Championing Cleveland artists is a responsibility that extends beyond the booth for DJ E-V. I’m From Cleveland, the blog he started with John Strusa, is the de facto source for Cleveland rap news. Being featured on its Instagram, which has more than 25,000 followers, carries star-making potential for an aspiring artist. We caught up with E-V for a State of the Local Rap Scene address.
CM: Does Cleveland hip-hop have its own sound?
E-V: Cleveland definitely has a sound. And within that sound, it’s very unique and very diverse. But you can tell that someone got it from a Cleveland artist. Whether it’s the humming or the harmonies, like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony, or more like an MGK style. They’re still unique, but you can tell that edge and that ruggedness or that soul that they get from Cleveland.
CM: What is the state of Cleveland rap going into 2019?
E-V: The scene is on fire — probably the strongest it’s been in the past 10 years. So many people are finding success and getting signed, and it keeps opening the doors for others. If any label is a little bit smart, they have somebody visiting every quarter just to check on talent.
CM: How do you know when a young rapper is set to blow up?
E-V: Guys like YFL [Kelvin] and Big 40, they have these songs that everyone knows in the high schools, and that’s the first sign that there’s potential for them to blow up nationally.
CM: Which rappers have been blowing up recently?
E-V: Q-Money is on tour. He’s been killing it all over the world. His numbers are really good, and he recently signed. Ezri signed with Nas. Anyone from Rip Flamez. YFL Kelvin. All these young artists that are signed and no one knows who they are, they have like 5,000 followers, but their songs are being played all over the city right now.
CM: What are you excited about in 2019?
E-V: I can’t see past next week, but Lana Del Rey and MGK have a collab coming. Chip has some dope new music. I can’t wait for that project to be finished. And then Young Cap, who’s caught a lot of fire in the underground scene.
CM: What was the inspiration behind putting together your Cleveland Queens Spotify playlist of local female artists?
E-V: Up until a couple years ago, there weren’t a lot of girl DJs and artists (in) Cleveland. But now, there are like 30 female artists making great music, singing and rapping. With more females rolling up, it opens the door for them to feel more confident that they can rap. Singers, too, like Alina Baraz. So we put the playlist together in support females and breast cancer awareness month in October, and we’re going to keep it going because we want to give them a platform.
CM: Must up-and-coming rappers build their own buzz these days and be their own marketing team on Instagram and other platforms?
E-V: In my opinion it’s best way to do it. You get your buzz as crazy as it can get and record so many songs that there’s nothing left to do except collect checks. And you’re collecting all of it and making decisions that are in your own best interest. That’s what’s great about where we’re at now, and the streaming services are catching up with that by making it easier for artists to spread their music.
CM: What is the Cleveland rap scene missing these days?
E-V: It just needs more godfathers — people who are looking over and handing out advice for the young ones. One bad decision can f--- up a year of your career or your entire career. I’m always answering questions on my Instagram. The scene needs more people in their 40s and 50s — OGs — showing the kids how it’s done. Not just specifically artists. I’m talking managers and lawyers who don’t want any money but can help young artists understand the business side and how to make money.