — which was definitely a big deal, back then. Adams is also well-versed in guitar. Though, for the kind of music they’re interested in making, the emotional context of rap music feels better suited.
“We’ve thought about doing some of the (more guitar-based) style of music,” Adams said. “What’s appealing to me about this genre though is that it’s a great way for me to express my own emotion. West Coast rap music usually has more of a slow, laid-back beat to it (think Snoop Dogg), but Southern rap is a more upbeat, faster-paced, somewhat aggressive kind of rap. I had a rough childhood with my father, and when I graduated high school I got in with the wrong crowd and instantly ended up in jail. A lot of those instances have brought a lot of angry thoughts, and, to me, it’s the opposite sort of feeling from sitting down with a guitar.”
Bassbeat is currently recording their second CD, “Delivery,” which should be set to release before the end of August. Through Coast 2 Coast Mixtapes, their work has been included on official mixtapes with artists like 50 Cent, Jim Jones, Meek Mill, and Freddy Lenz, which gives these newer, lesser known rappers a chance to have their tracks heard by some of the more established figures in the scene.
Bassbeat’s first original release, “Studio 56,” featured the Khalifa redub, borrowed beats from Glitch Mob, and a handful of original material, including a few fun-loving club tracks, but also a very serious, very emotionally charged song called “Into the Pain.” The song is hard-hitting, honest, and very transparent about Adam’s childhood struggles with his father leaving, and with his time in jail: “At a younger age, didn’t expect that I was sittin’ in jail/ Saying, ‘God, I’ll do anything just get me out of this Hell’/ Always chin-checking haters, these times were full of anger/ Never getting close to someone, always staying just a stranger.”
“Jail broke me,” Adams said. “Jail absolutely broke me. But the person that I am today is a direct result of that experience. I was in there for several months, and while I was in there I started writing poems. I used to have sticky notes all over the walls of my cell; little bits of poetry I had written. At night I would lean up against the door and write by the light shining in through the beanhole (where they slide in your food); I wrote all night, and slept all day. It was the worst part of my life, but I thank God that it happened because it made me realize I needed a change from the path I was on. When I got out, JC and I took what I wrote and we started putting it to beats, originally just as a pastime.”
With the encouragement of family and friends, Adams and Crenshaw eventually turned their pastime into a hobby, then their hobby into a passion.
“We built fans not even knowing what others thought was good music,” Adams said. “We didn’t know they would want more from us. They’re the ones who saw us and our music going somewhere.”
And go somewhere it has. In December of 2010, Bassbeat Music was voted Artist of the Month by local station Hot Mix 101.9, and they’ve already been contacted about opening up for the Fall UA campus headliner, as well as for Yellow Wolf (who just signed to Eminem’s record label, Shady Records) at The Rogue on Sept. 25. So, keep an eye on these guys as they continue to climb.