News

Hip hop spotlight shines on Federal Way

By ERICA JAHN

Staff writer

Federal Way’s hip hop scene is rising, and its stars are hoping to take the music outside Puget Sound with the release of a three-part mix-tape series and street-level promotion.

Quincy Henry, 19, Ken Pryor, 19, and Rion (pronounced Ree-own) Pryor, 18, members of the local rap group Black Diamonds, are the engine behind the new hip hop label Tre’dmarx Records, a collective of three other production companies from the Federal Way area.

The first of the three tapes in the mix tape series, called “Federal Offense,” was released Nov. 26. Artists on the tape include Black Diamonds; Eclipse, a St. Louis rapper; Stretch, also a St. Louis rapper; Black Style Family, California and Houston rappers; Kuddie Mack, a Seattle producer and rapper; and Rocka, a Philadelphia rapper.

Tre’dmarx is working on parts two and three of the series, but hasn’t set release dates yet.

Tre’dmarx comprises three producers — the people who mix the music and beats part of a track — and about nine artists — the people who rhyme over the music.

All together, they are known as Fed’s Finest. “We all one way or the other found each other,” Ken Pryor said.

Henry and Pryor are students at Highline Community College. Henry said he’s studying everything the college has to offer, but mainly business. Pryor, a business major, said he’s focusing almost exclusively on business.

The trio had to hit the ground running when they decided to start Tre’dmarx Records. It’s been tough learning the business while they’re running it, and the fact that their business associates also are their friends has served both to sweeten and complicate operations.

“It’s kind of hard when you have to call and get on your friend because you grew up with him. But it’s business,” Henry said.

For example, some people don’t take the business as seriously or treat it as professionally because the studios are based out of their houses.

Sometimes people want studio space for free because of their friendships, and others show up at the door hoping to get access to the equipment without asking first.

Saying no and denying friends is never easy, but Pryor said they keep their friendships separate from business.

“It can get personal,” he said.

Besides, the mess-ups go both ways. Sometimes, the guys from Tre’dmarx fall behind on their responsibilities, too.

“Some days you wake up and say, ‘Today I’m a rapper. Today I’m a producer.’ And you get it all done and you’re not late,” Pryor said. “But some days you want a social life and then you’re late.”

Starting a label requires dedication and a true belief that it will work, but they know they can’t sit around and see if someone else makes it happen for them. The Tre’dmarx trio will promote the first of the three tapes themselves at parties, at clubs, on the streets and among their friends and associates.

“Unless you’re the filthiest artist alive, unless you’re Prince, you can’t just say I’m a rap artist and stop there. It starts with being a rapper, but you have to be more than a rapper,” Henry said.

“We’re out promoting — in the cold, in a t-shirt,” Pryor said. “We’re getting confronted by people who disagree with us. We’re standing there like, ‘Yep, we’re rappers.’

“We’re doing it from the ground up. In this business, you can’t go too far because there’s no one to fall back on. The streets is where it started.”

A lot of people in Federal Way make music, Pryor said, but someone needed to start breaking ground for the Northwest to get some recognition.

“Someone had to get a name for Federal Way. It needs a name,” he said.

Securing a spot for Northwest hip hop is proving challenging because grunge, the music that emerged from Seattle in the early 1990s, established the region’s musical reputation.

“You’re clouded by it, that’s what the industry thinks,” Henry said. “They’re kind of shocked by it. They say they didn’t know there was hip hop out here.”

Henry and Ken and Rion Pryor want to set up Tre’dmarx so it’s at the forefront when eyes fall on the West Coast. Their six-month plan is to saturate the local market, reach across the state and eventually make inroads into cities across the country.

Eventually, they want to distribute for other labels.

While the label is a new endeavor for the Tre’dmarx trio, the three aren’t new to music. Rap, hip hop and blues have called to them since they were little boys.

BustaRhymes is the artist who changed everything for Henry when he was in the third grade.

“That was me. I saw me,” he said. “I saw the video, heard the beat and I knew I had to do it. I’ll never forget that.”

He also has four older brothers, the oldest and middle of whom rap. “The first keyboard I ever touched was the one I own now. I got it from the studio,” he said.

Ken and Rion Pryor were exposed to music at home. Their father is an accomplished musician.

“My dad’s a blues player, so I’ve had tapes since I was 3 years old,” Rion said. “I was little — 3 years old, 5 years old — making raps. Talking about candy. And girls.”

“Nobody can touch my dad on bass,” Ken said. “He’s so passionate about it.”

As the three have grown up, their musical tastes have changed. As they’ve gained life experience, the content and sound of their music have changed, too.

“It evolves. You grow with the culture. You grow with the music,” Henry said. “As you grow, it’s reflected in your music.”

Sitting around a table at Starbuck’s, they discussed what age group different artists appeal to, whether JaRule has lost it and the crossover from hip hop to pop.

“Nelly appeals to the 13- to 17-year-old crowd because he talks about shoes. JayZee, he talks about hustling. The older guys sit back and say, ‘He’s my man,’” Pryor said.

“Busta Rhymes talks about ‘Pass the Cavasier,’” Henry said.

“You can grow up with an artist,” Pryor said.

The commercialization of rap and hip hop bothers the guys, especially when people misconstrue its meaning — or think it represents everyone — but they concede that music is a business and its producers want to make money.

“At the end of the day, it’s music and it’s business,” Henry said. “They’ve got families and kids.”

Pryor agreed. “Music is entertainment. You should take it with a grain of salt,” he said.

As for their own undertaking, the three are shooting for everything, but they’ll take what comes their way.

“I used to tell myself I’ll be done. I’m business-minded. I didn’t want to waste my energy — it’s so hard to break into the music industry,” Pryor said. “It’s hard to say how long we have. We’re going to give the whole industry a run.”

Regardless of whether they make it, they said they’ll continue rhyming and producing for the love of the music.

“Music. That’s it. That’s my life,” Henry said. “I used to play basketball. I used to play sports in high school. But now there’s no time between work and school and music.”

“It’s not about the fame. It’s about the music,” Pryor said. “I’ll continue to make raps at home.”

“I’ll be old bustin’ rhymes,” Henry said.

Staff writer Erica Jahn can be reached at 925-5565 and ejahn@fedwaymirror.com

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