After 28 years of life in Grand Rapids, hip-hop artist Ajax Stacks, aka Avery Jackson, has developed a fierce pride for the city and its culture.
That loyalty was the impetus for Stack Rapids, a free 20-song mixtape featuring 30 of the city’s busiest lyricists — from the up-and-comers to established GR names, like AB and Fable the Poet. The freshly released compilation features executive producer Stacks on every track, alongside a diverse cast of distinctive area talents.
“You’re a product of your environment, and this is my environment,” he said. “Especially with Chicago and Detroit being so close, it’s easy to lose track of who we are, rather than trying to find our own sound. Grand Rapids is an upcoming underdog and I want to represent that.”
And while there’s a lot of positive vibes on the track list, it also addresses the rap scene’s complicated relationship with its home city.
On the opening track, local spoken-word artist Fable The Poet (real name Marcel Price) jumps into a no-holds-barred critique of the city and its music scene, setting the tone for the mixtape’s patent veracity.
|Stack Rapids CD Release Party
Billy’s Lounge, 1437 Wealthy St. SE, Grand Rapids
Aug. 6, 9:30 p.m.
$10 cover includes one CD, 21+
“I have this undying love for Grand Rapids, but Grand Rapids doesn’t necessarily love black folks,” Fable said. “With the intro track, it’s very much rooted in community awareness and activism. It’s talking about gentrification and the way our city is changing. It’s talking about the marginalization of people of color — which is very much poetic to me.”
Fable moved to the city years ago from the state’s east side. Inspired by Ann Arbor Poetry & Slam, he brought a love for spoken word and poetry to the Hookah Lounge in Eastown before founding The Drunken Retort, a weekly open-mic geared towards spoken word and slam poetry. He also works closely with Mental Health America, traveling the country and talking to youth about mental illnesses and encouraging them to use poetry as an outlet. He keeps busy spreading positive vibes — but Fable says that love is not always reciprocated by certain figures in the local music scene. He says some local businesses simply don’t respect hip-hop artists or fans, especially when it comes to dress codes.
“Lord knows there are venues that clearly aren’t people-of-color friendly,” he said. “From the signs on their doors that say: ‘No do-rags, no bandanas, no fitted caps’ — we can see who you don’t want there.”
At the same time, he believes local rappers need to do their part in demanding that respect. Fable says area artists should demand the same guarantees from venues as the out-of-town headliners who draw comparable crowds, proclaiming in the intro track: “As the city grows, make sure you get what’s owed.”
On the other hand, he is proud some venues show plenty of respect, namely The Pyramid Scheme, Founder’s Brewing Co. and Stella’s Lounge. He said Stella’s pays him and the other organizers to put on The Drunken Retort even though it’s a free show.
After the intro, the mood of Stack Rapids lightens up a bit. The mixtape accelerates quickly into “GR Drive,” a play on words for the city’s basketball team, via Ajax Stacks, who establishes the pace with a catchy, pitch-altered chorus before Steven Malcolm unleashes his verses in a steadfast torrent.
The mixtape also ventures beyond local themes. “Tender Loving Cheater” is a playful take on likely-unfaithful lovers featuring guest rapper K Veen, with a flow and beat straight out of the 1990s. And “Count On You,” featuring Jous 83 and Rick Chyme, is a classic slow jam. There are also a handful of solid hip-hop bangers. Stack Rapids runs the gamut.
Some of the tracks are just unmistakably Grand Rapids, though. “Downtown,” featuring Venson Dix, was basically a chance for the two of them to come up with as much GR-centric wordplay as possible, Stacks said. For example: “Little apple bottom, no Robinette’s. I tried to kick it on the side, but she hurt my pride when she told me I ain’t robbin’ yet,” and “Stay on point with the scheme like a pyramid,” as well as “I’m a Tip Top edition.”
A collaboration with J Rob and Lady Ace Boogie, “Rap In The Rap,” is clearly referencing the city from the get-go. The line, “That’s the Rap in my rap, can’t stop ‘til the city on the map,” drives the track. Closing the cut is Lady Ace Boogie’s proud declaration: “No, this ain’t Detroit, mother****er, it’s GR.”
Stacks worked previously with Lady Ace Boogie in founding Love GR Day, initially a campaign to counteract the homophobic billboard that popped up in the city last summer. Now, the day has transformed into “a way to build awareness for being proud of both who you are and what you’re doing here in Grand Rapids,” he said. The mixtape dropped on this year’s Love GR Day, June 16.
While currently only available online, Stacks ran an Indiegogo campaign to press Stack Rapids on CD and will be partnering with local businesses like Screaming Needle to establish pick-up points. Tickets for the physical release party, Aug. 6 at Billy’s Lounge, will also include a free copy.
The mixtape ends with “Next Up” (not counting bonus track “One Two”), featuring Nate Paulson, AB and Chan The Man. Backed by a soothing, downtempo piano-driven beat, each emcee takes turns delivering earnest, reflective verses looking both backward and forward.
At its close, after the beat has faded out, the track finishes with Nate Paulson’s auto-tuned hook embodying the driven spirit of the Stack Rapids roster: “When you think next up, think us.”
Stream or download the mixtape for free at datpiff.com.