When people think of Kentucky music – Bluegrass typically comes to mind. The genre primarily exists in the Appalachian Mountain region of the state but has historically been the face of Kentucky’s music scene, despite the numerous Gold & Platinum selling hip-hop, pop and R&B artists that have emerged from the state.
Recording artists such as Nappy Roots, Playa ft. Static Major, Nicole Scherzinger of the Pussycat Dolls, Bryson Tiller, King Vory and Linkin’ Bridge have all experienced national success but fans rarely connect them with the state of Kentucky.
Maybe it’s the laid back culture of the state or their Southern Hospitality that contributes to the humbleness of these artists, because most appear to be focused on making quality music – instead of chasing fame.
With Louisville being KY’s largest city, it stands to reason that most of the national artists hail from that city but thanks to social media, artists and producers from all over the state are beginning to create a buzz within the music industry.
Even further, once you look behind the scenes – the musical influences from the Kentucky get even deeper. Producers Jon Woo, Mr. Nova and Nes have all created beats, engineered or wrote for some of the top recording artists in the music industry.
(left-to-right) Nes, Jon Woo, Mr. Nova
Typically in hip-hop, competition prevents many talented musicians from working together but Jon Woo plans to break that mold. He has created a studio networking experience called “Producer Corner”, which encourages KY musicians to build personal and professional relationships.
Woo is an established music producer who has worked with Wu Tang Clan, Stack Bundles, Uncle Murda, Alexia Carla, Sebastian Kole, and others.
The concept of Producer Corner is to invite KY musicians, of all genres, to a private studio session, where they will have the opportunity to listen to music from their fellow artists & producers – and then honestly critique it.
Woo believes that networking and constructive criticism from peers, produces better musicians. The event typically takes place on the last Sunday of each month at Coat’s Music Studio, located at 206 Old Harrod’s Creek Rd in Louisville.
At the November 26th studio session, nearly two dozen artists and producers from all over the state were in attendance – anxious for the opportunity to network and absorb knowledge from Woo.
As an added bonus, Woo invited Bowling Green, KY music producer Nes, who produced nine (9) tracks on Bryson Tiller’s latest album “True To Self,” to sit in on the session.
Woo also believes that the personal encounter with Nes will inspire and motivate the up & coming group of artists and producers. Before the session officially began, Nes would share his amazing story, with the musicians, about how he was chosen to produce for Tiller.
“On Tiller’s album that just came out, ‘True To Self’, I did nine records on there – so yeah man it’s definitely a blessing. It’s funny because it all happened through IG [Instagram]. I sent a DM [Direct Message] – it had the proper words in it and I had the proper work to back it up… Once they finally reached back out to me – the rest was history… After I sent them the records, that next week I was in Miami at the beach house with Timbo [Timbaland], Boy Wonder, Vinylz and a lot of the people that run the radio… This is the first major project I’ve worked on but it’s only the beginning.” – Nes
For the first 30 minutes of the session the musicians are encouraged to mingle throughout the studio, to network with other attendees. It’s an excellent opportunity to become familiar with other artists and producers from around the state.
As I networked from a journalistic perspective, I would quickly discover that I was in the company of some of the rawest, undiscovered talent that I’ve heard in a long time.
One of the first artists I encountered was a Louisville street rapper named Scott Free. He immediately handed me a digital flyer that served as advertisement for his brand. As we conversed, he informed me that he had been rapping for less than a year and that he was a one-man-show. I wasn’t sure what he meant by that, so I asked him to elaborate.
He explained that in just under a year, he learned to rap, produce his own beats and film his own videos. He also revealed that he recorded four mixtapes over the past summer and has several music videos uploaded to his Youtube channel. He even came prepared with physical copies of his CD’s, to pass out to everyone in attendance.
He now had my full attention. Without hearing any of his music, I was impressed by his work ethic. Any artist who has the drive to dedicate an enormous amount of time and effort into learning different aspects of the music business, is someone focused on success.
As I continue making my rounds throughout the studio, my attention becomes fixated on an energetic white male artist whose energy seems to be dominating the room. He goes by the name Morgan Ivory and I’m immediately thinking that he’s a rock artist based on his slightly grunge looking clothing and heavily tattooed body.
Suddenly he breaks into an Acapella – and out comes this amazing soulful voice from his tall slender frame. I can’t believe what I’m hearing. It’s reminiscent of the earlier works of Robin Thicke but with greater vocal range and more pop appeal.
Further canvassing the room, I engage in conversation with RC, the owner of Coat’s Music Studios. The Cincinnati native explains that he’s worked all over the country, establishing relationships within the music industry and plans to help take as many Kentucky artists to the next level, as possible.
“We got Jon Woo in the building and he’s presenting the show…the premise of the corner is basically to have five producers coming out and we got three artists coming out. We want to showcase the producers and basically we’re going to have the whole room just critique everything as far as the structure of the beat, the sounds that they use, the quality of the sounds, the arrangement, compression, EQ – so pretty much the whole beat. And if anything needs to be better, we can hear it from all the rest of the producers in the room, the artists in the room and then we’ll get Woo’s input and my input as well.” – RC
At this point the studio session begins and we all crowd into the producer’s quarters. The recording studio is equipped with the most recent, state of the art, recording equipment.
Woo explains that he will play music from five artists and five producers in attendance. The rules are simple. After listening to the songs, each musician in attendance has the opportunity to offer suggestions, constructive criticism and/or compliments to the content creator. Following that, Woo will give his professional critique.
Woo then announces that he will play the songs by the artists first, followed by the five instrumentals by the producers. He turns and asks the room for volunteers. The energetic Morgan Ivory quickly volunteers to be first up.
After hearing him sing Acapella earlier, it was no surprise to me that he had an amazing record. There was literally only one critique in the room and that was from a fellow producer, suggesting that he layer his vocals on certain parts of the song. I suggest that the world become more familiar with Morgan Ivory because I’m predicting that he will make a lot of noise in the music industry, in the near future.
The music video of Scott Free was up next. To be honest I didn’t expect much, considering that he has only been a music artist for less than a year – and he raps and produces his own beats.
However, I was pleasantly surprised. His music represents street hip-hop and the song was very solid for that lane. His lyrics flowed nicely over a bass heavy production, that should be appreciated by fans on modern Trap Music.
Following the playback, Woo jumped in with his critique first. As a music insider, something stuck out to him and he needed to immediately express the thought. Woo explained that he thoroughly enjoyed the song, sonically. He reiterated that the lyrics, cadence and production were done extremely well – but he did not like the video.
“I liked everything but the video. It’s important that you always present high quality material. It’s great that you learned how to shoot your own video but that’s a mistake that a lot of new artists make. Don’t try to save money by doing it yourself and putting out a low quality product. Hire an experienced videographer who will shoot your video in 4K. Record executives watch dozens of videos a day sometimes and if they come across yours and the quality is poor – they most likely won’t even watch it. Don’t ever release a product unless it’s professional quality.” – Jon Woo
Scott Free soaked up the information, thanked Woo and expressed that this is the very reason why he attended Producer Corner. He wants to know all the secrets of the trade that will help him become a better artist.
Next the group would listen to an amazing song from a 16 year-old Pop vocalist and another from a Neo-soul artist. The Neo-soul singer forewarned the listeners that her music had not been mixed & mastered yet.
This immediately promoted a response from Woo. He once again informed the musicians that it is not a good idea to release music that isn’t completely finished. After hearing the song, the group stood in awe because the song sounds amazing, as if the mixing & mastering has already taken place.
As good as the record sounds, Woo still warns the group to never put out an incomplete project. However, if an artist ever finds themselves in a situation where they have no choice but to play unfinished music – don’t ever reveal that information to music executives beforehand because they may dismiss it without even listening to it.
One of the many highlights of the evening was a phone call from legendary hip-hop artist, songwriter and producer David Banner. Woo would put the call on speaker phone, so that the Mississippi M.C. could offer advice and words of encouragement to the aspiring musicians.
As the session continues, the group listens and critiques the songs and instrumentals of the remaining musicians and the feeling in the air was electric. This is an extremely talented group, who brought their best work to the table. Their music is comparable or arguably better than a lot of the music that dominates the radio airwaves today.
Adding to an already productive session, Louisville music producer Mr. Nova stops by the studio. His presence alone provides further inspiration for the artists and producers.
Mr. Nova has produced tracks for Rico Love, Usher, A$AP Rocky, Chevy Woods, Action Bronson, Joey Bada$$ and French Montana. He has recently submitted music to Rhianna’s team and the feedback has been, that she loves it. He has his fingers crossed, hoping that the ‘Love On The Brain’ singer chooses to use his material. Mr. Nova has also completed a solo album that he plan to release in the near future.
“I was Kasanova but I go by Mr. Nova now because a brotha got older and got a whole bunch of hair on his face. I’m out of Louisville, KY and have produced for Rico Love – ‘Turn The Lights On’, Usher – ‘Looking For Myself’, A$AP Rocky – ‘Long Live A$AP’, Chevy Woods – ‘Wit Me’, Southpaw Soundtrack – ‘What About The Rest Of Us’, Action Bronson, Joey BadA$$, French Montana – ‘Ain’t Worried Bout Nothin’, French Montana – ‘Drink Freely’, French Montanta – ‘Famous’, French Montana – ‘Jungle Rules’… I’ve been all over the place. I’m a producer, artist, songwriter, everything. Right now I just hit a stride in working on music for myself, so I got this album I call ‘No Filter’. The album is like a wave length that goes up and down… It starts in the middle and goes up, down, then back in the middle. I’m doing songwriting as well. Hopefully I got this Rhianna joint. I sent a joint that she loved – hopefully I get that.” – Mr. Nova
Kentucky has a vast amount of musical talent, covering all genres, that often flies under the radar. I’ve always believed that Kentucky has a benefit over other states because it doesn’t have an established sound.
Being located in the middle of the country provides music fans the luxury of being exposed to styles from the East Coast, West Coast, Midwest and Deep South without being regionally dedicated to a particular sound. That freedom allows musical influences to come from all genres, which possibly assists musicians during the creative process.