Last October, a group of rappers and self-taught producers sharing an apartment in Maumelle — a living situation variously described as a "creative space" and a "shitty den," a place of arguments and video games — received a profound vision inspired, they would later say, by boredom and ambition and the consistent use of psychedelic mushrooms. The vision had to do with their own potential, with "realizing the power we had to create our own reality," as one of them put it. The vision had a name: Young Gods of America.
On a Wednesday afternoon in July, the collective, all of whom now live in Little Rock, met up to plot their next move at the downtown loft of member Brandon Burris, better known as Goon des Garcons, an alter-ego Burris describes as a "joke that just went wrong." A TV in the corner played a selection of the music videos they've made this summer on a quiet loop, and on the loft's brick walls hung a tattered American flag and a poster for the `60s psych-rock band 13th Floor Elevators. "I don't think people know that, like, it's actually happening for us," Burris said, as the other five members, all between the ages of 20 and 22, voiced their agreement. "The city is getting better, the ball is in motion. It's a renaissance."
Aside from Burris, there was Jordan Rowe, a.k.a. Fresco Grey, a.k.a. Fresco the Cavemen, a rapper and prolific beatmaker with a broad smile and a large-gauge septum piercing; Reggie Golden, who raps under the name Reggie Gold and wears long dreads that often fall draped in front of his face; Taylor Walker, the group's only female, who speaks softly and deliberately, and makes ornate, futurist R&B under the name Taylor Moon; Kaylan Marks, the youngest of the six and a wildly talented producer (as Mach Soul), who sat plugging away at his laptop while the others spoke; and Chris Williams, the rapper Cool Chris, who wore a zebra-print button-up, sipped an enormous glass of grape juice and focused all of his attention on the blunt he was rolling.
"We all met 'cause we all have the same goals," Burris said. "We wanted to make art." Bred on the self-made, Internet-fueled success of artists like Soulja Boy, Lil B, Odd Future and A$AP Rocky, the musicians have resolved to carve out their own space in a city they figure has no real place for them. Producing each other's mixtapes and appearing in each other's videos (shot in liquor store parking lots or on bike trips around the Clinton Presidential Center), the rappers envision their success in collaborative terms. Along with a handful of other young and like-minded artists, like Kari Faux, BLACK PARTY and Lo Thraxx, they're announcing the long overdue emergence of Little Rock hip-hop's next generation.
This summer, their output has been steady and surprising, from fully realized EPs like Cool Chris' "Trap Conversations" and Goon des Garcons' "Meanwhile ..." to bold and imaginative singles like Taylor Moon's "Final Fantasy MMXIV." All of it is available for free online, at ygoa.tumblr.com, and they're eager to point out that much more is completed and on the way in coming weeks. The only obstacle now is that no local venues will have them — and even that might not be an obstacle.
Juanita's, which used to host the "Good Vibes" and "Trill Clinton" showcases they'd perform at with other local artists their age, blacklisted the whole crowd after the police were called at a show earlier this year. (Rowe says the incident can be blamed on the fact that he went home and changed clothes during the night — he was cold — and the door guy didn't recognize him, assuming he'd snuck in.) There have been other misunderstandings with other downtown venues, and clubs like Elevations, friendlier to hip-hop in theory but skewing older, are out as well: "We can't do clubs, that's not our aesthetic," Burris said. "You got to be a certain age to understand what we're doing."
Not that any of this has stopped them from performing. The "Good Vibes" showcases have been revived as Hillcrest house parties, and not long ago they did a "pop-up show" in a storefront on the third floor of Park Plaza Mall. "A funny ass set," Burris said. "We was rappin' to the window while people were walking by." The group has also talked about renting a U-Haul, outfitting it with speakers and a generator, and performing all over the city, whenever they feel like it. "I was thinking about doing it in front of venues, just to be that dude and piss people off," Burris said. "They can't hold the youth back."
They're also planning a college tour this fall, beginning with Conway and continuing to Fayetteville, maybe Memphis. On a recent trip to Atlanta, the group said, most of the people they met were shocked to find out they were from Arkansas, that music like theirs was even part of the landscape here. To the collective, this seemed like an opportunity. "The fact that nobody's ever come from here is great, actually," Burris said. "We have to decide, 'What is Little Rock?' We have this blank canvas, because Arkansas doesn't have a sound. We are the painters."
I liked it a lot. People in the theater were laughing out loud.