Rumbles from the underground

A musician promotes local hip-hop through his new radio show, Top $helf Radio

Hennessy commands the booth at his hyperlocal rap show Top Shelf Radio.

Hennessy commands the booth at his hyperlocal rap show Top Shelf Radio.


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The sound of laughter is abrupt.

It’s five minutes into Hennessy’s Top $helf Radio Show that airs local hip-hop every Tuesday from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. on The 360 Radio. The comment that catches everybody off guard comes from the host Hennessy himself: “I got into a conversation with somebody,” he says, pausing to consider his next line. “They told me that I don’t support the scene.”

The tone of the laughter is indignant more than anything. Once it dies down, he gives it context. A local performer (no name given) asked Hennessy to come to one of their shows, which he couldn’t do because of scheduling conflicts. His support for Sacramento artists was quickly called into question.

Everyone in the studio understood the inherent absurdity of this accusation. Hennessy, more than just about anyone in Sacramento, supports Sacramento’s artists. Every week he brings in local talent from the hip-hop scene and gives them a platform to promote themselves. Tonight’s guests for the show’s one-year anniversary are eight members of the Auburn Hip Hop Congress—a group of artists, emcees and DJs that help troubled kids in Placer County by giving them a means to express themselves. When Hennessy’s not interviewing guests, he’s playing tracks by local hip-hop and R&B musicians at the online-only 360 Radio, one of the only remaining places in town that will do so.

It wasn’t just the Auburn Hip Hop Congress that found the comment ridiculous. Hennessy mentioned this incident on his Facebook page and got nearly a hundred responses. “They’re joking right?” one person commented. “You are definitely one of the top people that put on for the local scene in Sacramento hands down,” another posted.

“I support the city,” Hennessy, whose real name is Jeffrey Harris, tells me after his show that night. “I enjoy hearing an artist that just kills it on stage. It’s how I like to spend what little free time I have.”

The 360 Radio network recently won a Northern California Entertainers Music Award for best internet radio network. It’s in the same Old Sacramento building in which Sacramento’s famous 103.5 The Bomb used to do its thing back in the ’90s. You open a nondescript door that leads up a flight of stairs, and the studio is in the back room. Tonight’s show is packed. The studio isn’t built for eight guests, so they sit anywhere they can find a spot.

On top of that, there are some technical difficulties tonight. DJ Rus Ruthless is having a hard time getting the music to play, so Harris switches gears and conducts in-depth interviews with the Auburn folks. Harris breaks up the longform discussion with each of the guests taking turns spitting a capella verses.

Normally, Harris has just two guests whom he takes turns interviewing. Then, he plays their music and features other local artists’ tracks in-between. But tonight, it’s actually fortunate that his format is disrupted. He’s able to dig in deeper with Auburn Hip Hop Congress, who are passionate about what they do and have a lot to say.

Harris, a natural on the air, only has a couple of years of radio-hosting experience, but his experience as an artist is much longer. At 35 years old, Harris has been rapping a majority of his life. He’s released six projects, some solo, some with his various groups (The Beatknocks, Snatch’n Gwap).

“He’s a very talented hip-hop artist,” says DJ Eddie Z, founder of The 360 Radio. “He’s very underrated.”

Originally from San Jose, Harris moved to Davis, Texas and then ultimately Sacramento in 2004. It was here that his music found a receptive scene. Unlike many rappers, Harris ingratiates himself with artists from every hip-hop subgenre and collaborates with anyone whose music he likes, no matter how different they might be. He’s even collaborated with rock bands including Some Fear None in 2014 and reggae-rock band Riotmaker in 2015.

“I tend to get along with everybody. I’ve been able to be involved in the gangsta rap to the backpackers to the people like Sparks Across Darkness, the experimental stuff,” Harris says. “I’ve always been someone that is like, ’I make music, you make music, let’s make some music together.’ I’ve collaborated with a good amount of the artists in the city.”

It was for precisely this reason that he was the perfect person to host a show that spotlighted Sacramento’s hip-hop scene for both emerging artists and old-school talent. It started a couple of years ago on the Kali Boyz radio show, which he co-hosted with local rapper Dirk Dig.

After a year of the Kali Boyz, Dig decided he didn’t want to do the show anymore. Harris reformatted it and returned a few weeks later with Top $helf Radio.

“I feel like it gave me the opportunity to makes the show what I envisioned it to be from the jump,” Harris says.

For his vision, Harris has featured more local artists, something he felt was lacking in mainstream radio.

“I feel like the underground has an element that the mainstream doesn’t. It’s the hunger. It’s the struggle,” Harris says.

There’s not much that Harris won’t play as long as he likes it and it sounds professional. During his show with the Auburn Hip Hop Congress, they all spent a few moments poking fun at the new “mumble rap” trend, but he tells me he’s open to playing even that kind of music if the artist is passionate about what they do.

“If your mumble rap sound alright, then I’ll play it for you,” he says.

The timing is perfect for a hip-hop show focused on Sacramento: Harris is proud of the large variety of rap music happening locally right now.

“I love the diversity. Not to take nothing away from the O.G.s, but Sacramento at one point in time had a certain sound. The era of Lynch and C-Bo and X-Raided. When I thought about Sacramento music, that’s what I thought of. Now it’s all over the place,” Harris says.

Near the end of the show, his DJ fixes the computer and is able to play some music again. Harris plays a couple of songs by the Auburn artists he has, but ends with a new segment that doesn’t have a name yet. He plays two local songs and lets the guests and listeners choose a favorite: “Stay in your lane” by Zelly and “4am” by Lazie Locz. Zelly wins by an almost unanimous vote.

With the little time left on air, he wraps up by promoting other artists when he could have played his own song.

“I’d like my music to take off. That’s a goal. But I feel like what I’m doing here is more important,” Harris says. “If music doesn’t work out for me, it’s not the end of the world. I’d just like to have a positive impact on people, whether it’s doing music or the radio show. Whatever it is.”