Huntsville, Ala., is no detour for G-Side
By David Malitz
Friday, Dec. 2, 2011
"I'm on an island all by myself / Disconnected from the universe / Don't need nobody else."
Huntsville, Ala., hip-hop duo G-Side doesn't parse any words in the opening lines of its new album, "Island." The hip-hop genre has long found power in partnerships, which is increasingly the case these days with Lil Wayne's Young Money stable, Rick Ross's Maybach Music crew and the mega-wattage collaboration between Jay-Z and Kanye West dominating the landscape. But G-Side is happily untethered.
"If hip-hop was high school, we'd probably be going to private school right now," says ST 2 Lettaz, who, along with fellow rapper Yung Clova, has made G-Side one of rap's most interesting and consistent acts of the past five years.
But by purposefully staying entrenched in its home town, G-Side has become the centerpiece of a robust music scene that has transformed Huntsville into an unlikely hip-hop hot spot.
"I'd say 50 percent of the people in Huntsville do music or are trying to be in the entertainment field," ST says before noting the semi-obvious, "and there is no entertainment industry here at all."
What does exist is largely thanks to G-Side, which has been kicking around since 1999, releasing its debut album in 2007 and delivering one per year since on its own Slow Motion Soundz label. Even after last year's semi-breakthrough, "The One . . . Cohesive," G-Side chose to stay independent, and "Island" is available exclusively through Bandcamp, an online music store favored by smaller acts.
That may not seem like the big time, but only a few years ago the best way to score G-Side music was by buying a homemade CD from ST at the Huntsville gas station where he worked. It fits the group's M.O., though.
"We built it from the ground up," ST says of the Huntsville scene. "We gave people the first real high-quality studio where people could feel comfortable, go in and be themselves and get a great product." Now a deluge of rappers in Huntsville are looking to follow in G-Side's wake, and with the duo bringing attention to their town, some are finding it easier to make an impact. But G-Side earned listeners through the strength of its music and everyman appeal.
"I think a lot of people latch onto us because we're honest people," ST says. "Even in the music with those big, spacey beats we have, we're honest and we spill our hearts."
It's no coincidence they are big and spacey. Huntsville, home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center, is known as "the Rocket City" and has long ties to the space program. Many cities have a water tower that serves as a skyscraping landmark; Huntsville has the Rocket, a giant Saturn V outside the U.S. Space & Rocket Center off Interstate 565.
Production duo Block Beataz collaborates regularly with G-Side and shares an affinity for such classic Southern hip-hop acts as OutKast and UGK while providing its own psychedelic flavor. "Island" is occasionally hard hitting but mostly hypnotic and has helped G-Side attract a different audience.
"It's beyond me how we get love on BrooklynVegan, but it's great," ST says of favorable coverage on the influential indie music blog, which isn't alone in praising the band. "It allowed us to build our own lane and not be in the same rat race as every other rapper around."
With the increased attention, it might seem like the perfect time for G-Side to set its sights on something bigger. Buzz is a precious commodity in the music world. But the duo is happy to be on its own island and accept the responsibilities that come with being the hip-hop face of their home town.
"The best way to get Huntsville music, the best way to get that feel," ST says, "is to be here and work with these producers who ride by the Rocket every day."