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Chris Martinez may be the best local rapper you've never heard of — but not for much longer. The 22-year-old producer and MC, who records under the name KonGeror (or, more recently, just K.), has called Arizona home since his family moved to the Valley from El Paso, Texas, nearly 18 years ago. In a perfect world, he wouldn't have to leave, but after spending the past four years struggling for recognition in Arizona's fragmented hip-hop scene, Martinez envisions greener pastures in the frigid climes of Minnesota. He's hoping the state that spawned Rhymesayers Entertainment and the Doomtree collective will embrace his hip-hop vision — and based on the trips he's taken there, he's optimistic.
"I can get shows like that in Minnesota, when I want them, wherever," he says, snapping his fingers for emphasis. "Completely night and day compared to where I'm from, which is strange. There's people that are in our genre of music (in Minnesota), or closer to our genre of music. Here, we really stick out. There's not a lot of places we can go. We don't really fit with punk; we don't really fit with metal; we don't really fit with rock; we don't fit with rap. So we're in a weird no man's land of, like, trying to figure out where the hell to go for shows. But there, everybody kind of does everything together and it's all a melting pot of all this weird stuff."
If Minnesotans do, indeed, like weird stuff, they're going to love KonGeror. In the two years since Martinez self-released his debut album, KonGeneration, his music has increasingly challenged the boundaries of traditional hip-hop.
KonGeneration was a surprisingly polished debut, with funk-laced beats and slice-of-life lyrics that owed more than a passing debt to Rhymesayers artists Atmosphere and Brother Ali. On his follow-up effort, 2008's Raphood & Authenticity, Martinez began to develop a signature style that featured distorted guitar samples, ambient noise, and abstract lyrical themes. It's a sound he honed even further on his two latest EPs, the all-instrumental Paletas and the just-released Does It Matter?, which sounds as if it could be the result of a collaboration between Kanye West and Japanese drone rockers Boris. You could call it Nike-gaze, or maybe doom-hop, but Martinez already has a better name picked out.
"I think what we're doing is creating one of the first sub-genres of rap music," he says. "That's what we are gonna try to call post-rap. That is totally separate from mainstream or underground or whatever you want to call it. It's post-rap. It's something on its own. And it's not an elitist type of thing. It's not like 'oh, we're better than you 'cause we're doing this post-rap shit and it's better than all the other stuff.' It's just honestly a new way of creating rap music, of sampling and using the flavor of what hip-hop used to be, and then introducing this whole new aspect of it. Like, moodiness is the number one thing why it's post-rap. Songs that are moody. You don't get moodiness in rap music."
Working closely with Martinez are his longtime girlfriend, artist Jamee Varda, and their two friends, guitarist Sean Lindahl and rapper Adam "Botzy" Botsford. Together, the four make up the core of record label and music collective Gahed Indie (which they pronounce "ga 'head 'n' die").
Botsford has already moved to Minneapolis, but the trip was far from smooth. He ran into a snowstorm just across the Minnesota border and rolled his pickup truck. Surprisingly, he managed to escape with just a few bruises and a broken needle on his record player, which was packed in the truck bed along with the rest of his gear.
Martinez, Varda, and Lindahl expect to join him later this year. In the meantime, they're working full-time and saving money for the move. Martinez says he spends most of his free time working on beats. Then he quickly corrects himself.
"I don't even like calling them beats anymore, 'cause they're more intricate than a beat," he says. "There's guitar, distortion, tons of noise, synth, real music. I don't want to be known as just a producer and an MC. I want to be an artist. I want to be taken just as seriously as a Robert Smith. I think influences are important to mention, like The Cure, Labradford, My Bloody Valentine, Portishead. People that do this real moody groove music . . . They're looked at as artists. They're not looked at as 'Aw, that's a producer who just sampled on his MPC.' There's nothing wrong with that. That's where hip-hop came from. That's awesome. But that's just not what I want to be seen as. I want to be seen as an artist."
Martinez knows that his music is not what hip-hop-heads are used to hearing, which is one reason he gives it away free on his Web site, www.gahedindie.com. (The other, more practical reason is simply to avoid the cost of making CDs.)
"I'm just trying to get people to open their minds to it at first and test the waters and see what they think of it," Martinez says. "You have to do experiments when you have new stuff. Just like anybody else that has a new invention; they try it out with a couple people just to see what it can do. That's why I'm putting out everything for free, and I will continue to do it until I feel like someone is noticing or I feel like people will start buying it and paying money for it."
Martinez is noncommittal when asked if this week's two shows will be his last in Arizona before he heads north.
"If something comes up, I might do it," he says. "But as far as I'm concerned, I'm not going out of my way. It takes a lot of effort and work to get shows . . . I really just don't see a point to going out and booking more shows and doing more stuff if my focus isn't going to be here."
Still, Martinez has no plans to forget his Arizona roots.
"My family will still be here. It's always gonna be with me. When I go to Minneapolis, I'm saying I'm from Arizona. This post-rap was made here. Wherever I take it, the only reason post-rap exists is because of Arizona. It may not have been the prettiest reasons, but that is exactly why [it exists]. I'll never be able to turn my back on Arizona."