Rhymesayers Project Manager, IPR Instructor Reflects on Journey, Music Business

On his first day as a Rhymesayers employee, Kevin Beacham wasn’t sure where to begin.

So he started cleaning out the basement.

The brief tale is illustrative of Beacham’s career in the hip-hop scene—a passion for the business and a willingness to work.

Beacham spoke about his journey in the music industry during the Jan. 27 edition of Inside Tracks, a regular series at IPR that brings in experts to talk about the business. He also teaches Hip Hop Essentials at IPR.

About 40 students packed the classroom to hear Beacham’s story. In a wide-ranging informal discussion with Kevin Bowe, a fellow IPR instructor, the two talked about the history and rise of the genre, Beacham’s varied experiences in the field and keys to success for aspiring music lovers.

Beginnings

With his wide-rimmed glasses and impressive head of dreadlocks, it might be surprising to learn that Beacham, 44, was born in Frankfurt, Germany.

As a self-professed “Army brat,” he and his family often moved around when Beacham was a youngster.

But music was always a big part of Beacham’s life—his father is from Detroit and his mother once dated a member of the Temptations. He recalled wanting records instead of toys for Christmas, and the tide turned when he heard his first rap song, “Rapper’s Delight.”

“I have to find everything that sounds like this,” Beacham said.

Growing in the Field

Once he got into rap, it was a “natural progression” for him to start writing his own songs, making beats, producing, writing about the industry and culture, and being a disc jockey.

He eventually connected with other artists in the Chicago area and reached out to Seattle-based label called Nastymix; they asked if he’d be willing to pass out merchandise.

“I can handle that,” Beacham said.

He continued building relationships with record labels and developed a wealth of knowledge about the industry and its artists. With his own promotions company founded (Rage Promotions), Beacham began writing for magazines and doing interviews with rappers for a radio station at Northwestern.

Once, the show’s host was out sick. Beacham filled in. The host never came back. And so began a seven-year stint as a radio host, and he continued to cultivate industry connections, finding new music and pursuing his interest in the field. Melle Mel (whose name was misspelled on his first releases and he never got his original name back, Beacham points out) once gave him props for his interviewing style.

“I was passionate about every part of (hip-hop) culture,” Beacham said.

Rhymesayers

As a disc jockey, Beacham would always get his hands on new music.

His friend told him he had to hear an album. It was Atmosphere’s “Overcast.”

Beacham said he was “blown away” by what he heard and called Rhymesayers before the first song was over.

“We have to work together,” he said.

Beacham began playing Atmosphere songs during his radio show, and the feedback from fans was positive. His friend, who also now works for Rhymesayers, was on tour with Atmosphere and the relationship continued to develop.

In 2003, Rhymesayers contacted Beacham about a job.

“I couldn’t say no,” he said.

Once he moved to the Twin Cities, he started doing guest lectures at IPR, and in turn was asked if he wanted to be an instructor. In 2006, he worked with Rhymesayers to create the Hip Hop Essentials course.

These days, Beacham can be found managing the Rhymesayers’ Fifth Element store, finding new music (of course) and marketing the indie label through events and fan engagement.

He listens to music about eight hours a day.

Challenges

It might seem that Beacham’s journey through the world of hip-hop has been smooth. That’s not the case.

During his Inside Tracks presentation, Beacham revealed a few moments that might have derailed his quest:

  • He worked at a Fortune 500 company (they wanted him to become an executive), and he had given himself until age 33 to find the right job in the industry. He was 32 and half when he landed the Rhymesayers gig.
  • He had planned to move to Atlanta with a band. It broke up, so he went there alone with plans to attend a music school. He realized he couldn’t afford it and had other issues with attending. He ended up working at a fast-foot restaurant for a time.
  • He founded a magazine that folded after two issues because companies didn’t pay for their advertisements. “Dream crusher,” Beacham said.

These challenges, however, were overcome through hard work and perseverance, and plenty of passion for the world of hip-hop. For example, Beacham once heard three good records in a row that came out of Toronto.

So he decided to drive there.

It’s indicative of his willingness to always seek out more information, more interesting artists, more associations in the music industry.

What’s Next?

These days, Beacham is going through the Rhymesayers’ archives for the label’s 20-year anniversary. He’s archiving the company’s history and digging through old videos and unreleased tracks.

He’s also writing a book about the history of rhyme writing in hip-hop, particularly the 1970s and ’80s. Dubbed “Microphone Mathematics,” it’s about 80 percent complete, Beacham said.

Aside from the posterity efforts, Beacham spends much of his time connecting with fans through creative marketing, label branding and engaging with listeners.

Still, despite his myriad accomplishments in the world of hip-hop, Beacham never rests on his laurels and continues to work with passion in a profession he loves.

As for the Rhymesayers basement? Yes, sometimes he still cleans it.

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