Divine Council. Clockwise from top left: Lord Linco, Cyrax, $ilkmoney, ICYTWAT (Photo courtesy Hollywood East Ent)
Two turntables and a microphone. Can it be that it was all so simple then? Not really, if you wanted to be a rap artist back in the day. After those three essential items were procured, there were crates to be dug, expensive studio time to be purchased and vinyl records to be pressed. Things are different now — all that’s needed to become the dopest rapper in your apartment complex is a laptop and an internet connection. The barriers to entry are long gone, and Richmond has a lot of rappers, but few have managed to garner national attention.
Divine Council, a young crew comprising three Richmonders and a Chicagoan, is set to break out of the local underground scene very soon. They are signed to Epic Records and they’re racking up plays and views of their content online, as well as endorsements from Erykah Badu, Andre 3000 and longtime local DJ Lonnie B (aka Lonnie Battle).
“I just thought it was dope,” Battle says of Divine Council’s music, which an Epic record brought to his attention. “They were just doing their own thing.”
A debut EP, “Council World,” was released on July 29. Although the group had to leave Richmond to find an audience, its members don’t harbor any hard feelings about their hometown.
“We really just started like spreading out other places, like New York and L.A. We had a crazy show in New York last week,” Divine Council member $ilkmoney says of the four-man crew. “I would love to do a show in Richmond. Richmond ain’t ready for us.”
The old guard that led Richmond’s hip-hop may not be in the rhyme business anymore, but they’re still among the gatekeepers of Richmond culture and music. Members of Supafriendz, a rap collective that included Lonnie B, Danja Mowf, Mad Skillz and several others, are part of the team behind a party called “The Art of Noise,” which recently sold out The National twice in one month. Lonnie B., along with rapper-turned-DJ Mad Skillz, DJ Marc and radio personality Kelli Lemon, play music from the last couple of decades, sometimes with help from special guests such as DJ Kool and Biz Markie. In addition, DJ Marc holds a monthly “Open Scratch Session” at Mama J’s, where turntablists and amateurs try out new techniques and equipment. Mr. Melody, who in 1989 recorded one of Richmond’s first local rap hits, “Funk Motor,” is also enjoying a second act as a promoter, bringing old school rap acts to town for club shows, in addition to the annual summertime Smoke and Vine Festival.
Richmond’s underground scene remains vibrant and strong. Veterans like Noah O and Nickelus F, who have big breaks without a breakthrough, have been joined by names like Peter $un, Chance Fischer and a host of beatmakers and producers. If Divine Council is successful, perhaps record labels will give Richmond rap a second listen.