Inside the studio, heads bob like fishing boats loosely tied up to a dock while arms and torsos slowly sway side to side as if they were in the fingertips of a placid maestro.
The rhythm and the movements within the 102-year-old building are contagious. Above the seven weaving figures, hazy sunlight squeezes its way through a small stained-glass window. Country legends like Willie Nelson and Emmylou Harris undoubtedly felt that same sunlight filter in when they recorded here years ago. But today the sounds emanating from the historic House of David studio on Music Row is about as far away from country as you can get — because today, this is the House of Hip-Hop.
“Turn that energy up, Wes!” Tay Savage shouts out from the other side of the glass, which separates the control room from the main tracking room. “Ahh, he ain’t hype enough!”
Leaning back on a couch, Jean-Lucc Duquette casually tucks his long hair back behind his ear and glances up at Savage to state his rebuttal. “Wes ain’t like that though. He says something cool, and then lets it melt,” Duquette
Savage processes the beat for a few more seconds as it bumps through the control room’s speakers. “OK, that don’t sound bad,” Savage says.
On the other side of the glass, Wes “George” Hood lays down smooth rhymes into the mic. Duquette is right, they do melt.
All seven of the Hip-Hop artists in the studio are independent, but collectively they’re known as PaShun Music Branch, aka PMB. Duquette says it’s the first time PMB has been in a studio as a group, and they’re making the most of the precious time. The camp came prepared with two beat-filled desktop computers, allowing PMB to hammer out five tracks before the sun goes down.
“It’s been about four hours of good shit,” Duquette says of the recording session. “We’ve just been bouncin’ out beats.”
Dreadlocked and tatted up, Hood, along with his chilled-out vibe, emerges from the studio. When asked about what it’s like to record a Hip-Hop album on historic Music Row, not to mention in the same renowned studio as famous musicians and songwriters like Neil Young and Tom Jones, Hood’s sentiments are, well, blunt.
“How do we feel?” Hood reiterates. “We just smoked a blunt. That’s how we feel.”
Hood, 31, is the oldest of the East Nashville-based Hip-Hop collective whose youngest member is 20. PMB is comprised of eight independent Hip-Hop artists: Sean Stannard; Brett “DJ BBooney” Boone; Steven “King Chief Purp Blunt” Lyons; Austin Wise; Thomas Brame Jr. (Phresh Kyd); Hood; Savage; and Duquette. Along with being an artists and repertoire (A&R) man for digital distribution company Record Union and bringing together PMB’s Hip-Hop artists, Hood also acts as a father figure of sorts for PMB. “I go hard on these guys about putting projects out,” Hood says. “When I was 20, I didn’t have nobody with the power to get my music heard. Every other day I say, ‘Y’all need to be fuckin’ recording.’”
Hood glances around the room and eyes a few of his fellow artists. “I wish some of ’em would have their records out sooner,” he says.
“Come on, man, don’t put anybody on blast right now,” Duquette adds. “I think everybody probably brought their best today.”
A few of the artists nod their heads in agreement, except for Savage. “No, no, no, no, no,” Savage says. “I would’ve preferred Sean do that ‘Half Full’ song, dude. That’s a hit, dude. That hook, man, that’s cash fuckin’ money, man.”
Disagreements are what keep things fresh for PMB. They seem to know that they have to challenge each other in order to bring out the best in one another. “We stay independent, but as a collective, you know what I’m sayin’?” Hood says. “Because at the end of the day, we’re nobodies so we got to approach it like that.”
Phresh Kyd is a prime example of what it takes to build a brand in the underground Hip-Hop world. Along with dropping his digital LP 10 Minutes to Rap earlier this year, Kyd has hooked up with U.K.-based Glacia Clothing in an effort to reach a global audience.
“On top of that, he does all his own videos, graphic designs, everything,” Duquette says.
Kyd’s relationship with PMB began when he met Duquette and Hood during a radio show at Tennessee State University. “Wes and Jean-Lucc showed up at the radio station at TSU, and they were the ones who told me that if I’m serious about this, then come join us,” Kyd says. “So here I am.”
From there, Kyd’s 10 Minutes to Rap was digitally released on Spotify and iTunes earlier this year and promoted under the PMB and Record Union umbrella. Kyd took a unique approach to recording 10 Minutes to Rap by listening to three different beats for 10 minutes each and giving himself only 10 minutes to write to each beat.
“We put it out digitally and people are eatin’ it up,” Hood says.
In many ways, the artists view Hip-Hop and brand building as a full-time job. Stannard, a freestyle artist, is taking his work seriously. When he found out the group would be recording on Music Row, he made a bold move to make sure he didn’t miss the session. “I quit my job yesterday morning just to do this,” Stannard says, scratching his big, burly beard. “I just walked the hell out of there and came to do music.”
Sitting next to Stannard on the other end of the couch in the studio’s basement, Lyons doesn’t bat an eye at Stannard’s decision. “You gotta make this your job, you gotta make this your career,” Lyons says. “Do you want to pursue a 9-to-5 or do you want to pursue your passion?”
PMB newcomer Austin Wise came onboard with the crew to soak up knowledge from the other artists. “I just wanted to learn so much,” Wise says. “I’m the newest guy at PMB, and I came in for one goal and that was to learn as much as I possibly could. I just said, ‘Yo, be around the best artists in the city.’ I saw Phresh doing his stuff, Sean doing his stuff and I said, ‘That’s where I want to go, that’s where I want to be.’ ”
Whether they’ve been a part of PMB since the group’s inception or are brand new to the group, Hood has taken all of them under his wing. “I’m going to help you promote because at the end of the day we’re both working for the same goal,” Hood says.
A father of four, Hood grew up on the East Side on South 10th Street near Shelby Avenue. He started listening to Hip-Hop at an early age, drawing inspiration from lyricists like Busta Rhymes, A Tribe Called Quest, and Organized Noise. As a student at East Nashville Magnet School, he was the kid freestyling during his lunch hour. Hood’s been listening to Hip-Hop long enough to know that the sound is constantly evolving and that dope dealer glorification will only get artists so far, he says.
“There’s only so many ways you can rap about drugs,” Hoods says. “So the big thing I preach to the guys is that it’s up to you to listen to your heart and bring good music. We might smoke a little weed, but let’s talk about life, let’s talk about our story, let’s be 100 percent real and draw from 100 percent real-life situations.”
Hood and Duquette began seeking out like-minded artists when PMB was born about three years ago. The collective started off creating indie showcases, which provided a free platform for producers, Hip-Hop artists, and freestyling performers at places like The Building in 5 Points, Eighth and Wedgewood, Two Boots pizza shop, and Island Vibes in Antioch.
“We’re not the first to do this, but East Nashville right now has some of the top heavy hitters in Hip-Hop,” Hood says. “L Roy da Boy been rappin’ since the early 2000s and people are finally starting to recognize. It’s starting to really come to life, especially in East Nashville right now.”
Still, it’s been difficult for Hip-Hop artists like the PMB crew to emerge from underneath the singer/songwriter heap that often clutters Music City. “There’s more to Music City than rap,” Hood says. “It’s not country city, it’s Music City, and I just want to bring more light to more music. You can’t be Music City and only be recognized for just country. It’s all music.”
But Hood doesn’t simply want to shine a light on Nashville’s Hip-Hop community — he wants it to become a center of gravity for the genre. He wants to see it grow here, thrive here, and be rooted here. He wants to see Nashville’s music scene transform as much as its rapidly growing skyline.
“A lot of rappers will start to make it here and they leave for Atlanta,” Hood says. “Atlanta is overly saturated. If every Hip-Hop artist thinks, ‘I’ve got to move to Atlanta’ — well, you’re goin’ there along with 400 other people thinkin’ the
One of the biggest challenges for the group has been finding a venue to showcase their work along with the work of other local Hip-Hop artists. While their goal is to keep the music in Nashville, oftentimes PMB travels to Smyrna and even as far as Atlanta for showcases. The group’s next show takes place at the Hip-Hop event A3C Music Festival & Conference in Atlanta, which runs from Oct. 5-9. A3C, which stands for All 3 Coasts, will include more than 75 shows and events featuring more than 1,500 performing artists.
Still, the challenges of bringing Hip-Hop to the forefront in Nashville push PMB to work harder, Kyd says. “I feel like as an underground artist you need to be told ‘no’ because if you’re not an underground artist who’s being told ‘no,’ then you don’t know your limits,” he says. “We’re not in it for the money, we’re not in it for the recognition, we’re in it for the passion.”
Passion is the essence of PMB, and Hood hopes he can help the group’s younger artists funnel that passion into a clear direction. “I want to take something that people consider underground that live by it and swear by,” he says. “Rapping is what they do, so that passion should be brought to the forefront.”
“Our whole thing is to bring attention to Hip-Hop. People move here and say, ‘I ain’t never seen a show going on anywhere around here.’ It’s hard to get that out to the right audience. But that’s what we tryin’ to do. We went to South by Southwest and wore shirts that said, ‘Nashville Has Hip-Hop’ and people are like ‘Where? Where is it?’ So we want to bring attention to that.”
As the sun sets, its light filters through the stained-glass windows of House of David while the group gathers in the parking lot and talks about the tracks they laid down in the historic Music Row studio where country legends also recorded.
“Don’t get it twisted, we respect what they’ve done, for sure,” Hood says. “But we the change that we want to see. We goin’ to be puttin’ the spotlight on this.”