The first time I heard Cam Flowers (’16) rap was at a Tufts Cypher at the Crafts House in February of this year. Him, Montel “Telly” Yancy (’14), and Shaun “Kvvam” Andah (’14) were trading verses over one of my beats at one of the few Hip-Hop specific events at Tufts. The Cypher Club made me excited about the Hip-Hop scene here, but when I talked to Cam about it, he told me about how hard it had been to get a Hip-Hop scene started at Tufts.
When Cam and his band, Bad And Blue (think The Roots but with a lot more funk and soul influence), lost Battle Of The Bands last year, they were understandably disappointed. The chance to open up at Spring Fling is major opportunity for a Tufts band. But as the frontman/rapper for a Hip-Hop band, Cameron felt especially frustrated. “I remember one of the judges told me that despite how awesome we sounded, he didn’t think that the entire community would appreciate our style of music.”
But the headliner that year was Nelly. The year before, Lupe Fiasco headlined Spring Fling. 2010 saw Drake. 2009 had Ludacris. 2008 was Common. In fact, there had been a Hip-Hop performer at Spring Fling every year since 2001. To any outsider, it would seem like Tufts has a healthy interest in Hip-Hop, which is why Cameron felt slighted by the judges’ decision, and frustrated by how hard it was to run the Cypher Club despite a solid amount of support. The truth is that there is a gaping hole in the music scene where Hip-Hop should be, and Spring Fling is more of an exception than a rule.
The good news is that Hip-Hop is on the cusp of becoming a legitimate aspect of the Tufts music scene. Artists like Mitch “Chedda SK” Maguire, Cam, Telly, Kvvam, and even Timeflies have garnered attention throughout their Tufts careers, adding legitimacy to the scene here. The problem is the lack of space on campus to consistently stage events to promote the genre, and a lack of a formalized club. Ben Silver (’16), who organized this past year’s Jumbonnaroo concert series (which included a Hip-Hop showcase) in support of Relay for Life believes that part of Hip-Hop’s appeal is that it’s individual-focused. “I think that Hip-Hop can be a more personal form of self-expression, and has this private aura that differentiates it from other less personal and more aesthetic genres,” he said. But there’s certainly a talent pool here and collaboration does happen. Ben and Cam collaborated on a song to promote Relay For Life. And Andrew Berman, who producers under the name Madeaux, has made tracks with Telly. Mitch, a senior, who has gained a sizeable online following rapping under the moniker Chedda SK (his latest video has over 18,000 views since its release in February), agreed with Ben. “Hip-Hop is one of those genres where kind of do your own thing. Just you and a mic most of the time.” While other genres of music foster collaboration and group performances, Hip-Hop is unique. Especially with the networking tools that the Internet provides, Hip-Hop artists at Tufts can fulfill their creative desires by collaborating with nonlocal artists.
With a lack of institutional or club support, booking space on campus is incredibly difficult, which has lead those interested in Hip-Hop at Tufts to work independently or in small groups. “We need to have a venue that people can get to, DJs and producers can bump their music, rap cats can spit some bars, b-boys and b-girls can break a bit,” Cameron said. He envisions a unifying Hip-Hop culture taking hold at Tufts that can unite the four elements of Hip-Hop—rapping, DJing, breakdancing, and street art—into one organization. But doing this without a formally recognized club is difficult. In 2012, Cameron started Tufts Cypher, a group of Hip-Hop heads that would get together and freestyle rap. “I was so happy to get it up and running, and getting the people together to celebrate one love for Hip-Hop. The club was something I wanted to get going no matter how much interest there would be initially. So I was surprised when over 60 people told me they would be down for something like the Cypher to be created…We set up shop in a common room in Lewis, I brought some speakers and our producer folks plugged in their laptops while the common room became the site of our cypher,” he said. But the group deteriorated because Cameron had trouble organizing everything by himself, and space was hard to book with no official TCU recognition. This year, cyphers were infrequent and the only Hip-Hop specific show was the Jumbonnaroo Hip-Hop showcase.
One thing all the rappers I talked to agree with is that a formal club is what Hip-Hop needs to break into the Tufts music scene. “A formally recognized club could do the trick because we could use the funding to throw a lot of events on campus,” Cameron said. Thanks to the Internet and the work that artists like Telly, Chedda, and Kvvam have done, Hip-Hop has a sizeable amount of interest at Tufts. “I definitely think it’s going to become a more established thing. I’m bumping into more kids that rap and produce everyday so it’s only a matter of time,” said Kvvam. “I think just the sure number of people who said to themselves ‘Hey, I love Hip-Hop, I could see myself doing it and now it’s more accessible than ever’ [is increasing],” says Chedda. Unfortunately Hip-Hop’s underground status here is also preventing it from growing. “I think exposure is a main barrier. People can’t join a movement they haven’t heard about. I happened to join the cypher club because I saw a tweet from a friend but I feel like a lot of interested people may be unaware,” says Kvvam. Cameron also mentioned the negative stigma Hip-Hop receives “for the most part, our campus has no idea how unifying Hip-Hop is. There is a lot of negative bias toward Hip-Hop and people assume that it isn’t the genre of choice for Tufts students.”
But with Kvvam, Chedda, and Telly graduated, the future is uncertain. Cameronhas high hopes for Hip-Hop at Tufts. “I think because I have this love for the art and a commitment to the community here on campus, I have been doing my best to piece together opportunities to bring Hip-Hop out of the shadows on our campus.” Next year, he and I will try to get the Cypher Club formally recognized. With Ben Silver’s support, the ultimate goal is to consistently create a venue for Hip-Hop at Tufts besides the stage at Spring Fling. A consistent weekly meeting of rappers, producers, and general fans of the music would solidify Hip-Hop’s presence at Tufts. It’s one of the few genres of music without a club on campus to support it. “I can tell that you that while I’m still at Tufts, I’m just going to keep making music for Friday night cyphers and twice a semester, putting together a showcase of the fun music that we like to do for ourselves,” Ben told me, “Even without an audience, freestyle rap can be so satisfying, but having a crowd just elevates the whole thing.”