What’s your name?
My name is Merc Versus. MERC was an old graffiti name I used from when I used to tag, and VERSUS is an acronym for Violence Expressed Reveals Someone Under Stress. Also MERC represents murder and VERSUS represents conflict.
Have you ever been known to rock under a different name?
I have rocked under a few different names. In the late 90s and early 00s I called myself Mr. Deadbeat or the Deadbeat Poet, which kind of relates to my current name as in ‘murk verses’ and ‘dead beats’.
Where are you from?
I am from a small town in east central Indiana called Muncie. Home of Bonzi Wells, Garfield creator Jim Davis, and Ball State University. Also the fictional location of the Tom Slick cartoon and Close Encounters of the Third Kind movie.
What’s it like to live in a small town? Are you able to support yourself full time from your music career?
In the small town where I live, jobs are hard to come by. Muncie is basically a burnt out college town. There’s nothing to do here outside of Ball State besides getting into trouble. There is a crime problem here, and a big portion of the musical community doesn’t respect hip hop culture as a valid artform. I don’t know how many times I have ran into band members that say they can rap or try to freestyle for me like it’s some kind of party favor or novelty act. I don’t think some of them get the fact that this is a craft and not what they see on MTV with somebody bragging about how much money and how many women they have. I also wanted to mention that the security in most popular Muncie venues doesn’t know how to handle the ‘native’ crowd and by that I mean the non-collegiate local black crowd. They are either shook to death or overly disrespectful. The true school hip hop kids are the living inheritors of the legacy of blues and jazz. Downtrodden and disenfranchised people speaking truth to power. But then again I don’t expect middle class musicians to completely understand poverty poetry. On the other hand there are certain figures in the music scene here that show us utmost respect and we love them for that. They realize that I put in just as much work if not more than any other band or group in this town when it comes to promoting myself.
I am currently unable to support myself full time with my music career, but that’s the goal. We sell production, graphic design, journalism, management, and of course our own music and if we’re lucky we might get gas money for driving to a show to perform. There are a lot of shady cats (promoters) out there who like to use others’ talent to help pay their rent and could care less about helping to nurture and develop their scene by giving other local artists a chance to shine. They would rather make themselves the opening act. I once got into an online discussion with a promoter a decade younger than me that was trying to explain to me why my brand of music doesn’t matter anymore. Then they proceeded to direct me to a website where I could witness ‘the next big thing’ in Indiana hip hop. This same person was completely unfamiliar with anyone in the Indiana hip hop scene. Needless to say, I checked out the website and was absolutely not impressed. It’s still a desert out here. Any suggestions? Lately we’ve been branching out to Ohio and Michigan for shows.
What’s your history? How long have you been in the game?
I’ve been in the game on a local/regional level for about twelve years. I can remember writing rhymes as far back as second grade. Some of my first inspirations back then were groups like Run DMC, Newcleus, Kool Moe Dee, and Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five, specifically Melle Mel. Between the grade school and high school age I was more into music with a positive and conscious message, such as Brand Nubian, Poor Righteous Teachers, and King Sun. I was also a fan of the supremely lyrical brand of hip hop like Rakim, Kool G Rap, and Big Daddy Kane. I was a big fan of the Juice crew. When I first decided to pick up the mic in the mid-90s, some of my inspirations were Ice Cube, Cypress Hill, Wu-Tang Clan, Gang Starr, and the Beatnuts. We used to do a lot of local shows here and there and sell our little tapes. I’ve always been a writer, so I took up the craft of hip hop journalism for a hot second starting in 2000.
Since then, there were various group disputes, personal and legal problems, and artistic differences between myself and my associates that kept me running in place for a few years. Up until that point my brother and I had been involved in about 7 local releases and had begun to break through in terms of learning how to promote ourselves online and in public. We used to have hip hop parties at Ball State Universities that we promoted under the title Live Mic Nite. By 2007 I was fed up. I scrapped everything, renamed myself and started from scratch. Since 2007 I have formed a new crew called Ironworkers Guild (IWG) which consists of some very talented Indiana emcees and producers (Shake C, Siah Soze, Woodenchainz, Big Pipe, The Problem, Science Born). I have released a couple solo releases and a couple Ironworkers releases both online and locally since then. My label is called Invisible Inc Multimedia and the artists on my label include myself, my brother A Man Called Relik who is a phenomenal spoken word poet, and an upcoming producer/emcee named Stone Messiah. We also recently got blessed with the presence of C-Rayz Walz (of Immortal Technique’s crew Stronghold) and Kevlaar 7 of Wisemen (Wu-Tang) to oversee a couple of our upcoming projects as executive producers.
Do you produce music as well? If so, what gear do you use?
Yes, I have been a producer since the beginning. I used to live and die by the now-defunct Ensoniq products such as the Ensoniq EPS and the ASR-10, I went through a few of those. I sold a few, a few got stolen. It took a long time to give in, swallow my pride, and soften up my purist mentality, but due to convenience I eventually gravitated to a computer-based production system. I use Fruity Loops and my co-producers use Fruity Loops and Acid Pro. Shame on us. Blame it on 9th Wonder. I basically use it to sequence the samples and program the drum tracks, not for the cheesy drum sounds or the auto-tune plug-in. Honestly I still prefer hardware to software. Some of these cats making beats out here have never touched a keyboard if wasn’t attached to a laptop. Some of my co-producers also play several instruments. And I’m eventually going to dust off this bass guitar I have, I promise.
As you may know, I’m originally from SBI….have you found it difficult to be an artist in Indiana?
Yes and no. In terms of promotion, we get love from real hip hop fans. There seems to be a divided scene between the more commercial street artists and the true school hip hop artists, that’s a given. But there also seems to be a general attitude from city to city that each local squad might have a master plan that some other squad can’t get with. On some we got the secret formula and you don’t. It’s an ego thing. I’m like, let’s trade fans. You have fans that haven’t heard me and I have fans that haven’t heard you. Let’s bridge the gap, it’s better for both the cultural and business aspects of the game.
We have done shows all over Indiana and I have plenty of people that I consider my homies, fellow artists, and fans, but I think until Indiana hip hop artists realize that we can do more for each other together than we can apart things will remain the same. Kill the superstar egos if you don’t have the substance and drive to back it up. And the whole swag movement made egos inflate even more. Everybody thinks they are too fresh for Crest, no matter the talent level. Apparently some people think glamour makes up for talent in rap these days. Also, big ups to South Bend. Strictnine is one of the illest producers in the state and I consider him, Breon Warwick, and Devilman to be my peoples.
Who are some of the artists that have inspired you to do what you do?
I would say the lyrical ability and presence of Kool G Rap, the wordplay of the D.O.C., the smoothness of Guru of Gang Starr, the soul of Same Cooke, the militant outlook of Peter Tosh, and the buckwild artistry of Bad Brains. That’s a pretty accurate description of my inspirational matrix.
What topics to tend to cover in your music?
I honestly believe that a truly talented emcee could write a rhyme about washing his car and make it sound ill. I adhere to that school of thought in the fact that some of my songs might just be straight lyrics with no subject matter. Then we have songs that address certain socio-political issues and concepts such as homelessness, poverty, teen pregnancy, drug use, you name it. It’s not really a matter of the hot button issue or buzz word of the minute to me, it’s much more personal than that. Sometimes almost too personal for the listener to understand, but it’s wrapped in such vivid wordplay that music fans can appreciate the level of complexity and care that were put into the presentation.
What do you see yourself doing in five years?
If at all possible, I see myself securing deals for some of my artists and being in the process of establishing my own indie label. I would also like to have an Indiana-based hip hop festival to showcase our state’s talent. I’ve always wanted to be more involved with my local community in terms of education as well.
What should people expect to see when they come to your live show?
People should expect to see an intoxicated man bleeding his heart out through the words he says over punishing beats. My team and myself have a variety of styles, and we have been compared to many different artists. Some of the comparisons flatter me and some confuse me. I have heard Outkast, A Tribe Called Quest, and Wyclef Jean. Then I have heard Wu-Tang Clan and Mobb Deep. One thing is certain: we do our best to give you a slice of our lives through our musical performance.
Are you able to do shows with touring artists who come through your area?
Definitely. In the past year or so we have had the honor of opening for such respected performers as Wu-Tang’s Wisemen, Canibus, C-Rayz Walz, Doodlebug of Digable Planets, Black Sheep, Glue, Wu-Tang’s Timbo King, and Killah Priest. In the past I have opened for Twista and All Natural. One thing that I think a lot of local artists need to realize is how to market themselves. By strategically selecting the type of artist for which you open, you can snatch some of their fans and increase your notoriety. For instance, if you’re a more gutter gangster type artist you’re not going to get much praise opening for someone like Aesop Rock. On the other hand, if you’re a more introspective and emotional emcee you may not get the response you deserve by opening for Spice 1. I don’t think a lot of artists get that. This is one instance where division is good for the culture. If hip hop was analyzed and categorized by the media as much as rock and roll it would make it a lot easier for unsigned artists to market themselves. Contrary to popular belief, everyone that calls him or herself a hip hop artist doesn’t deserve to be classified under one banner.
Is hip hop is dead?
No, hip hop isn’t dead. It’s in a coma. The hopeful thing about that is the true artisans and fans of this craft act as a life support system.
Any last words? Shouts?
I want everyone to remember that most things are valuable due to their rarity. When everybody looks, acts, dresses, and sounds the same it decreases the general value of humanity. Our strength is in our differences. Don’t call me a hater if I criticize your music. Take a look in the mirror and consider the fact that not everyone agrees with your way of doing things. Just because I have an opinion doesn’t mean I’m hating on you. Just because a critic says your music sounds like everyone else’s doesn’t mean he has a personal vendetta against you. I also want grown men to stop idolizing rap stars that are half their age. Get some self respect. I want to send a shout out to all my Wilderness Guerrillas, Indiana and worldwide. IWG stand up. Big ups to France, the UK, Germany, Italy, and everyone else everywhere that purchases our CDs online. Peace to my Invisible Inc Hollow Men, A Man Called Relik, Stone Messiah, and Science Born. And lastly, not everyone was born to be a pimp, thug, or hustler. Slow your role. Better yet, know your role.
Invisible Inc Multimedia - http://invisibleinc.s5.com
Merc Versus YouTube - http://www.youtube.com/merc765
Merc Versus MySpace - http://www.myspace.com/mercversus
Merc Versus Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/mercversus
Merc Versus Twitter - http://www.twitter.com/mercversus
Merc Versus BlogTalkRadio - http://www.blogtalkradio.com/hollowmen
Merc Versus Blog - http://www.inthemixuncutblog.com