• The Talent Fest cover

A couple weeks ago Playboy became the latest national media outlet to cover Chicago hip-hop with an in-depth story, though like the recent “docs” from World Star and Noisey the feature is mostly focused on the drill scene. Fortunately writer Ethan Brown does take a moment to point out that this city’s rap scene isn’t just Chief Keef and his circle:

But 2013 demonstrated just how deep Chicago’s hip-hop bench runs. That January saw Justin Bieber, of all people, sporting a black baseball cap bearing the insignia of Treated Crew, a band of rappers, producers and designers fronted by Kanye West’s longtime DJ Million Dollar Mano. The embrace arrived despite the fact that Chicago provides, as Mano told me, the “biggest fuckin’ uphill battle that every eccentric black man has. We have to jump and chase the chances, because there are none here.”

That Mano quote reminded me of just how difficult it had been for many local MCs and producers to get much attention, if any. It also reminded me of the lead of a Ytasha L. Womack Reader feature on local rap from 2002, “When it comes to hip-hop, Chicago gets no respect.” The opening paragraph of Womack’s story goes on to mention the ways in which the local scene had been overlooked throughout the 90s—to anyone living outside of Chicago it might’ve seemed that there hadn’t been much of a rap presence here. Of course, there had been, and a 1996 story by Peter Margasak covers a few of the noteworthy local movers and shakers, and it mentions a 1995 compilation called Talent Fest. Talent Fest has since gone out of print (you can grab a copy from Discogs for $100), but, eager to hear the compilation and learn about it I reached out to the man who released it, Scot Kellogg.

These days Kellogg is in charge of his own realty company in Michigan, but he still remembers the nights he spent at the Elbo Room and hang out with local rappers, and he recently took the time to talk about his experience putting Talent Fest together and becoming involved in the local rap scene back in the mid-90s. He also passed along a couple copies of Talent Fest and gave the Reader permission to stream the hard-to-find compilation. You can listen to it below, though the Soundcloud playlist is a little broken up as we’re unable to stream the contribution from D 2 Tha S (“Dissin’ These Fools”) due to previously held copyright issues; I’ve included a YouTube clip of the track between a couple Soundcloud Talent Fest playlists, and the song has been placed in the order in which it appears on the compilation. D 2 Tha S are one of many crucial though overlooked groups in Chicago’s hip-hop history—producer the Legendary Traxster has since become one of the biggest beat makers to come out of Chicago, and the late Trevor “Kay-Tone” Caston is also the uncle of rising drill rapper Lil Herb—and “Dissin’ These Fools” is one of the best songs on Talent Fest. Listen to the entire compilation below and keep reading for my interview with Kellogg.

Leor Galil: How’d you get hooked into the Chicago hip-hop scene?

Scot Kellogg: I just immersed myself. I started going to the Elbo Room’s hip-hop night on Mondays—I’m sure they don’t do that anymore. But Jesse De La Pena used to run hip-hop night there. It was really good. S.P.O. from Rubberoom and Dirty used to host it and then they’d let—towards the end of the night—people freestyle. That’s when I seen Juice, but I would start asking throughout that scene, “Who do you know? Who should I know? I’m thinking about putting this compilation together.”

Where’d you get the idea for the compilation? Was it from specifically going to the Elbo Room’s Monday night shows?

I don’t remember exactly, except I just really loved hip-hop. When I went down there, I’m like, “This is one of the only major cities that really isn’t represented in hip-hop.” I think that time Common Sense was just starting to get a national buzz—or, Common Sense back then. Really, there wasn’t a whole lot going on from Chicago. So I thought, “Wow, there’s so much good music here that people need to hear.” So that’s where the idea came from.

What brought you down to Chicago in the first place?

I went down there to go to school. I started at DePaul and ended up at Columbia College. And my brother lived there, that was the real reason that brought me to Chicago.

How soon after you were in the city and going to school—how soon after that did you immerse yourself in the scene and start going to The Elbo Room?

Within about a year of getting acclimated with Chicago; I actually went to Columbia College and I’d gotten in the music business program there and I started an internship at A&M Records out by O’Hare, it used to be. So I had a passion for the music business and it kind of led me into starting my own thing and wanting to get all these hip-hop artists together because they had so much to offer.

With that in mind, how did you approach the acts that ended up on Talent Fest? How did you figure out who you wanted in there? What was the process of putting this whole thing together?

It’s funny. I really didn’t understand the culture, the scene, anything. I just really liked hip-hop music. I knew everything from the 80s, the early 90s and bought everything. But when I went down there, I didn’t understand what a big part freestyling was. So, I would just go and listen every Monday night. Then there was open mic night at the Clique during the week, I started going to that. It just took from asking people. If someone I heard, I really liked, I’d go up after them after I had several drinks and say, “Wow that was great.” And ask them a bunch of questions: Who they like, what’s going on. Basically being inquisitive.

Do you feel like you gained a better sense of the culture and the community?

Yeah, I really did. I really came to appreciate the art form even more. I think it took me years to digest what was going on in the whole scene and understanding it, because I think the whole time I was trying to figure it out I was nervous. We were partying, it was just a hard thing for me to get my arms around.

Why is that?

Part of that was probably my own insecurity; being a white guy trying to understand hip-hop music, what was predominantly black music and being the only white guy in the club at that time. You know, of where my place is, how am I a part of this?

How did you see your role changing as you put together Talent Fest?

I don’t know that it changed that much. I think people were trying to figure me out as much as I was trying to figure them out. “Why is this guy so motivated to put this album out? Who is he? What’s going on?” Really, it was amazing that so many good artists were ready to say, “Yeah, let’s do this. Here’s one of my songs. Put it out.” It was really interesting back then, compared to today—everybody’s music is out there online, they put it out before it’s released, whatnot. Back then people did not like to give out their demo tapes because they thought someone was going to rip off their song, their beat, their sample. So it was really hard to get people to give you the material. Surprisingly the better artists were more willing to give me their music to put out than some of the lesser artists who were more protective of it.

Why do you think that is?

I don’t know for sure. Maybe the better artists—the ones that were gonna make or wanted to be higher exposure—were more confident that they could make something special and do it again, so they’re not gonna steal the one sample, the one beat that they’re trying to make a career out of it. I’m not exactly sure.

How long did it take you to basically compile the 12 songs that appear on Talent Fest?

It took me probably at least a year. Lots of ups and downs, and I was just getting into learning how to start a business. There was lots of ups and downs besides getting these artists that are artists—not all business-minded. I want files, I wanted the DATs that they put them out on back then—in getting them the finish product—then we went and mixed it all. But it took longer than I would like and a lot of them never even sent in their bios or information on them—hence, the back of the album, like Rubberoom, according to how they spell their name, was misspelled. Just a few other things that happened along the way due to finally just saying, “We got the music, let’s get it going.”

And you finally put it out. How many copies did you press up and what was the process of actually putting this on the street? How did people respond to it?

People responded well to it. We got a really nice write-up in the Chicago Tribune. Billboard wrote something about the Chicago scene, that a lot was based on our compilation. So the response was good, but by that point I was almost burned out on it. We had an album release party at the Elbo Room, it happened to be that Fat Joe was in town. He came, did a little freestyle, we passed out albums, promoted it. We got on a few local radio stations.

We did some promotion, but the problem is I didn’t follow through after a certain point. We distributed the album to all the mom and pop stores—south side, west side. [Street-promoter] J-Bird gave me an exclusive list—that he swore that I could never tell anyone because he put so much time putting it together—of these small mom and pops where they’re selling candy bars, pop, and they’ve got albums for sale. So I went to all those and it’s probably 100 little record stores, 50 to 100, that I went out to, on consignment gave them records, wrote it on a little slip how many I gave them, but most of them I never went back to. There was a one-stop distribution on the west side—that was part of my internship from college, to go work with, I think his name is George [Daniels of George’s Music Room], and he can sell your music through his one-stop. All these people are coming to him, so we also did that. But I did like 2,500 CDs, 1,000 tapes, and 300 12-inches of Get Off My Production and the Figure that we initially pressed.

And you mentioned you were pretty burned out after the end of creating Talent Fest. When you initially started Beathole Records, did you expect to do anything after it?

I had my eye on being in the music business. A lot of the reason I was burned out was I wasn’t good at incorporating other people to help out, be around it, be part of the street team to promote it. I was just going out and trying to make all happen myself—I’ve learned later that was a mistake there, instead of incorporating other entities and giving up some control. But a lot of what happened as far as the record industry, once I interned at A&M records, and it was a real heyday for them. Sheryl Crow was coming out, Blues Traveler, they had a lot going on, but I realized how the business was tainted and I would see to get a record added to a radio station, it wasn’t the best music once I started learning a little more behind the scenes. It kind of turned into a business. I was business minded, but what really brought me to it was the love of music.

After you realized this, what did you decide to do as far as your own career and your own aspirations?

Well, I did some social work and I was doing a little bit of social work towards the end of that part time. But really I wasn’t sure. It kind of guided me, I got into some punk music back then. I like the angst of that, you know, back at the Fireside Bowl in Chicago, and still embraced in the hip-hop scene, but I didn’t know how to become part of those scenes. I just kept myself a little bit separate. Finally, one day several years later, I’d lived in Chicago for five years, I woke up and just said, “You know what? I’m ready for something new.” I moved back to Grand Rapids, Michigan, where I thought I was going to get into owning a bar, but later, through a lot of different channels, got into real estate, which I do now.

How long have you been working in real estate?

Well, I took a bartending class—er, school—back in Chicago, where they taught you how to make drinks like you’re going to work on some cruise boat. You know, all these fruity drinks, and I came back to Grand Rapids, thinking they were going really to love this. Got hired at this kind of dive bar called Joey’s Lounge, and I lasted there like three weeks before they fired me. The guy basically told me I had to grow tits or speed up. I was like, “Whoa.” I was crushed. I got fired from a shitty bar job.

I went back to this bar drunk one night, feeling pretty bad about myself. The guy that trained me says, “Why do you want to work here?” I was like, “Ohhh.” That was a life lesson. So I left there and I thought about it, and my dad was a builder—I grew up building houses—he said, “Do you want to start building houses?” I did, but I really didn’t like it. I hated working for him as a kid. But anyway, I got my passion—I liked with working with people, helping them find a home, and it led me to become a realtor and now a real estate broker-owner.

That’s a pretty different path of life from starting your own label and working in the hip-hop scene? Before I approached you, had you heard from people about Talent Fest? Had you heard from anyone about it in the past handful of years?

I hear from people occasionally. You know, I go to the shows, I buy the albums. But I occasionally do hear this one group that was [from] Grand Rapids, they were on Profile Records when I moved down there. They were called Euro-K, and then when the album came out, they were called the Realist. I still see [them] regularly. But then, no, it’s pretty sporadic. I look people up once in a while.

I’m going to be streaming this on the site. I’m going to be posting this Q&A pretty much in full. How many copies of the CD do you have left? Do you have any tapes or anything? Do you have any goals or aspirations to re-release it at any point?

You know, I really don’t. Like I said, the Realist, local here in Grand Rapids, one of the guys said, “People keep asking him about his album.” I had 100 CDs that I just gave him. I said, “You know, if you can sell them, good for you. Go promote the group, do what you can with it.” I probably have just a handful of the Figure and Get Off My Production 12-inches and maybe 50 CDs. I don’t even know if I have any tapes left or not. I probably have a few. Not a whole bunch, but some.

Leor Galil writes about hip-hop every Wednesday.