Central Standard Records proves quality music can come from Iowa
By Jared Curtis
When most people think of Iowa, hip-hop is not one of the first words that comes to mind. And when you add in that some white folks from Des Moines decided to start a hip-hop label, you might even hear some chuckling. Central Standard Records (www.central-standard.com) founders Joe Williams, Luke Driscoll, AKA Aeon Grey and Mindy Hoskin-Driscoll have heard this all before. But when people crank up albums from their artists and their heads start bobbing and bodies start moving, they get the last laugh.
“The idea started because I was helping Luke with some musical stuff as a friend,” said Williams, who ran the Ames-based label Bi-Fi Records. “It kind of became more enticing to just create our own label rather than have someone else do it.”
The decision to start the label ultimately came down to another decision that was out of their hands.
“I was applying for a job that would make my quality of life a lot different,” Williams said. “I told Luke, if I got the job we are starting a label… and I got the job.”
The name of the label is derived from a few subjects.
“Obviously it’s the time zone we live in, but it also sounds like an institution or a factory,” Williams said. “Plus, standard is a parallel to quality.”
Since 2007 the label has released seven albums, a certified promotional release and two samplers.
“We’ve helped expand the local scene and create an awareness and respect for Des Moines-based hip-hop,” said Hoskin-Driscoll. “In some markets, Central Standard has challenged and crushed the stigma that quality hip-hop couldn’t emerge from Iowa. Hopefully we’ve set a standard for other people working towards the same goals.”
Williams enjoys the pace that Central Standard is releasing products and growing.
“We are maturing at a comfortable rate,” he said. “We haven’t taken a huge risk yet. We’re going at a pace the Midwest affords us to. We have a commitment to putting product out when it’s ready instead of trying to rush it out.”
The label plans a number of releases in 2010, including new discs from Maxilla Blue, Aeon Grey, Cleo’s Apartment and Young Tripp, as well as BumRap Volume 2 and a split EP with Aeon Grey and Manned Missles.
“There is a lot of music coming out; 2010 should be a big release year, and all of them will be great,” said Hoskin-Driscoll. “Since it’s only the second album for Maxilla Blue, I am anxious to see the reaction after such a successful response from the first release. I’ve been anticipating a pretty amazing album from Luke. Hopefully he makes time to wrap that project up this winter.”
Regardless of their commercial success, fans can count on the Central Standard family to shine not only on the local scene but beyond.
“Nobody in the city can match what we are doing,” Driscoll said. “We are working with the best talent in the state. From every aspect, we want to be the best. We want to set the standard.”
And with acts like the following, Central Standard Records is well on their way.
Although Aeon Grey does have the solo disc “Lead Breakfast” in the works, he prefers to focus on his group, Maxilla Blue. The trio, featuring Asphate Woodhavet on the microphone, Touchnice on the wheels of steel, and Aeon Grey handling production, joined forces and worked on their debut, “The Beat-n-Path Vol. 1” months before their first show in 2007.
“We were working on things before the moniker even came about. I knew of Aeon as a producer, and he knew of me as an MC,” said Asphate Woodhavet. “We worked on the tracks for a year before anyone even knew about what was going on. We played our first show, and three months later we released the disc.”
When Asphate Woodhavet and Aeon Grey were initially creating the idea of Maxilla Blue, they thought they would handle the DJ duties.
“Initially we thought Asphate would MC, I would produce and we both would DJ,” Grey said. “But we didn’t want to tarnish the sound. Touchnice had been DJing for me, and he is one of the most talented DJs in town. He came in and in one session recorded all the scratches.”
Touchnice was glad to join the crew.
“These guys influence me and elevate everything I do,” he said. “We’re connected at shows. The more we get into it, the more the audience gets into it. Our job is to go out there and rock the crowd. Everything else is secondary.”
Although all three members can keep a party going separately, the sky’s the limit when they join forces.
“We’re like a chef’s soup. You can add an extra ingredient or take one out and it might not be bad, but you’re going to be able to taste the change,” Woodhavet said. “Without one part, it’s not Maxilla and it can’t be billed as such.”
Maxilla Blue is leading the way for Central Standard, offering a dynamic live show.
“People who come to our hip-hop shows won’t leave disappointed. Instead they’ll leave with a full-balanced meal,” said Woodhavet. “If you’re not a hip-hop fan, you’ll leave our show intrigued and surprised at the level of interaction. We’re beyond race and social economic status; all that stuff is left at the door.”
The trio has one goal in mind.
“We want to create an essence of what hip-hop was, instead of just trying to make a copied version of it,” Grey said.
More of a gamer than a gangsta, GaiDen Gadema dropped knowledge on hip-hop fans earlier this year with the release of his funktastic album, “The Jim Kelly Acquisition.” Along with his other 2009 release, “JK Savage,” Gadema is quickly building his dossier as one of the hardest working MCs in the area.
“I’m about 30, so I got to do it now or never,” he said.
Gadema hooked up with Aeon Grey and Central Standard almost a decade ago.
“He started the label with Joe Williams and wanted me to be a part of it,” Gadema said. “We have that love-hate relationship. We’re like the ‘Odd Couple,’ but when we come together, it’s genius.”
Gadema calls “The Jim Kelly Acquisition” his most mature work to date. But in a time when lyrics have become more about “bitches and money,” Gadema keeps the humor in his rhymes, referencing everything from movies (“Sometimes I’m too big for my britches, so catch me cooking butt naked like Ving Rhames in your kitchen”) to comedians (“Stealin’ up all the air time with a flow that’s immaculate like Steve Harvey’s hairline”).
“I have a twisted sense of humor, and I like to use movie references from Quentin Tarantino to hood movies,” he said. “Expect plenty of witty punch lines and metaphors.”
Gadema and his partner in crime, DJ Richie Daggers, bring plenty to what they refer to as a local scene that is lacking.
“There is a lot more bad music out there than good. But even if I don’t like someone’s music, I got respect for them working and grinding it out,” he said. “There is some good talent coming out of the woodwork, but I can count the artists that deserve to shine on my hands.”
Gadema is currently working on a new album, “The Midwest Mouthpiece,” and a collaboration project with fellow Central Standard artist Young Tripp called D.O.P.E. (Derelicts of Popular Entertainment).
“I’m all about having a good time and getting along with everyone,” he said. “If you can’t get along with me, then there is something wrong with you.”
Cleo’s Apartment adds a funky fresh sound to the Central Standard label. The hard to define mixture of funk, soul, electronic, jazz, hip-hop and rock has kept Des Moines’ local scene grooving since Mike Huss and Jeff Blanchard started the band in 1998.
“Jeff and myself had been working together as a duo, just keys and a DJ. We began to add random horns and other elements as we progressed,” said Huss. “A drummer came next. And then in 2006 we needed some vocals, so we added Crystal. Curtis, who I had worked with for a few years, joined around the same time.”
Huss said they always had envisioned a female vocalist for collaborations and when he met Crystal, everyone knew she was the right fit.
“We were just going to do a track, but we ended up writing like three songs,” Crystal said. “Some of them are still on the set list.”
After bringing together the core group, another, talented musician decided to take some space in Cleo’s Apartment.
“I moved here from New Orleans and met Curtis, and we had played in some bands,” said Mikiel Williams, who plays more than 30 instruments. “I came by to jam and have been with the band ever since.”
With his wealth and knowledge of music, Williams was a solid addition to the band.
“Mikiel is a great asset to the band,” Huss said. Whatever we need, he can play.”
The band is currently working on finishing its full album after releasing “New Tenets” a year ago. Band members say they are moving to a different sound.
“We are moving to a less electronic/DJ sound and using more instruments and less samples,” Huss said.
The tenets of Cleo’s Apartment are proud of the local scene and want more fans to get involved.
“Kids are hungry for new music,” said Curtis Weis. “We just need to get more people out to the venues.”
One of the newest members of the Central Standard family is Young Tripp. Representing the east side, Tripp brings a harder element to the label, which isn’t always considered a bad thing.
“Aeon has never wanted to change me or what I’m doing,” Tripp said. “I think he thought I would bring something different to the label. The genre doesn’t matter; the important part is that we are putting out good music.”
Tripp got his start banging out beats in the hallways of East High. He linked up with the Florida-based Scar Mafia, and in 2002 they dropped an album that “did well in Florida.” But after a while, Tripp knew he wanted to come back to his home.
“The move down there was never permanent,” he says. “Everything I love is here, and they’re going to have to bury me here.”
Tripp’s first full album, “Dead Flowers,” was released on another label earlier this year. One track, “The Loop,” is as good as anything on hip-hop radio right now. His forthcoming Central Standard debut, tentatively titled “Slave,” will offer a more thought-out, conceptual side of the MC.
“So many people are a slave to something,” Tripp said. “I want to talk about why we let these things control us.”
Along with “Slave,” Tripp will also be working with fellow Central Standard MC, GaiDen Gadema, on the upcoming D.O.P.E. project, which they hope to release in 2010.
“Gadema and I came up with the concept. We wanted a project with some hard lyrics that would punch listeners in the face,” he said. “But as we have started working on it, it has gotten deeper than what we originally thought, so I don’t know what to expect.”
When asked how he felt working with a white kid from Iowa producing hip-hop albums, Tripp laughed.
“I don’t see color in hip-hop,” he said. “But there are so many haters in Des Moines, I figured why not work with a white guy who runs a label.”
Floor Spiders Crew
As there are four elements of life (Earth, wind, fire and water), there are four elements of hip-hop (DJing, MCing, graffiti and breakin’). Breakin’ or B-boyin’, which is the element the Floor Spiders Crew (RekLoose, GAGE 1, LouMega, Asphate Woodhavet, ESNCE, Adept, Spazmatic, Bri-zee Roc, Khoncrete, Twisted, Automatic, Max, Exo-152 and Mario) handle for Central Standard Records, is a style of dance that evolved out of the late ’70s, early ’80s hip-hop culture. The Floor Spiders Crew (FSC) have been getting down since 2002.
“At the time we were breakin’ wherever they would let us,” said RekLoose. “And if they didn’t let us, we’d still do it.”
The crew is like family with a tight knit bond. Joining the crew takes dedication, hard work and interaction. One of the newest members, Adept, understands the crew is about more than just B-boyin.’
“It affects you from head to toe. You study your craft, and you depend on each other,” said Adept. “The illist thing about B-boyin’ is that every aspect of it translates to life.”
The FSC battle other crews in and out of state. The atmosphere is electric but can also be intimidating.
“You show up at a battle, and everyone is so different,” said ESNCE. “But you have your family with you and once you feel the energy and the vibe, the hesitation fades and you want to get down.”
The FSC bring a crucial party vibe to any show they perform at and have helped keep the spirit and passion of the hip-hop culture alive in Des Moines.
“There is so much diversity at a show, and the energy is incredible,” said Asphate Woodhavet. “No matter if it’s a small battle or a large event, everyone is free to be themselves.”
You can catch the Floor Spiders at numerous events throughout the year, but as Asphate says, “You can always find the Floor Spiders Crew getting down at a Maxilla Blue show.”
Bringing an element of madness to the Central Standard family is Tyborn Jig. The hard-hitting rock and rollers formed in 2005, but the current lineup didn’t come together until 2007.
“I started the band as a two-piece, but that didn’t work,” said Elliot Imes. “I knew Benjy because we played in another band and we both knew Ace and Ed, so it just grew from there.”
Their name has an interesting background.
“I heard the name in a Tom Waits song,” Imes said. “Tyborn was this city where London criminals would be executed by hanging. Sometimes they wouldn’t die right away, and they would do a jig.”
Although the band has already released its self-titled debut, “Ten Paces to the Buffalo West,” they are working on new material.
“We’re always writing, and we come up with new ideas and different directions all the time,” said Benjy Klostermann. “We have five new songs, and they are different, but still completely the Tyborn sound.”
The friendship between the band and Central Standard began with the opportunity to play a show.
“We had known Luke for a while, and he approached us about being on the bill for a Central Standard show,” Imes said. “I think he was drawn to our energy. He appreciates what we do, and we appreciate what he does. He even did a verse on one of our songs.”
Although they are a part of the local scene, they believe more work needs to be done so it can thrive.
“I’m not trying to offend anyone, but there are not many good local bands,” Klostermann said. “Truthfully, there isn’t enough local bands period.”
But they do believe the scene is on the rise.
“The scene is growing,” said Ace Wilde. “It definitely hit bottom, but it’s on an upswing. As long as people start forming more bands and making music rather than just sitting at home, there will be more of a scene.” CV
Caption: Maxilla Blue (Asphate Woodhavet, Aeon Grey, Touchnice) will perform at Vaudeville Mews on Nov. 21. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/maxillablue. Photo by Joe Crimmings
caption: GaiDen Gadema and DJ Richie Daggers will perform at Vaudeville Mews on Nov. 28, with Young Tripp. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/gadema7. Photo by Jared Curtis
Caption: Cleo’s Apartment, from left: Mike Huss (keys, vocals), Crystal Fields (vocals, attitude) Mikiel Williams (sax, flute, wind synth) and Curtis Weis (bass, guitar, sitar). Members not pictured include Rachel Gulick (Trumpet), Max Plenke (drummer), Pat Noonan (drummer) and Jeff Blanchard (DJ). See Cleo’s Apartment at Vaudeville Mews on Jan. 9 with Shiver, Shiver. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/cleosapartmentband. Photo by Jared Curtis
Caption: The Floor Spiders Crew represents hip-hop culture to the fullest. Photo by Lyssa Wade
Caption: Young Tripp will perform at Vaudeville Mews on Nov. 28, with GaiDen Gadema and DJ Richie Daggers. Photo by Jared Curtis
Caption: Tyborn Jig, from left: Benjy Klostermann (drums), Ace Wilde (vocals), Ed Schneiders (bass) and Elliot Imes (guitar, vocals) are playing Nov. 25 at the Haunted Basement, 614 Corning Ave. For more information, visit www.myspace.com/tybornjig. Photo by Joe Crimmings