On any given day of the week, Aaron Ware and Corey Davis can be found hanging in the Little Five Points neighborhood they call home. Suffice it to say, the two have come a long way by staying hyperlocal. In little more than five years, they went from dabbling in visual art to spitting colorful rhymes, creating a multimedia magazine, and building an annual music festival, Atlanta Indie Music Fest, that has given a platform to the city's otherground hip-hop/urb music scene.
In a place where just about everyone is plying their craft, Davis and Ware have shaken off loathsome boho/hipster clichés by creating and curating their own brand of experimental cool mixed with ratchet irreverence.
Like another very famous hip-hop duo made in Atlanta, Ware, aka A.Ware, and Davis met in high school. They were both students at Fulton County's North Springs High School when they started hanging out together around 2000. After respectively arriving as teens from Chicago and Columbus, Ohio, they found shared interests in Midwestern tongue-twisting rhymes and juvenile delinquency. "It was cool to be hard and cool to be gangsta," Davis says. "We tried to sell drugs and rob people."
It wasn't until the two became immersed in their creative endeavors that they found a better way to get up, get out, and get something. "I grew up in Chicago and everybody wasn't about living that good life," Ware says. "I moved to Atlanta and seen the light. I knew there was more to life than rap and basketball." They started rhyming together as the Junkyard Mob, and later Mach Five, a name they settled on because it sounded like an alternative rock band. The name change also signaled a transition from adolescence to young adulthood. As time went on, Mach Five drew inspiration from their earlier carefree days and began to incorporate that back into their music.
"We reverted back to Junkyard Mob style," Ware says regarding their latest effort, the aptly titled Ratchet Shit. Originally released as a series of three five-song EPs, their humorous treatise on molly, misogyny, and male-bonding fueled the group's five-city summer minivan tour, with stops in Chicago, New York, and Philly.
Ware and Davis' retooled approach represents the aesthetic of the new indie scene. It's less about striving to be musically inventive and more about cultivating a sense of come-as-you-are inclusion that resists classification — especially from outsiders.
"We hate being called hipster," Davis says, recalling the "hipster rap" tag with which they were prematurely dismissed early on. "That's just a way for corporate folks and industry people to categorize you. Hip is really just being comfortable with yourself."
In order to nurture their own audience, the duo started Greedmont Park in 2008. The blog has since morphed into an online music and pop culture magazine with limited print distribution. Originally a play on Midtown's Piedmont Park, the blog name makes unintentional irony of the avarice that drives the entertainment industry. "We're definitely not greedy," says Davis, who's also a tattoo artist and business partner at Castleberry Hill's City of Ink. "Our greed is inspiring other people and making it."
While living in New York for two years to work for rap mogul Damon Dash's DD172 and Creative Control media properties, Davis added another skill to his repertoire: filmmaking. Under the Greedmont TV title, Davis shot and produced the most serious piece of content on the site, J is for Junkie, a 40-minute documentary that paints a sobering, close-up portrait of homeless crack addicts in Atlanta. The subject matter is not only disturbing but deeply personal for Davis. "I was like a broke kid with parents on crack," he says. "We had to sleep in cars."
Though their projects have branched out in unexpected directions, Mach Five's motivation was actually pretty simple. "We just wanted to show people what we think is dope," says Davis.
The Atlanta Indie Fest represented their next enterprising step when they kicked it off in 2008. Unlike Atlanta's mammoth A3C Hip Hop Festival, which tended to feature more classic — and classically underground — acts on multiple stages, Ware and Davis took a slightly different approach. They set out to grab like-minded locals on the verge that appeal to a younger audience born during hip-hop's golden era and pair them with breakout national talent more likely to appear on a laptop than a live stage. It's a feat in which they've succeeded so far. Homegrown acts such as Yelawolf, BOSCO, and Hollyweerd graced the stage in year one next to Chicago's emerging Kidz in the Hall; while a pre-Finally Famous Big Sean performed alongside headliner and rising ATLien B.o.B the following year.
Ware knew they were on the right path during an appearance last year at SXSW. "B.o.B immediately grabbed me up to thank me for putting him on," he recalls. This year's lineup of 20-plus acts might be the most ambitious with a peculiar mix of nascent headliners that are already shaking up the industry, including former A$AP Rocky producer/MC SpaceGhostPurrp; Rob Roy, who counts Kanye West and Justin Timberlake among his early adopters; and singer/rapper/FIT graduate Kilo Kish. Proof, yet again, that Davis and A.Ware forecast ahead of the curve.
The two have more projects and appearances in the works, like the upcoming Sneaker Pimps tour, but they're reluctant to reveal more — other than a mission statement that sounds more hood-approved than hipster: "There are really big possibilities to life," Ware says. "Ain't no limits to nothing."
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