Monday, September 21, 2009

Valentine, Stamps hope to revitalize hip-hop scene in Athens

After a two-year absence from the local music scene, rapper-producer Tommy Valentine returned to Classic City stages in April and has done anything but take it nice and slow since then.
In addition to hosting a pair of sold-out shows at the 40 Watt and an eight-hour block party at the Max Canada, Valentine is cementing his spot in the Athens hip-hop community by forming an alliance - known as Mean Mic Entertainment - with Bobby Stamps, manager of Southern rap artist Bubba Sparxxx.
Valentine and Stamps will celebrate their collaboration with a hip-hop extravaganza tonight at the New Earth Music Hall, which will feature a set by Valentine as well as other in-town performers like Profound Breadth, Fresh and KNP.
The pair also has plans to host a weekly hip-hop concert series Tuesdays at New Earth (hosted by local legend Elite Tha Showstoppa, who also will host tonight's show ), launch a Web site, develop a local radio show, release albums, compilations and mix tapes and bring major label hip-hop artists to town.
"I've been on a path since March, when I returned to the hip-hop scene, and each show we've had has been a greater success, which I think has gone a long way to unifying the local scene," says Valentine, who had recorded and released three albums before his abrupt departure from public life in 2007.
"We've now got between seven and 10 artists who could do a show on their own, which has been my goal for the last several months."
"Tommy and I hope to provide an outlet for deserving artists in Athens and maybe people who aren't from Athens, but are going to the university or who have friends at the university," says Stamps, an Athens native now living in Atlanta. "It seems like the hip-hop scene in Athens has fallen behind, particularly when you look at all the other scenes there. It's really embarrassing to me.
"Bubba Sparxxx came out in 2000 and got a major label deal and we're the only hip-hop act to come out of Athens. Everybody will tell you that Athens is the No. 1 college music scene in America and it's just crazy to me that there's not more of a hip-hop scene and there's not more performers, writers and producers coming out of Athens. Tommy and I want to really build something here."
A Bubba Sparxxx show at the 40 Watt in the mid-2000s provided the opportunity for Valentine and Stamps to get together for the first time.
"I met Bobby in 2005 or 2006, when I opened for Bubba Sparxxx," Valentine says. "We stayed in touch after that point. Bobby is one of those guys who was part of the first wave of Athens hip-hop, which included DJ Crisis, Ishues, Fort Knox, DJ Danger Mouse and Bubba Sparxxx, which used to get together regularly at Mean Mike's downtown. I was too young to get in, but from the outside I could see the cooperation between the various artists and that was an inspiration to me. So we wanted our new venture to play off the Mean Mike's venue."
Valentine and Stamps became reacquainted earlier this year and decided in August to form Mean Mic Entertainment.
"Somebody encouraged Bobby to keep tabs on me and I would hear from him from time to time," Valentine says. "When I made my comeback earlier this year, we started meeting and I was really picking Bobby's brain. The more we talked, the more we found we had in common, so we decided to form a venture to promote hip-hop in Athens."
"I met Tommy when he was a high school kid freestyling," Stamps says. "Tommy promoted and opened for Bubba two times and I was impressed with his overall talent, his ability to write and perform, but also his business sense. We stayed in touch through the years, and I was very impressed with what he did at those 40 Watt shows earlier this year. He sold out a show and these days it's hard to sell out a hip-hop show with a name artist who has tunes on the radio. He's hardworking, talented and organized and I wanted to see what we could do together to make the Athens scene thrive."
Clearly stoked by his coalition with Stamps, Valentine appears equally enthused by the arrangement Mean Mic Entertainment has forged with New Earth, known formerly as Blur.
"I'm really excited about that," he says. "The New Earth Music Hall is embracing diverse types of music - it's clear they're going to be supportive of all the extremes in the Athens music scene. We're excited about our big show there tonight as the official launch of our venture, but the weekly hip-hop shows there is also a big achievement. If those shows draw anywhere near the audiences we got at the 40 Watt, we'll have a lot going for us. This is the start of something really exciting."
Although he will have some administrative duties with Mean Mic, Valentine says he's placing most of his creative focus on his music.
"When I left music two years ago, it was because I was spending too much time on business and I lost my passion for the music," he says. "I don't play to manage other artists or to stop making music. My dedication is to this scene, which allowed me to learn the skills and abilities I now have. The greater the success the scene has, the more potential I'll have to attract local fans and earn an audience."

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