Mike Landers and Alan Johnson have been in Los Angeles only a couple of years, but their hip-hop careers have skyrocketed since relocating from Colorado.
Their group, Deux Process, was signed to independent label Avatar Records, they're booked for shows on a weekly basis, and they are endlessly networking. None of which would be happening had they stayed home.
"Basically we exhausted all the outlets in Colorado," said Johnson, also known as Chief Nek. "There's a lot of talent in Colorado, but the music industry there is not recognizing there's a big hip-hop scene."
After toiling for years, several local hip-hop groups have headed to other regions where the form is better received and respected. They felt stagnant, unfulfilled and overlooked trying to make things work in the Rocky Mountains.
"There are not that many avenues for hip-hop artists to bring their music to the people out there as opposed to L.A.," said Landers, who goes by Vise Versa. "We did 13 shows here in December, and we couldn't get 13 shows in Colorado without doing the exact same venue in a span of three to four months. It's just not friendly out there like that, unfortunately."
Landers and Johnson met while living in Colorado Springs. They paid their dues starting in the late 1990s, working alongside local crew The Procussions. Just like any aspiring hip-hop artists, they did talent shows, showed up for open mics and tried to get gigs around the state.
They officially formed Deux Process in 2002 and were grinding harder than ever before. When their hustle stalled a year later, they decided to follow The Procussions to L.A.
"There's electricity out here, even as far as getting inspired, Landers said. "We met a lot of great professionals in this industry and learned a lot about recording techniques and studio time, and talked with some of the best in hip-hop, like DJ Quik and E-40. It's just good to see people who came from where we're coming from as far as music taking it upon themselves to move forward with it."
On the strength of its single "The Process" and its affiliation with The Procussions, Deux Process was doing a handful of shows a month while working on its debut album with the California crew, L.A. Symphony. The group was booked for a show in Las Vegas in early 2005 when Donnie Bo of Avatar Records saw a banner promoting the show.
"To be real with you, I didn't know who these cats were," Donnie Bo said. "They were doing a show in Vegas for Magic (an apparel and fashion convention), and most indie cats don't get down like that. So I said, 'Let me look at these cats,' and as soon as I heard the first song, 'The Process' on their MySpace page, I said, 'Yo, this is not bad.' Then I listened to three other songs on there and I shot an e-mail out to them."
In May 2005, Deux Process signed with Avatar and released its debut album, "In Deux Time," in January.
The Procussions were not the first local hip-hop crew to bolt. Deuce Mob left for L.A. in the mid-'90s, signed with Thump Records and released the record "Going Solo" in 1996. The group is now back in Denver finishing a new album that features national artists Devin the Dude, Kid Frost and
The Procussions self-released their debut album in 2003, then signed with big-time indie label Rawkus Records late last year. Their new album, "5 Sparrows for 2 Cents," drops this spring, with the hope that it puts their former hometown in the national spotlight.
"We've always had the whole world in our sights. Cali was just one stop along the way," The Procussions said in an e-mail while on a train from Paris to Copenhagen. "We came to Cali to showcase what we were doing in Colorado; to showcase Colorado hip-hop."
Jeff Campbell, also known as Apostle and head of the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition, finds himself in California and Oregon every month doing more shows than he ever could do in Colorado with his group Heavyweight Dub Champion. Adam Dent, known as Dent in hip-hop circles, was invited by London group US3 to join them for a new recording there.
Some artists are sticking it out here, though. Local label Mobstyle Records, home to rappers Kingdom and Don Blas, are trying to bring attention to the state. In the next couple of months, Mobstyle will be releasing a compilation titled "Underworld Vol. 2," showcasing the label's artists.
"I always felt like that if I go to L.A., I'd be smothered with competition, or go to New York and get a deal and then be shelved," Blas said. "I know we're not flooded with artists that can inspire us from around here or places we can go and perform and work, but we need to create that whole vibe."
Kingdom says he stays "out of loyalty to the state of Colorado. I've had plenty of chances from rappers that wanted me to move to New York, Atlanta and L.A. But those markets are real flooded. So if I'm going to make it, I'm going to make it here or not at all."
While Colorado rock bands like The Fray seem to get all the media attention, local hip-hop artists hope their efforts aren't ignored.
"(People should say), 'They're putting our state on the map. Let's give them some love and get behind them and support them,"' Johnson said.
By Quibian Salazar-Moreno