Music reflects the spirit of a community. With each new generation, artists must find ways to keep the music they create playing around town. In the Charlottesville area, a small but dedicated group of people keeps the hip-hop scene thriving. Musicians like Channing “Mr. Gray” Gray and Malcolm “Waasi” Wills work with a variety of producers, videographers, and other local rappers and vocalists to produce their songs and organize shows. Some, including Laraj “LT” Thomas, regularly open for bigger acts that come to Charlottesville.
It’s a collaborative scene: Many of these artists have known each other since grade school, and have worked together for years. They’ve built a modest fan base through music videos and shows throughout central Virginia. But the work to keep the hip-hop subculture alive in this area is never-ending. Words and pictures by Zack Wajsgras
Hip-hop fans and friends of Laraj “LT” Thomas gather near a backyard pool in Louisa for Thomas’ “Hall of Fame” album release party.
Channing “Mr. Gray” Gray (center) shows his music to Aaron “Trash Bandicoot” Springel (bottom right), Dontae “Diggs540” Diggs (top right), and Stanley “Duzi” Lovell (left), a group of musicians who go by the name Dummy Boi Geng, in their studio in Staunton. The artists met on social media through a mutual interest in each other’s music.
Malcolm “Waasi” Wills prepares to shoot a scene in a music video for his song “Lo” at a laundromat in Charlottesville. Wills performed on a DIY tour with two other artists, traveling to venues throughout Virginia and Pennsylvania. He says he recently discovered a pocket of fans at Lock Haven University, after a member of the wrestling team stumbled upon his songs online and played them for friends.
Thomas records a song for his new album at Charlottesville’s I Feel Famous Music Studio, run by local producer and director Doughman. The studio is used by many different artists in town for both recording and shooting music videos.
Gray practices a set of newly written verses in his kitchen in Richmond in August 2018. He works a side job as a waiter, as well as weekly entertainment events through his company Trap Hippy Entertainment, to fund his musical endeavors.
Fans react as musician Jacquees takes the stage at the Sprint Pavilion in September 2018. The show had four local openers: Jamaal “J-Willz” Williams, Thomas, Wills, and Dequinte “Quin Bookz” Booker, who all performed for the crowd that gathered to see the traveling superstar.
Young community members compete in a dance-off during a back-to-school backpack giveaway in Tonsler Park in August 2018. The event was jointly held by WVAI 101.3 JAMZ and Region Ten to provide school supplies and live music to young hip-hop fans. Local DJs and artists participated in the family-friendly day.
Wills takes a break while filming the music video for his song “Fall For You” at the Culbreth Theatre parking garage at the University of Virginia in October 2019. When Wills was a student at Monticello High, his teachers encouraged him to use the school’s recording studio to experiment and record his own sounds. “That studio was everything,” he says.
Jaquan “DJ Almighty” Middleton records a show for WVAI 101.3 JAMZ in the early afternoon in October 2019. He says the live element of mixing music is becoming a lost art. “This is my safe haven, when
I’m here,” Middleton says.
Gray records songs at Charlottesville’s I Feel Famous Studios. He released his first songs in 2013 but has been making music with local friends since he was in high school. He uses a variety of different producers, and collaborates with other artists in Charlottesville.
Middleton checks in with the secretary at the Virginia Radio Coop, home to hip-hop station 101.3 JAMZ. Corporate radio giant Saga Communications, which owns 106.1 The Corner and other stations, filed a petition with the FCC in September to block license renewals for JAMZ and four other Charlottesville nonprofit stations. If successful, the petition would shut down the only station with programming directed at the city’s African American audiences.
Thomas performs during a release party for his album Hall of Fame, in a backyard in Louisa in July 2018.
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