The performing stages at this year’s Utah Arts Festival features an impressive range of styles, aesthetics, approaches and genres from local musicians. Among the artists representing hip hop this year are Zac Ivie and Dumb Luck.
Zac Ivie and Ocelot (Aug. 27, 10:15 p.m., Park Stage)
Just days before the pandemic erased every performing artst’s schedule in mid-March of 2020, Zac Ivie’s newest album Wishkid had dropped with his indie label Get Write Records. It was an effort that represented him stepping out of his usual box with new songs and he looked forward to touring with the new album. “It was hard when the world crashed,” Ivie says in an interview with The Utah Review. “When it comes to performing, it is such a big part of our own connection to our music. When we’re sitting in the studio, we’re really in our own heads but performing is really the biggest part of my life.” The tour plans included Dumb Luck, another Utah artist who also is performing at this year’s Utah Arts Festival. “At least we were fortunate that local venues such as Soundwell and Urban Lounge made opportunities for socially distant shows.” But, Ivie also notes that the pace had slowed to just one show every three months.
The pandemic definitely levied complicated impacts for independent artists who spend many months on a project, including producing videos and art that go along with releases and tours. In an environment, where releases can be easily lost because of social media algorithms that dictate what sparks trends, the added burden of the pandemic’s clamp down on limiting live music access was discouraging enough.
Like Dumb Luck, who echoed similar sentiments in his interview with The Utah Review, Ivie looks to making art that “will set off fireworks in my head.” He adds, “it just happens to be that the people’s reaction is the best bonus.” For example, on Pressure, the lead track on his newest album, the lyrics include: “Every day when I wake up / Time for me to find myself / Must I remind myself / You can have it all / But only time will tell.”
This sentiment also reverberates throughout the circle of Utah’s respected hip hop artists who are comfortable with acknowledging that they do not necessarily have to like or love what a particular peer might be doing in their music but also knowing that making it enriches the hip hop culture locally that much more. “It’s nice to see how any are trying to build the scene.” Before the pandemic, Ivie would host an artist barbecue to build the camaraderie and help artists form relationships for their own needs and to help in production, videography and other aspects.
As for his upcoming festival performance with Ocelot, Ivie, who is a ride or die Utes football fan, teases a bit but suggests that the audience will hear the popular hype anthem he recorded: All for U, which was released in 2019 on the day of the Pac-12 championship game pitting The University of Utah against Oregon (which unfortunately the Utes lost). Coming out of the pandemic, Ivie has enjoyed performing Ocelot, whom he describes as a “great MC,” which included an appearance at the recent Das Energi Festival at Saltair. Ivie has opened for many outstanding hip hop artists, including Talib Kweli, Ghostface Killa and Hieroglyphics,
Ivie, who embodies the ideal image of the resourceful creative entrepreneur, also opened a custom apparel shop in South Salt Lake. The Get Write Recrds label also sponsors workshops and philanthropic drives to help artists, friends, colleagues and others in the community.
Dumb Luck (Aug. 28, 10 p.m., Park Stage)
Now in his thirties, Dumb Luck (Mark Baker) connected with hip hop in elementary school. “It might sound corny but I feel like what woke me up in one moment was Jurassic 5’s World of Entertainment (Woe is Me). It connected with me in a heavy way.” In fact, he says the first CD he picked on his own was Jurassic 5’s 2000 album Quality Control.
Baker says he was always a lone wolf as a kid growing up in Utah but hip hop turned out to be the muse which provided him the most comfort and confidence. “There was so much hip hop and so many different eras at the time,” he recalls in an interview with The Utah Review. “I always looked up the interviews with all of my favorite artists. I didn’t have a big community of friends who listened to the kind of hip hop that inspired me.” Born in Salt Lake City, he lived in Sugar House and Midvale and took up skateboarding. “I was a bad kid. I was kicked out of six schools.”
By the time he turned 18, he was inspired to work on his freestyle rap, thanks to networking with Utah hip hop artists such as Pat Maine, Phil Weeden, Infamous Taz and others. “I discovered I had a knack for it and I caught on pretty quick,” Baker says. “I had a car which didn’t have a working radio so as I was driving along, i would do freestyle and make multi syllable rhymes based on what i was seeing as I was driving along.” This pushed him to write a song celebrating his following birthday at Moe’s Bar and Grill.
Taking on his stage persona, he focused on making steady progress as a hip hop artist and started making beats at the age of 23 and built his own production studio at home. He expanded his network and collaborated with Zac Ivie, a well-known local hip hop artist who has launched the indie label Get Write Records and who will be performing with Ocelot on the Utah Arts Festival’s Park Stage.
Baker says he is content with paying his dues patiently toward the goal of working as a full-time independent artist. In addition to Ivie, he has had a chance to be on the stage with artists including Elzhi, Bronze Nazareth and George Watsky. To round out his livelihood, he works as a bartender and server, which gives him the ideal flexibility to work on his music. “I realize that if I had tried to be a full-time artist when I was younger, I would not have enjoyed it,” he explains. “I had a rough upbringing so my music at that time was all about venting those experiences. Looking back on it, I cringe sometimes at emo rap stuff I was writing. After years of venting my frustrations I have found a more poetic path.”
He also learned to process the experience of feeling burnt out in terms of his creative voice, which occurred in 2015. “I hit a brick wall and stopped making music for about a year.” When he resumed, he contextualized the experience by turning to philosophy, especially Stoicism. “It became a way for me to find meaning in a world of chaos,” he explains, adding that he began to appreciate his own obsession with making music ever since he became an adult. “Making beats in the pursuit of art is a worthy hill to die on,” he adds. “I continue to make music even if it doesn’t become successful and if the question is, ‘Is it worth it?’then the answer is yes. And, this is why I came back to music in 2016.”
In his return, he also discovered how much more he has enjoyed making instrumentals as a canvas for songs. After a disappointing experience in college music classes to develop his sound engineering skills, he turned to YouTube University. An instructor had dismissed his query about how to achieve a side-chain pumping effect, which has been popular in EDM and DAWs. In EDM, for example, the kick drum channel is used as the trigger to activate the compressor on bass drum beats. In developing his finesse with lo-fi hip hop, he says “I didn’t want a cut-and-dry cookie-cutter education in music which discouraged experimenting with effects and relying on trial and error.”
His output now suggests a wide range of traditional hip hop styles along with boom bat beats and punch lines which can evoke either gripping raw emotion or lyrics where he is comfortable poking fun at himself. He hopes the festival audience will appreciate the duality of his artistry.