Reno’s hip-hop scene keeps growing and growing.
There are dozens of local MCs—some of which have reached fame in the biggest little city. DJs serve as ambassadors of the local music scene, filtering through Reno’s excess of music and playing the best of it. Break-dancers and graffiti artists keep alive the same traditions started in the 1970s South Bronx.
For an urban area of its size—about 300,000 people—Reno-Sparks seems to have an exceptionally strong interest in independent hip-hop. Ten years ago, Minneapolis-based hip-hop group Atmosphere (one of the most successful underground groups of all time) was almost unheard of in Reno, outside of a group of small, dedicated and somewhat elitist hip-hoppers. Nowadays, browse through the iPod of any 18-year-old Reno suburbanite, and you’ll find the likes of Atmosphere, Living Legends, Jurassic 5, Brother Ali, Pigeon John, Hieroglyphics, The Pharcyde, and countless other independent, non-gangster rap groups.
Local show promoter Billy Drewitz, 36, better known as LateNiteBilly, has brought all these acts to the area.
Any music scene outside of major cities like Los Angeles or New York works on two levels: the local musicians who give the city its identity; and the locals who inspire the musicians to make the music.
Drewitz, who lives in Tahoe, brings hip-hop acts to the Reno/Tahoe area about three or four times a month, usually booking venues like The Underground, The New Oasis and Whiskey Dick’s Saloon in South Tahoe, among other venues.
Often, these shows are all-ages.
“You could do a 21-and-over show and bring 300 people,” says Drewitz. “And you could bring the same artist and do an all-ages show and bring a 1,000 people.”
“There [are] a lot of artists that simply will not play an age-restricted show because they feel it’s not right that a kid can’t see their favorite band,” says Drewitz. “And I agree with them. When you’re 16, you live by it. It’s your life. When you grow up, there are other things that are forced to be more important.”
Music scenes aren’t built just on 20-somethings who like to sit around and listen to live music while they get drunk. Scenes are built on teenagers who grow up studying music almost religiously, and know the culture through-and-through by the time they’re adults.
“I always try to include the local guys,” Drewitz says. “Any opportunity I get. I get phone calls all day long from people wanting to open up shows … it’s tough because I get hundreds of them.”
But most groups have preconditions to doing a show. Just like many groups won’t play an age-restricted show, many groups bring their own opening acts and won’t allow local bands to open for them. That’s not always the case, but it happens.
That’s not to say local bands shouldn’t try.
“I really do try to help the local guys as much as I can,” Drewitz says, adding, “I don’t care how good they sound. If they’re not working hard and they’re not dedicated, I don’t care.”
Drewitz has been accused at times of being in the game for the money. He is, and he doesn’t mind admitting it. But if that’s what it takes to bring great national hip-hop acts through Reno and help the scene grow, then that’s what it takes.