Hemingway, maybe Bozeman’s favorite rapper, keeps a recording studio that is a simple affair. Located in one room of the house he shares with a DJ and three other rappers, the studio has four guitars stacked in a corner, one microphone hanging from the ceiling, one Wu Tang Clan poster on the wall next to another advertising a performance of Brahms Symphony No. 1 and soundproofing squares are stapled to the wall. A small desk sits in front of six crates of records, supporting the low-tech heart of the studio: a keyboard, a turntable, two speakers and, of course, a computer.
In a few weeks the 27 year old rapper will open an ASMSU-sponsored concert for headliner Watsky, but at the moment he’s working on his next project — a self-produced EP. He already has eight songs finalized for the project, he says, and hopes to have the rest finished and ready to release by the end of June.
“All of my projects have a loose concept, at least a feeling,” Hemingway said, his tall, thin frame covered in head-to-toe black and folded into a computer chair. His first release, “Homegrown,” gave listeners the feeling of a house party. With laid back beats and an audible audience, it was easy to imagine the album being recorded after midnight at the right kind of get-together, where friends passed the mic back and forth between sips. His second project, “Addiction,” was more personal: “It was really about looking at myself in a mirror,” he said.
The next project, “Prismatic,” will look at how his life has changed since he started rapping, and his now-everyday experiences. “I got to rap with Bone Thugs-N-Harmony, and I’ve stayed up all night freestyling backstage with Zion I,” he said, flabbergasted. “I never thought I’d get this far.”
Hemingway moved to Bozeman six years ago to pursue competitive snowboarding after growing up around Vermont and upstate New York. He visited, planning on staying for a winter season and sleeping on a friend’s couch, but ended up canceling first one plane ticket home, then another … and soon he found himself a Bozeman resident.
He got a job at Subway and started saving, putting away money to set up his studio, teaching himself how to produce music by watching YouTube videos. “Hanging out with friends, they’d push me to freestyle, and after a bit I got better,” Hemingway said. “After I’d spit something hot, they’d say ‘Yo, you should have recorded that,’ and that’s how I got started.”
While Hemingway hopes to continue to reach ever-larger audiences he is more focused on growing a local, grassroots following than attracting the attention of a major label. “I never really had aspirations to be really famous; to be the next Drake,” he said. “I kind of have a bipolar side to me … I’ve always been a jokester and someone people look to to be entertained.” But off the stage, Hemingway enjoys his privacy. “You have to keep a part of yourself,” he said, adding that he sees using social media to promote his music as a “necessary evil of being a musician.”
Despite his best efforts, however, Hemingway finds himself on the rise. The “Homegrown” release party filled The Zebra to capacity, he played to 600 at a recent Billings show and he has shared stages with an impressive list of hip-hop mentionables, from BTNH to Mobb Deep to (next Saturday) Watsky.
“When I started, I just wanted to wake up and do nothing but music … and people said ‘that’s what everyone wants to do. It’s not gonna happen in Montana.’ But now, it’s been six months since I had a “real job” and I’ve been supporting myself with shows and production.”
With a new album and another high profile show on the way, Hemingway will find it ever harder to keep a part of himself as his fan base continues to grow, expanded by a versatile flow, diverse production and a refreshing sense of authenticity.
Hemingway, Watsky and Tucash will perform at Faultline North in an ASMSU-sponsored show on Saturday, April 30 at 8 p.m.
Hemingway’s music is available for free at hemingwaymusic.bandcamp.com or soundcloud.com/hemingway-music.