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PremRock, Willie Green, Chuckie Campbell performing intelligent hip hop in Great Falls

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Hip hop haters, I hear you.

You think rap is a genre that perpetuates negative images of drugs, money, sex and violence and most of all, celebrating the “gangsta” lifestyle.

PremRock performs in Great Falls on Saturday at Machinery Row.
PremRock performs in Great Falls on Saturday at Machinery Row.

You have this idea in your head, likely planted there by MTV or other forms of media, of thugs with their saggy pants, and hip hop music is something THOSE people listen to, not you.

See the thing is, though, you’re wrong about it all.

It’s 2014 and we should be over this stereotyping of an entire genre of art, but it still does exist.

And granted, there IS hip hop that perpetuates those stereotypes, but it’s becoming a smaller and smaller minority.

This weekend, if you’re in Great Falls, come to Machinery Row to find out first-hand what the difference is between intelligent hip hop that has meaningful lyrics behind them and so-called “thug” music.

Underground hip hop artists PremRock, Willie Green and Chuckie Campbell make their first visit to the Electric City on Saturday on their last show of their “A Clean, Well-Lighted Place” tour supporting PremRock’s album of the same name. The Electric City Creative show starts at 8 p.m. Tickets are just $5.

PremRock, given name Mark Debuque, is a Pennsylvania/New York based rapper. His style is reminiscent of Aesop Rock to a certain degree, however not quite the same.

In an interview with Big Sky State Buzz, PremRock said what many people don’t understand is that when you’re creating intelligent hip hop, there is much more that goes into the writing than a lot of other music, and that it takes more thought, more time and can become more personal because the words you write typically always are yours alone.

“A lot of writing is involved in hip hop, to the point where I’d say the average hip hop album has probably 10 times more written lyrics than the average rap album, and to write meaningful lyrics is an impressive feat because there are still albums out there that are not saying a lot even though there are a lot of words,” he said.

PremRock put that aspect of writing under the spotlight on his song “The Writer’s Block,” which was from his debut album “The Build.”

He said the concept for that album came from hearing the backing track, produced by Mr. Green. He said he started imagining what life would be like if all the world’s great minds lived on the same block.

“Well, I think I heard the beat originally and I just had this idea in my head thinking, ‘What would it be like if like … all the great minds lived on the same street and the pun, or the play on words ‘The Writer’s Block’ kind of came after that because I got to thinking, ‘wouldn’t it be crazy if this all happened on my street.

It went from there and like all of the people I name dropped on that song are people at some point another I’ve read or read about their life or looked into for a kind of inspiration.”

Prem said when it comes to comparing his style to that of a gangsta rapper, he said while he’s never been that type of rapper, there are aspects of it that hold a lot of merit in his artform.

“It’s kind of a cliche in hip hop to be all about the money and degrading women and things like that, but it’s not all just about that,” he said. “There’s some rap that is really popular right now that is actually really, really well executed and well produced even if the message is whatever.

You know sometimes you just want to turn your brain off and listen to music and that’s totally fine. I’m not one of those guys, but I like everything as far as rap goes. Like, I love gangsta rap and it’s one of the biggest things in my life even though I have nothing to do with that lifestyle and I never will and don’t promote it, but there’s gangsta rap that is well executed and very much art.”

Willie Green plays with PremRock on Saturday.
Willie Green plays with PremRock on Saturday.

PremRock said when it comes to other independent rappers, he finds that a lot of them fall into this type of thinking where all they rhyme about is rap itself. He said he’s done that but has also found that building deeper concepts behind his albums has been much more rewarding for him.

“A lot of independent rappers fall into the same lane as me to the untrained listener, but they’re just kind of talking about rap, rap, rap, rap, rap and rap, and it’s like, OK that’s nice but have you ever thought of doing a different concept or anything like that?” he said.

“It’s not limited to what millionaire rappers on TV do, it’s independent rappers too. A lot of them don’t challenge themselves with different kinds of concepts. But, if you’re going to do the kind of thoughtless, brainless concept, at least make it super well produced and well executed and I can respect you for that.”

While this will be the trio’s first trip to Great Falls, Prem said he’s always made it a point to visit small markets in addition to bigger ones because sometimes it can help increase his exposure more to play a small show in a town like Great Falls vs. a show in a bigger place such as Seattle or San Francisco.

” I look at successful independent artists and the ones with the most longevity, they tend to have taken similar approach where they have taken to smaller markets with regularity on top of the big cities as well,” he said.

“Because you can establish a following with people who, they might not know everything about rap but they know about you because they saw you and nothing can replace the actual interaction that goes with meeting somebody. No online communication can replace, ‘hey, what’s up? Nice to meet you’ in person. And, that’s why I place a high premium on finding smaller pockets.”

PremRock also has taken to Europe, where he’s toured five times in his career already.

His most recent trip to Europe was in April and May when the new album first came out. He said one big difference between European shows and American shows is that people in Europe have an appreciation for art no matter what type it is and that they’re very appreciative of people who come from America for making the trip to do shows there.

“It’s different because in their culture, it’s been rooted for centuries to respect all arts and hold arts in high regard,” he said. “We’re talking about going back to when commissioned painters would do cathedrals and things like that, so they’ve always supported and found way to value artists, so you notice a difference right away by the way you’re treated and they go above and beyond to have everything you need and people tend to buy more albums or whatever. It makes for a good scene all the way around.”

Part of looking at hip hop as art is taking risks or putting together projects that, while they might not make much money, do push the envelope in creative ways.

For PremRock, that project was his Tom Waits cover album in which he re-imagined a collection of Waits’ songs. He said the idea for the album, which he released as a pay-what-you-want download, came after he received Waits’ entire catalog on vinyl from a couple who worked at a record store

“I got to be the beneficiary of this couple’s decision to dump all of these records and I ended up with Tom Waits’ whole discography, among other artists, but he was one guy who jumped out at me,” PremRock said. “I didn’t get him right away but then it all clicked and I listened to it and, I’m kind of going through a Tom Waits break right now, but for a long time every day I’d put something by him on every day.”

Prem said he couldn’t believe that no other rappers had ever tried sampling Waits, so he made the decision to do it even if it meant not making any money from any of the songs.

“I think he’s probably one of the most unique and prolific living artists we have today and I remember just thinking like, there are so much of thee songs that are so lush with different instruments and I found it strange that nobody ever sampled him before, and I mean, he’s notoriously guarded about people using his materials, so I never had any plans to sell it, but I thought people might like this so I did it and the response was fantastic.”

Prem said people in 70 different countries downloaded the album and said he looked at it more as a passion project that, “dominated my life for a year. I’m super glad I made it and I’m very proud of it but I probably won’t be doing anything like that again.”

As for the two other rappers touring with him, PremRock said he’s thankful that they all can get along so well and that it’s important for him whenever he’s on the road to have other artists who are just as professional as he is because if they’re not it reflects on him.

“It’s important that you respect and enjoy the music of the professional people you tour with because you’re bringing the show and if something goes wrong on their end it reflects on you,” Prem said. “Willie Green and I have toured together four times now and … he’s mixes and masters every one of my projects so he’s very invested in my music and knows exactly what’s going on.

He’s usually holed up in a studio in Brooklyn so it’s a treat to have him on the road. I caught him at a good time because people don’t often get to see what he does, if ever, so it’s really cool and I’m glad people are coming out to these shows and gravitating toward what we’re doing.”

For more information about Saturday’s show, visit the event’s Facebook page here and for more on PremRock, visit his website here.

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