A City in Flux: Exploring The Chattanooga Hip-Hop Scene

Ktoven2

Chattanooga is a city in flux. The Scenic City turned Gig City has seen the arrival of think tanks, business incubators, tech start-ups, all spurred on by the arrival of a publicly owned and developed super high-speed internet infrastructure. This has created myriad new opportunities for young professionals, both local and imported.

But it’s also split the city in two. With new money comes new developments and gentrification. Pushing people and crime into smaller spaces and exacerbating the already long-standing gang combat.

This is the new Chattanooga, a small, scenic city that provides two views. One scene is a picture of opportunity surrounded by natural beauty, with a bright new future full of industry, a growing local arts movement, fine eateries and shopping.

The other, a map featuring carved-out gang territories, violence, drugs, and a void of opportunity. This city saw 100 some shootings last year and has already suffered 70 more in 2016, far too many for a city with a population of less than 175,000.

This, multiplied by the fact that these shootings happen largely in two or three neighborhoods and that most of the victims are black and under 25 years old, makes the situation all the more stark.

This is the environment that that gave birth to the collective of creatives known as the House. The House, as explained by producer Ktoven, began as a friendship/collaboration between himself and MC Tut that soon added members Michael Da Vinci and Isaiah Rashad, and now includes The Antydote, Danny Dee, and The House Band.

Ktoven

Ktoven

Tut’s Preacher’s Son, the second full-length project to come out of the House crew (the first being Isaiah Rashad’s TDE release Cilvia Demo), was produced entirely by founding member Ktoven. Ktoven’s jazzy/atmospheric/evocative tracks provide the perfect backdrop for Tut’s poignant, yet glib and aloof yarns.

His production matches his personality. Pensive, alert, and clam all at once, Ktoven (born Calvin Lamar Tarvin) explains the how he began making music, “I was born and raised in Chattanooga.  I’ve been here forever, haven’t moved yet. I was in eighth grade at Tyner, and one of my homies, Patrick, showed me FL Studio in math class. He was like, ‘Hey bro, there’s this program called Fruity Loops – you should download it.’ I’m thinking he’s talking about cereal and shit. So, I downloaded that shit and I was playing with it from that day on. It was crazy,” he recalls.

Ktoven went on to explain how The House crew started, beginning in high school: “I met Tut in in math class. He came up to me and was like, ‘I heard you make beats and stuff, man.’ Since then we’ve been homies. He came by my studio to drop raps and freestyle.”

Ktoven continues, “I met Isaiah when he came to my house. We did like a 24-hour session because he couldn’t get one verse out. But that’s the first time I met him, and it’s been The House ever since,” he remembers fondly.

Ktoven goes on, explaining that he’s been producing and mixing tracks for The House Crew from the beginning, but Preacher’s Son was his first major undertaking.  “We dropped a lot of songs before we even thought about that album. We didn’t even know what it was going to be until we moved into this crib right here (in the Highland Park neighborhood) and recorded a lot the songs.”

Ktoven laid out that pretty much everyone that’s a part of The House collective lives in and works at the Highland Park residence, with people constantly in and out, just fellowshipping and creating.

“We’re just a collective of brothers that do music.”

He explains further that they also met the musicians would form The House Band, including Swayvo Sax, Taylor Freeman, singer Angel Mae, and several others: “That was the first time that I recorded live instruments. It was the first album that I did and it went big,” Ktoven adds, still sounding surprised at the record’s success.

He then proceeds to explain the method he used to produce Preacher’s Son: “I start off with just a beat, then Tut will come rap on it. After that, we do some post-production, where I tell the guys to play it this way, or I come in and add or recreate a sample. But mostly it was me creating a beat and then getting guys to come play live stuff on it.”

He goes on: “I used to be against sampling. But I kinda like it now, it’s cool how you can just take sounds and recreate and make new ideas. Most of the time, though, I’m combining live music with sampling.”

He adds that his that his most used equipment while producing tracks are his Roland Fantom keyboard and the Lexicon reverb unit that he uses on vocals: “At least until I upgrade,” he clarifies.

Ktoven lists his favorite producers as Pharrell, Organized Noise, J Dilla, Bryan Cox, and Timbaland, “But I would put J Dilla and Pharrell before anyone else.”

Ktoven also discusses some his other musical influences, explaining that he prefers to listen to whatever random jazz he can get his hands on, “and Michael Jackson was always one of my favorite artists. I used to listen to a lot of Michael Jackson and jazz, that’s all I’d listen to. As I’ve gotten older and made new friends, I’ve started getting introduced to other types of music. Like, I’ve started getting into orchestral music, Hans Zimmer and John Williams, who did the scores for Jurassic Park and Harry Potter.”

Ktoven also talks a bit about his love of the outdoors, which being in the “Scenic City” provides him plenty of opportunities to enjoy. “When I’m not doing music, I’m building things, going out hiking to see some waterfalls and that type of stuff, just vibing off of nature until I get the feeling. Then I come back to create music.”

Since Preacher’s Son was released to critical acclaim last year, Ktoven and The House Collective have been busy. “We’ve been super busy. I went to California and was hanging with Kendrick and Ali, Schoolboy, and mixing some of their stuff. It’s really changed the perspective from where I create beats. I can’t do them the same now,” he adds.

While in California, Ktoven had the opportunity to meet with several producers, including 6th Sense, 7 Keys, and Jay Lewis. “My style has just changed a little bit, as I kept learning from those guys, just being around them in that atmosphere and listening to new music that I didn’t know. I’m still learning, though.”

Ktoven speaks briefly on the violence that plagues the city: “I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t really understand it. But we try to make music that speaks to the situation here in Chattanooga. We’re trying to make projects that will touch the people here and tell them that they don’t have do this. Follow your dreams instead of killing them. Like, why are you killing people?”

Ktoven goes on to discuss what’s next for him and the crew, saying “Isaiah Rashad has a new project coming out and I did some mixing and production on that. Tut’s coming out with a project and then we’re coming out with a group project, too. I’ve been doing a lot of mixing [on that].”

He concludes with some thoughts about the future of music in Chattanooga, stating “I’m trying to build a scene here. I’m trying to build a studio and get things going and maybe have a little festival here. We have all this in the works. Really we just want to make the city better, a place where you can come out and feel safe and just have fun.”

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