Interlocking Parts: Hi Potent C and Dyelow's "War Medicine" highlights the KeepItG Records collective's creative bond
The Ypsi-Arbor hip-hop collective KeepItG Records isn't just a rap crew with a tight handle. The various MCs, producers, musicians, and filmmakers treat KeepItG like a band, with scheduled practices, interlocking their skills and lifting each other up to create audio and visual art.
"The entire KeepItG Records meets and rehearses weekly, and each individual sets up their personal studio time around what’s going on for them at the time being," said rapper Hi Potent C, who has a new album, War Medicine, with KeepItG producer Dyelow. "A lot of the music gets made on the spot, but everyone is always cooking up something on their own time, too. For this specific project, we did a lot of the outlining in person in order to make sure we were sticking to the theme and storyline. From there it made it easier to fill in the blanks separately because we both knew what was needed and expected."
War Medicine is a loose concept record that takes some cues from Kendrick Lamar’s 2012 album, Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, and Prodigy’s 2017 LP, Hegelian Dialectic (The Book of Revelation). Lamar's album recounts his rough teenage years in Compton and Progidy's record is named after the philosophical model that posits thesis, antithesis, then synthesis -- or problem, reaction, solution -- is the way to determine "truth" or "the way."
"The personal ins and outs of living and not only the 'good side,'" is how Hi Potent C describes War Medicine's theme. "At the same time, keeping familiarity with people by showing them how to keep your head up no matter how unfavorable things might be going, because we all need that motivation from time to time."
Dyelow's beats tend toward the minimalist, with synth strings and piano riffs providing melancholy hooks over programmed or sampled beats. The prolific producer -- who made a new beat every day of 2017 -- is also a drummer who works at Suite 328, a recording studio in Ypsilanti.
The most distinct part of War Medicine is Hi Potent C's rap delivery, which has the same sort of regional and individualistic qualities that allow listeners to identify the voices of atypical rappers like Danny Brown or Cypress Hill's B-Real instantly. Born Corderril Mayberry, Hi Potent C delivers his lines with the hard pronunciation that defines a lot of Midwestern speech, with a balanced mix of nasal twang and smoky rasp as texture.
"It's my natural rapping voice and I’ve been learning how to truly utilize it in recent years," said Hi Potent C, who does handyman work and landscaping for his day job. "War Medicine was a major step in that journey. In the past I’d try and use different tones of voice or not enunciate as much, going for a laid-back approach -- some of it stemming from my voice being ridiculed growing up. It took me a while to appreciate the unique aspect of where I can go with the way I deliver. I study a lot of the late '80s hip-hop trying to absorb the skill of pushing your voice to the limit while rapping. B-Real and Danny Brown are definitely in my study notes too as more recent examples of that."
Other artists, producers, and labels that have influenced Hi Potent C include, "Griselda Records, which is Benny The Butcher, Conway The Machine, Westside Gunn and their producer Daringer. J Cole, Tha God Fahim, Curren$y, Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent. For the sake of not adding 100 more names, I’ll sum the rest up as 'the golden era' because those years were the prime of my childhood and I was captivated by too much to list. For producers, I’ll say Alchemist, J Dilla, Havoc of Mobb Deep, Metro Boomin, RZA, No I.D., Three 6 Mafia, Mike Will, The Neptunes."
There's also a plethora of Ypsi-Arbor rappers, singers, and producers on Hi Potent C's favorites list -- Twane Tweeze Tha Prophet and his group MAFIA, Sigidy, Denae, Fif Flame, Mitch Billions, Breez, BTeam734, Primobeats, Omnichron, and Tru Klassick, among others -- as well as all of the KeepItG crew, including two rappers who make appearances on War Medicine: Aareus Jones and TwoFace Suave.
Having so many local names to shout out is a tribute to the upsurge of hip-hop creators and venues in the Ypsi-Arbor area, all of whom seem to be on the same page as far as growing the scene.
"I definitely agree, especially because the era we started in was extremely limited as far as places to record perform or anything else," said Hi Potent C. "Today all you really have to do is browse the right places in social media and every single week has something to take part in, if not every day. And although there is the occasional friction, most teams and networks overlap pretty peacefully."
And even if there is a beef -- see War Medicine's "Shots Fired" -- it's entirely artistic, not physical.
"Yes, 'Shots Fired' is definitely about one individual. But I want to say first and foremost that the quarrel starts and stops with music, nothing more nothing less," said Hi Potent C. "What I mean by that is that this person offended me via musical activity and I designed a response that only they know that I’m talking about them. Because my goal is to not destroy their character or anything like that. The next time they drop an album, I’m gonna download and listen to it; the next time they do a show, there’s a 75% chance that I’m in the crowd. On a man-to-man level, I wish them nothing but greatness in life. I don’t feel like most artists separate the two rounds of living, though, so maybe my outlook is somewhat weird."
To further illustrate that Hi Potent C is talking about artistic battles, not real-life wars, he said, "I would love to have a lyrical bout with this person if they do choose to publicize the situation because they are definitely a worthy opponent if it ever went there. Otherwise, they wouldn’t even be worth giving any energy. I feel like a positive display of competitive energy is always good for productivity."
Should there be an impromptu battle rap, Hi Potent C can point to his freestyle skills on War Medicine's "Light and Water" as proof he can hang and bang on the mic.
"This song was actually my first time freestyling an entire record," said Hi Potent C. "There was a little bit of magic behind the scenes that we may reveal in a visual doc soon as to how we got to it the way it sounds as a final product. [Lyrically] I was ... speaking on the typical parental doubt when you’re pursuing something that isn’t as traditional as what they’re used to. ["My parents cringed when I said I'd be rapping when I grow up."] And over the years they realize a little more and more how serious and passionate you are about it and their respect level for it increases, too."
A married father of six boys with another on the way, Hi Potent C is now the one in the position to influence and support his kids' passions. War Medicine's "Long Road" even feels like a letter to his boys, or to any young person. The song acknowledges the hardships of growing up and encourages listeners to understand they're not alone -- even if they don't have a KeepItG crew in their lives yet:
Stay strong at all times
I know that you feel alone
Believe me, there's really a long line
Of people that feel the same
Not better than you
There's a lot of people I gotta get this medicine to
"The specific line “somewhere’s a kid feeling hopeless / facing defeat / say he couldn’t find God / but I bet he could find a .380” was directly inspired by younger kids in certain areas that I lived in during times of life that I wasn’t in Ann Arbor or Ypsi," said Hi Potent C. "That’s when I truly developed broader views of life and the world around me, not just in that specific community, but the way that it all interlocks with each other."
Christopher Porter is a library technician and the editor of Pulp.
KeepItG Records celebrates two new albums. On Friday, Feb. 21, Hi Potent C and Dyelow celebrate the release of "War Medicine" at Duke Newcomb's Dojo at The Elks Lodge, 220 Sunset Rd, Ann Arbor; doors open at 9 pm. On Saturday, Feb. 22, the KeepItG Records collective hosts a listening party for its new group album, "Triggered," at Ziggy's, 206. W. Michigan Ave., Ypsilanti; doors at 9 pm.