Friday, May 17, 2024

Backpackers use rap music to bring social issues to light

 Donald “L Biz” Foreman and Dwight “Grand Phee” Cook 
By Nathan Palmer

   Within the culture of hip hop there is a two-party system that functions like that of our government with Democrats and Republicans.

     You have the street based narrative hip hop that was once the voice of a political movement in hip hop’s early days until the rise of gangster rap in the early 90’s. To bring contrast to the gangster narrative, the early 90’s ushered in the era of backpack rap with conscious content groups like A Tribe Called Quest and De La Soul.

            Backpack rap is a subgenre of hip hop that offers an alternative to the oversexualized, violent mainstream content associated with rap music. Backpack rappers are genuinely artists whose content include extensive vocabulary and subject matter such as social issues. Sonically, backpack music is deeply rooted with the traditional sound of boom bap from the golden era of hip hop but can also vary in sound.

            Producers from the area are finding footing globally gaining credit for a signature hardcore backpack sound with the success of national recording artists like Buffalo's own Benny the Butcher.

            Inspired by a 2019 beat battle in Rochester that they attended, Buffalo natives and hip hop artists Dwight “Grand Phee” Cook and Donald “L-Biz” Foreman decided to create a similar platform that highlights hip hop producers in Buffalo.

            The two co-founded backpack mafia which organizes and hosts a series of beat battles for producers to showcase their unique sound. The name is in reference to the style of backpack rap combined with the family-oriented mentality of Bills Mafia. Cook is credited with coming up with the name.

            “It’s modeled on the format of battle rap leagues but with producers not vocalists,” Foreman said.

            This platform offers a unique alternative for producers and fans to experience something to vibe to without negative content. A sense of unity that helps change the narrative about hip hop. Another advantage from Foreman’s perspective is the networking aspect for fellow artists and producers to expand their networks by building relationships with one another. 

            Andre “Bless 3K” Mathews, a Niagara Falls hip hop producer who won first place in 2022 and participated in three of the beat battles, was jubilant in describing his experience.

            “It was way doper than I expected. Some of the producers actually made the beats right there on the spot,” Mathews said.

            The former 1st place winner was complimentary towards the backpack mafia for a chance to showcase and network with his music.

            “It’s really a culture,” Mathews said.

            This culture is exemplified by the unique experience of having the audience interact as judges. A true sense of unity as listeners can see producers make hip hop beats live on stage and hear the finished product all at the same time for the first time.

            The appeal of this event to aspiring producers and music connoisseurs crosses many demographics. Here, you will find hip hop enthusiasts of various age groups bobbing their heads to the music. It also builds working relationships between local artists and local businesses. That was one of the points emphasized by co-founder Dwight “Grand Phee” Cook.

            “Backpack mafia is bridging the gap between the youth and the elders of the culture because we all love the music,” Cook said.

            With a groundswell of support and national success of Buffalo based producers such as Daringer, Cee Gee productions, L-Biz, and Bless 3k, Buffalo and the surrounding areas including Rochester are receiving attention and recognition that it has never had before. Producers typically are behind the scenes while the vocalist garners the spotlight. This platform is unique and gives the producers the spotlight and a chance to shine.

            The diligence and consistency of L-Biz Foreman has paid off with a 2024 nomination for the 716 music awards this July for engineer of the year.

            “The reason I got into music is wanting to see other people make it. A love for exposing producers and putting on a unique hip hop experience,” Foreman said.

            The two co-founders see the future of the beat battles and backpack mafia traveling and taking the shows on the road. As the event continues to grow in popularity the goal is to take the mafia mentality outside of Buffalo.  

            The next backpack mafia beat battle is scheduled for June 22 in Olean and July 13 at Milkie's on Elmwood Avenue in Buffalo.