Most folks, whether fans of hip-hop or involved in the hip-hop community in Arkansas, are aware that for all the rap scenes throughout the Southeast that have generated at least one popular star, Arkansas, for its part, is still lacking that one breakout. There have been a few hopefuls over the past few years, rappers still practicing many of the old-school methods of self-promotion: hand-to-hand marketing, driving around from club to club passing out CDs, paying club DJs to consider spinning their singles, all on a wing and prayer, funded entirely by their own limited finances. Of course, now everyone markets themselves on the Internet. Dropping mixtapes online has propelled independent rappers from other Southern locales — G-Side of Alabama and Big K.R.I.T. of Mississippi spring to mind. After speaking with several Arkansas hip-hop stalwarts and a slew of younger rappers from the up-and-coming generation, everyone agreed that Arkansas is still in need of a breakthrough. But no one is exactly sure how we're going to get it.
And what of the recent contenders? Of the several hopefuls of previous years, only a few remain working in Arkansas. Epiphany, who has done his part to promote shows and self-market via old-fashioned methods of passing out CDs and seeking Internet coverage, just released his album, "Such is Life." 607 recently announced he was taking a hiatus from releasing music. "I can't just keep putting out music like I have; it's like throwing it out in the air and seeing what happens," he told the Times back in May. "The money I make off of albums is increasing, but so is the cost of living." Goines, for his part, has semi-retired after the 2011 release of his album, "Something to Lose." He claims rap will always be a singular obsession he'll keep coming back to, but he's fulfilling a promise he made to himself as a young man: If he didn't make it by now, he'd be out.
S.L. Jones, a Little Rock native who's had national success on the mixtape circuit, collaborating with name producers and MCs, didn't start rapping until he moved to Atlanta in the early 2000s and he's not yet known enough to have much impact on the Arkansas scene. Rod D, despite having secured a distribution deal through a Universal Music subsidiary, is busy opening a club in Cabot, and continues to promote hip-hop shows, hoping to include more local artists as opening acts on the bill. There was some celebration surrounding Arkansas Bo, who, despite being based in Dallas for a few years now, recently collaborated with Houston legend Scarface on a track, and who makes sure to get hometown credit where it's due. Most notoriously, E Dubb, one of the most unifying presences on the scene, according to 607, was incarcerated earlier this year on drug and gun charges. For a limited community that harbors such high expectations for each other — each rapper both counting on and dreading the fact that his comrade might make it before him — it's quite a wound to lose a diplomatic figure like E Dubb.
However, you can't say that any of them have yet broken out. There seems to be a variety of theories surrounding why this is. The scene has grown significantly in the past decade. But where is the wider public interest? 607 chalked it up to a lack of venue support in the area — if club owners, promoters, DJs and event organizers created a cult of celebrity surrounding local artists, then the general club-going public would respond, saying "This is America, we sell celebrity." He believes that the success of nearby scenes in Memphis, Dallas, and Atlanta has depended entirely on this implicit "hierarchy" of local performers.