When a club in Chicago has a choice between booking a rapper from Iowa or a rapper from down the street, it isn't much of a contest. A smaller local act has a bigger chance of drawing in local fans and friends than a comparable out-of-town act. Plus, "rapper from Iowa" can be a tough sell. Luke Driscoll, aka Aeon Grey, is hoping to build up and spotlight the local scene with his label Central Standard Records, featuring acts like Gaiden Gadema, Young Tripp and Maxilla Blue.
Driscoll started the label in 2007 with his partner Joe Williams (who lives in Minneapolis). They watched their friends burn their own CDs or hook up with labels that weren't much more than a guy with a credit card. So far the label has been releasing about two albums a year, with the latest, Gaiden Gadema's "The Jim Kelly Acquisition," dropping this week.
"We try to be like a tight knit community," said Brandon J. Atlas, who works with Driscoll and DJ Touchnice in Maxilla Blue. They view Central Standard almost like a form of quality control. If it's on the label, you know it's going to be good.
Driscoll and the other rappers hope to build up the local scene so that the reaction from outsider rappers and audiences isn't "Oh, you're from Iowa." Part of that building process involves trading shows with rappers in other cities. Des Moines rappers might open a show in another city, then bring those performers here. The only downside is that with a smaller market, a rapper who is enthusiasticlly received in Chicago will probably receive a smaller crowd in Des Moines.
"If we succeed, things like Luke and Maxilla, which wouldn't have a voice conventionally in the Des Moines area, can have a pattern to establish itself and shape something new here," Williams said. "If that's what we're doing, I think we're on to something."
Another challenge facing the label is that if someone doesn't want to pay for Central Standard's music, they don't have to. Driscoll has tried to make vinyl a priority so that the physical product is more enticing to buy. He mentioned that "Jim Kelly" might be the label's last CD, with vinyl and digital being the future. Driscoll thinks music has been devalued by free downloads and the market being flooded.
"No one wants to pay. Lil' Wayne has a new mix tape out every week. Unless you have something special, no one is going to notice."
Jason Herron, aka Gaiden Gadema, considers "The Jim Kelly Acquisition" to be his first professional production after a few mix tapes and the 2006 full length "The Fool in Black," which didn't have the polished production he had hoped for. The new album takes its name from actor Jim Kelly, the afroed martial artist from "Enter the Dragon" and "Black Belt Jones."
"It's about his charisma," Herron said. "He's just so cool. I want my music to emanate with that swagger."
Herron also sees Kelly as a poster boy for soul power, and he hopes that would will help show people Iowa has that sould and that there is potential to rap about life instead of just "battle raps and banging out a beat."
The fall he hopes to head out on the road, touring Iowa and surrounding states.