Listening to Kris Bennett talk about the Charleston hip-hop scene is like hearing the echoes of every local rapper's concerns. "[Charleston rap] is like this huge underground thing that people really don't know about," she says. Do we even need to say that she's right? Looking around at the hefty amount of Holy City-produced hip-hop, it's sometimes baffling that there's (still) no real rap venue and no mainstream local outlet dedicated exclusively to the genre.
Bennett's response to many music fans' local rap unfamiliarity was to create Next Up Charleston, a YouTube series featuring rappers and R&B singers in personal detail. The videos allow artists to talk about experiences that brought them to music and their interactions with the local scene. Bennett hopes that the added coverage will lead to broader horizons for local music. "I cannot do it by myself, but if I can cover as many people as I can, just to bring the artists together as a collective, maybe we might have that hit song that opens the doors for Charleston," says Bennett.
Next Up Charleston began after Bennett attended the first hip-hop showcase at Charleston Music Confab. "I went there and I actually filmed Tyler Cash because he wanted me to film him," says Bennett, who's also a photographer. "When I went down there, I saw Walter Brown and Anfernee, and I was amazed at this gold mine that we had." As her fandom of local hip-hop grew, Bennett began curating video interviews featuring artists and their "day in the life." Beginning with the Harley Boys, Bennett has chatted with a variety of Charleston artists including Anfernee, VT Tha Fresh Prince, and Poppy Native. "We have an array; we just need people to see them," she says.
The design of the typical Next Up episode has Bennett interviewing an artist, and showcasing their tunes, videos, and live performances. It feels like a well-researched hangout between her and the musician. The series' raw, relaxed feel and Bennett's personality seem to bring out honesty and passion in many of the artists she has covered. And, because the interviews often don't have large pieces edited out for time, they become an opportunity to see the subjects' full character. "I was inspired by Noisey, when they covered Atlanta," says Bennett on the layout of Next Up. "I was so infatuated with that series. I loved the grittiness about it, I loved how they really captured the artists before they broke."
That vibe comes off pretty strong on Walter Brown's episode. He spends his interview talking about the sound of Charleston hip-hop, what "new Charleston" is, and geeking out about local rap label Twin D 1st Century Entertainment and Lowcountry rap heroes Marly Mar and Pachino Dino. Brown says his decision to participate in Next Up was an easy one to make. "I started to see her [Bennett] at all of the shows, recording and showing her support after [Confab], so when she reached out to me about being a part of Next Up, I was all in," he says. "I loved the idea she had for it and the fact that she was really out living what she was preaching." In addition, the Saturdaze artist says that through Next Up, Bennett is "helping our community grow as she grows."
One of Next Up's biggest goals is to ameliorate the most common problem experienced by artists in the rap scene: lack of representation. "If you go downtown on King Street, you hear hip-hop and rap music coming out of the clubs, but you have venues that just won't have it; they don't want any hands on it, they want nothing to do with it. Part of me feels like they're afraid of the crowd that it's going to bring," says Bennett. "I always tell people, '[black men and women are] tolerated, but we're not wanted.'" She's not alone. Matt Monday, Black Dave, IllVibeTheTribe, CP columnist KJ Kearney, Z93's Vaughn Postema and more spoke to the music scene's lack of inclusivity during Southern Discomfort, the 2016 forum on race in the local scene.
Bennett's series provides further support for a scene that has always been in need of attention. "We have a lot of talent here, and I feel like we're on the brink of it," says Bennett. "I may be the only person that feels this way, but we're this close to breaking. And I just kind of wanted to be on the forefront of it."
Check it: kriskaylin.net