Seph Appeal

Midtown foot soldier Raymond Hardy II takes pride in the fact that he’s never had a driver’s license. “Before I was old enough to drive, I’d steal my folks’ car,” he admits. “I got in four accidents. I’m scared of driving.”

Understandably so.

Burly Record Bar bouncer ‘Toon sports a beard and a headful of dreads, a booming voice (especially come closing time, when he’s yelling at stragglers to get out) and a misunderstood rep as the barroom bad guy. “I get a lot of beef for being an asshole, but I’m really just doing my job,” he says.

Fair enough.

Rapper Sephiroth (who calls himself Ex.Sept.Ism when he produces) thinks hip-hop, both locally and nationally, is a stagnant roomful of copycats and style biters. “Hip-hop hasn’t changed locally since 2002. It’s the same people releasing the same album,” he says. “I remember growing up and the term byter was a bad thing. Nowadays you get applauded if you’re a good enough imitation.”

Word.

I’m being a bit sneaky here. Raymond, ‘Toon, Seph — they’re all the same guy. Whatever the name, dude’s got a lot to say.

Almost weekly, he posts MySpace bulletins opining over hip-hop’s bleak status quo. His musings are usually provocative and funny.

He doesn’t want to be perceived as a negative, shit-talking chump, mind you. He sees a lot of good in KC hip-hop, counting iD, Beatbrokers and Miles Bonny among his favorites. You know he wouldn’t get mad if he didn’t care.

But instead of bitching, Seph should offer some solutions as to how to save local hip-hop’s ass.

As it happens, that’s just what I got him to do over lunch al fresco at McCoy’s, a space that his fellow midtownies have christened “the City Hall of Westport.” “We gotta quit all this ‘huggy, lovey-dovey, we’re best friends’ rapper shit,” he told me. “A little competition wouldn’t hurt anyone.” Sure, artists supporting each other is the foundation for any sort of scene — but unfortunately, it’s usually the same cast of characters building each other up.

Kansas City is drowning in Big Fish, Small Pond syndrome, especially in the hip-hop community. And viable club space is scant, with few places willing to open their doors for hip-hop shows.

“We need more venues. We have the Peanut Downtown and the Record Bar. They’re booking some stuff at the Grand Emporium, but it isn’t exactly known for hip-hop,” he says.

Seph remembers when he was a doorman at the old Hurricane. Previous manager Stan Henry booked rock bands inside, and hip-hop DJs held court on the deck. This yielded a torrent of what Seph refers to as “metalheads, backpackers and yuppie fucks.”

His memories are fond, but I remember it being a wholly confusing clusterfuck. Especially on a night when dreamy and neurotic punk folker Jonathan Richman‘s patio show abruptly ended to make way for a bass-hungry, booty-shakin’ DJ set.

I wouldn’t anticipate shows like that at the new Hurricane anytime soon. But I would expect that a guy who has so many qualms about KC rap also has plans to stage a revolt. Or at least put out some material. And Seph is.

He’s putting together an instrumental joint on his own, as well as MC-ing a full-length with Lawrence producer Sleeper. As head of the Ransom Records label, Sleeper shuns traditional record samples in favor of working with homemade instruments.

Seph’s also putting on his own producer hat: Ex.Sept.Ism is helping to craft beats born out of a nocturnal home recording session for a collective that’s calling itself Dayshift.

On the Sleeper track, Seph channels some serious personal demons over sparse and spaced-out rumblings and whizzes. It’s not typical hip-hop — he’s not rapping about bitches and money over boom-bap drums — but we’ve already heard similar stuff from national acts such as 13 and God.

Still, it’s smart and refreshing, and I’m intrigued to hear more, especially live. Seph hasn’t played out in years, and he has trepidations about performing.

“My rhymes are so close to journal entries,” he explains. “I don’t want to walk down the street and have people feel sorry for me and ask, ‘Wanna hug?'”

That wouldn’t be so bad, would it?

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