For those new to underground hip-hop, diving deep into the realm of true spitters for the first time: Kutt Calhoun started rapping more than twenty years ago. The Kansas City Chief, The G, the street dude who could Renegade Tech N9ne on a good day in his prime, the blood who can still Blood Walk, the Bunk Rock Bitch king with more tour stories than just about anybody on the planet.
Kutt’s resume runs deep; to recount it here would be mundane, and you’ve got the internet and a large catalog of high-quality music at your disposal to make your own conclusions about Bluddy Kuddy. For those wondering why I’d start a train of thought on a somewhat mundane station of departure at all, consider this: Kutt Calhoun started rapping more than twenty years ago, and he never slowed down.
When your best work is coming twenty years into a career in underground hip-hop, that says something important. “Handz Up” is a landmark song.
Kutt never stopped rapping. There’s a handful of reasons why that seemingly simple assertion lands squarely in the realm of notable, leaving “mundane” far behind, down the tracks somewhere in a forgotten realm of less amusing underground hip-hop internet blogging. Think about how many rappers there are today. You can see them seeping through your Facebook feeds, often drenched in mediocrity with very few notable exceptions, though those who rap well on the internet are just as powerful with their pens as good rappers have always been. Now think about how cluttered the world of R.A.P. would be if, in twenty years, every sixteen year old tweeting me his fire mixtape still stepped to the mic.
That’s not something that’s gonna happen; that’s not how starving for your art works. After time, artists either sell out to feed their kids, stay fed through less gratifying means, or perfect their craft and make a career out of music. Kutt Calhoun lands squarely in the third category, but that’s only half of what makes Mr. KCMO one hell of an interesting story in my eyes. Before diving deeper into Kutt though, consider that other tangential hypothetical. What if every internet rapper alive kept spitting for twenty years?
The content bubble would surely burst at some point. NO ONE gets views if every generation, every single rapper who ever gives it a shot stays rapping on Facebook feeds forever. NO ONE gets mixtape writeups if you tweet me your hottest flames ten minutes after your dad and four rapping uncles do. But what if such an obscene bubble didn’t burst and somehow, through some miracle of Science or Religion or Zuckerberg, every rapper of today kept rapping forever?
Hip-hop would be crowded, yes. But if no one ever gave up, think for a moment about how many top tier lyricists there would be alive on the planet.
Underground hip-hop has long been a haven for true rap with true meaning; true stories told through abstract metaphors, true lessons taught through pen and ink and not blood and sword, true art unfiltered by a commercial society or reckless abandonment of culture in pursuit of hits. That’s an interesting hypothetical to consider, but mundane as well if you like to critique my long winded rants as some other hip-hop poets will do from time to time. Abandon hypotheticals for facts, then. If no one ever quit rapping, we’d have a lot more career artists rapping on the elite level like Kutt Calhoun in this underground rap game.
That’s because Kutt Calhoun didn’t get elite by accident, or overnight, or on the heels of considerable talent alone. Kutt is a perfect example of the underground hip-hop grind paying off.
Dude has always been good. Rewind to the FTI days if you doubt a younger, Bloodier Kutt’s lyrical credentials. But it takes more than talent to step away from the largest independent hip-hop imprint in the world; it takes more than a deep resume and the right team to make a name for yourself as a solo artist with a crew behind you. And it’s not about luck, or being in the right place at the right time. In underground rap, there’s only one factor that consistently, no matter the story, explains why some artists succeed and others fail. The Grind; the initiative to hit the road hard and build an empire brick by brick, the energy to keep moving when obstacles stand in your path, the devotion to craft and art and motion and legacy that drives some artists to give all of themselves to a dream every day while others wake up in a haze and wonder why they don’t have a career of their own.
Kutt’s been grinding for years. And it’s paying off, in music and movement and a multitude of ways that are still developing as his brand and voice grows.
Cynics would point out Kutt’s old school credentials and golden era MC aesthetic, and claim that dude’s success is a throwback from a different era; something that can’t be replicated today, even though Black Gold Entertainment is a new label and a new dream built in today’s constrained hip-hop landscape. To those haters and doubters, I’d drop a link or five to another hip-hop grinder, forged in the modern struggle for rap fame: Mula 2015‘s own Chi Bully.
Like Kutt’s budding success with BGE, Chi Bully’s triumph on TeamBackPack’s largest platform didn’t come by accident. For months before stepping onto that Cypher Stage, Bully devoted himself completely to nothing but writing, re-writing, practicing, and perfecting his cypher bars. Where some artists stepped onto the MULA battlefield with days or weeks of familiarity with their rhymes, Bully was able to deliver a level of polish rarely seen from underground hip-hop artists on any stage, let alone one as competitive as MULA 2015.
But it’s what Chi Bully has done in the weeks and months SINCE Mission Underground Los Angeles that has solidified him as one of hip-hop’s preeminent grind generals. From the moment he hoisted that trophy high, Bully has made every move he could to utilize the platform he was given. From rocking his own radio show to slaughtering the crew cuts to slaughtering cyphers on his own as a solo spitter, Bully has been tireless. And this hustle doesn’t come from your internet rapper living in their parent’s basement and eating two thousand calories of cheetos a day: Bully has his own family, a past in the service, and the responsibilities of scholarly life on his shoulders. That hasn’t stopped him from delivering quality work. Nothing has. That’s why he has seen the success he has seen, and why his path to hip-hop legend status won’t be derailed by anyone. Bully got bars, but more importantly, Bully got hustle.
That’s an artist on his grind, and that’s underground hip-hop at it’s best. Bully earned that win on blood and sweat and tears as much as on the basis of his talent.
Not every spitter will end up with the success or accolades of Bully or Kutt or any of the other names that have established themselves in this competitive game. There’s something to be said for your life story, your skills behind the microphone, and your ability to seize the moment and make the most of every opportunity handed your way. But there’s a lot more to be said for work ethic, energy behind the scenes, and an uncompromising devotion to the grind. Not every artist will succeed like Kutt and Bully have this past year: NO artists, in this day and age, can succeed without putting in the work that these two grinders consistently have.
Underground artists: ask Kutt or Bully if you don’t believe me. You won’t be handed success in this game on a silver platter, no matter how talented you are or how long you wait for the right contest to give you your big break. You won’t rock a national tour or land an official TBP cypher unless you earn it, and no one can earn that success but you. Get on your grind, and don’t stop until you win. Change your tactics when you stagnate, but don’t lose your commitment to Rap or your passion for hip-hop’s past, present, and future. You wouldn’t know the name Kutt if Melvin hung up his jumpsuit twenty years ago.
Underground hip-hop fans: spend a moment thinking about how much work REALLY goes into every move that your favorite artist makes. The grind ain’t easy, and it ain’t automatic: if success were either of those things, there would be a lot more winner stories on your Facebook feeds. The grind can break an artist, and end dreams before they are birthed into this world. Or it can be a beautiful thing, and the only true avenue to continued success in this era of the culture and music.
Underground grinder: I salute you. Keep making the moves you make, so I can keep enjoying the fruits of your labour.
Catch Kutt on the “Break for Gold” Tour, his second national run of the year, to see the Grind in action.