Be Ever Wonderful — it’s more than just the title to the first full-length album by Grand Rapids rapper Waldo. It’s also a mission statement of the “right place, right time” moment the young MC is now experiencing with his explosive local label/collective AGO, aka the Astronaut Gang.
“Be Ever Wonderful came from a (1977) Earth, Wind & Fire song that my father played for me,” Waldo, aka Kamron Robinson, said. “But what comes to mind when I hear it is just positive vibes … and really just wanting to push a bigger, more powerful message out there.”
Raised on funk, soul, R&B and the hip-hop of artists like Talib Kweli and Biggie Smalls, Robinson first started rapping at age 13. A year later he had cut his first record, working alongside friend and future AGO collaborator Sango.
|Waldo and The SEVENth
wsg. SuperDre, Joose The Conqueror
The Pyramid Scheme, 68 Commerce Ave. SW, Grand Rapids
Nov. 5, 8:30 p.m.
$10 advance, $12 day of show, All ages
pyramidschemebar.com, (616) 272-3758
Not long after, he met other soon-to-be collaborators The SEVENth and Joose The Conqueror, as all four attended East Kentwood High School back in 2007. The first day Robinson met The SEVENth, aka artist/producer/engineer Brandon McCall, the two recorded a track in Sango’s basement.
“It’s hard to think back that far, but I remember trying to sneak Waldo and Sango into The Intersection and Billy’s and Teazer’s (for shows),” McCall said of the group’s early days in the mid-2000s, exploring Grand Rapids’ just blossoming hip-hop scene.
“Ever since then we’ve been family,” Robinson added.
As other artists like Savon and Amos Rose entered into the fold, the group of friends knew they had something too good to not give a name and make their business. So in 2009, AGO officially launched. Since then, the sky’s been the limit as the group has continued to push boundaries well beyond the city limits of Grand Rapids.
“I’ve seen like the whole thing, and I think people should sit down and realize that the Grand Rapids scene is pretty good,” McCall said, citing the rise of local stars like AB, Rick Chyme, Mike G., Lady Ace Boogie and SuperDre. “It’s not a big city, so you shouldn’t expect like big city things, but this thing is poppin’!”
He added that the crew of artists has performed in nearly every single club in the city over the last seven years, and that has motivated them to get out and help put Grand Rapids on the hip-hop map.
“That drove us to be like, ‘OK we’ve got to get to Chicago. We’ve got to get to L.A.,’ McCall said. “We didn’t know how we were going to do it, but we knew we had to do it.”
AGO artists have had their work featured in numerous nationally-recognized media sites like Fader, Billboard, HypeTrak, Red Bull, Spotify, Pigeons & Planes, and many more. They also have an ongoing affiliation with the L.A.-based radio station/record label Soulection, which has helped them book club and festival gigs all across the country, mostly with a decidedly “electronic-ish” feel.
“It’s not like we’re doing the typical ghetto rap circuit,” McCall said of the tours he’s done. “These kids like to party and have a good time, and they hear about what we’re doing in our basement.”
Robinson, now 24, and McCall, now 27, have been working on Be Ever Wonderful for the better part of the last two years. Before that, they toured Europe together in 2014, playing for audiences in London and Paris who surprisingly already knew every word.
This past month the two artists toured together again, performing the new album in cities all across the country. They’ll end the tour back home this month with a headlining show at The Pyramid Scheme.
Recently, Waldo and Sango have also had their song “SNS” featured in the pilot of Donald Glover’s new series ATLANTA on FX.
“I recorded Waldo’s vocals in Sango’s apartment in Kalamazoo when he was attending (Western Michigan University),” McCall said of the track. “It’s crazy that we’re still so DIY, but we still get blessed with major opportunities like that, allowing us to share our art with more people.”
Currently, AGO has a compilation project in the works, while McCall plans on a 2017 release for a Side B follow-up to his EP, Skygod (Side A).
“This is our responsibility. This is our city,” Robinson said of AGO’s continuing commitment to Grand Rapids amid all the outside success. “It’s not a big market here for hip-hop, so that definitely gives us the drive to create that scene.”