Show me a man who doesn't fear change, and I'll show you a man with a bunch of quarters in his pockets.
Or I'll introduce you to Sean Hunt.
The rapper known as Approach is wrapping change in a bear hug. It started a year ago when he sheared off his shoulder-length dreadlocks. For his soon-to-be-released album, Welcome to Share, he traded classic drumbeats for mechanical synth. And the biggest change of all: In September, he'll be packing up and heading to San Francisco.
Approach will leave his heart in Kansas City. It's obvious in the way he pours out advice for all the local rappers, DJs and collaborators with whom he'll be parting ways. But more than that, Approach is a leader by example, and it's by his deeds that we have devised the longtime local rapper's Five Commandments for the KC/Lawrence Hip-Hop Scene.
I. Thou shalt keep thy ego in check.
At the date release party for Just Add Water, a mixtape by producer D-Will that features almost every rap act to ever trample the Peanut's sticky doorstep, Approach was the embodiment of humility. He performed, from the mixtape, the song "Kansas City Dreamin'," with D-Will and Reach.
Then the first few strains of "The Brothafly Effect," the single from his yet-to-be-dropped album, Welcome to Share, drifted from the speakers. The beat was darkly futuristic, like a power drill buzzing in rhythm. Approach faced his audience, crouching like a stalking alley cat, his free hand punctuating his rapid-fire spitting and his eyes bugging out of his head, as the crowd hung on every crispy syllable.
When the song ended, a guy from the crowd walked up to the sweaty, 28-year-old rapper and told him to keep it up, as though Approach were a freshman on the rap scene. Rather than explain that he was rapping back when mixtapes were actual cassettes, Approach merely said thanks.
"If people want to come up and give encouraging words, it's not their responsibility to know your history," Approach explains. "That type of stuff is fresh to me. I know some have an ego about it, 'Well, I've been doing this, I established this.' That's not me, man. If you don't know me, that means there's a changing of the guard. New people getting involved in it."
II. Thou shalt push the artistry.
Approach wants people to listen to Welcome to Share four times before they solidify their opinion — not because he thinks it's beyond the average listener, but because it took Approach himself a long time to warm up to the sound. It's a dramatic departure from anything he's done before, thanks to the futuristic club-soul production of DJ Salva. Approach met Salva through his partner in Datura Records, Brent Lippincott, the DJ who started the label in Lawrence.
Salva is also the reason behind Approach's other departure — the one from Kansas City to San Francisco. Salva moved to San Fran from Milwaukee with his whole crew, and joining them on the coast was an offer Approach couldn't refuse. "It's gonna be a good thing," Approach grins. "It's gonna be a bunch of different musicians packed in a crib in a very expensive city, playing the music we love to do."
III. Thou shalt make dance-floor music that's not dumb.
Approach calls himself a "blue-collar, real-life MC," but just because he likes to rhyme about paying bills doesn't mean that he wants to be a big downer. He brings up the recent club hit by Hurricane Chris, "Aye Bay Bay." It's a whole song about making catcalls to women.
"Everyone gets all deep on it, like this is part of the corruption, this is what keeps us down," Approach says of the constant controversy over rap music. People who listen to popular rap music aren't dumb, Approach argues. They just want the diversion.
Approach says his goal is to match contagious beats with his ability to sneak social commentary into pimp-cup dance songs. "Why can't I take this rhythm that someone else is doing and not saying jack to, and write to it and say something clever so that people don't even realize that they're getting their vitamins and minerals?"
For maximum impact, Approach is releasing another 11 songs as a project called Aloe Park, produced by Ill Poetic from Cincinnati. It will be available for free downloading on Approach's MySpace page at the beginning of September. And it's totally different from Welcome to Share.
"Cincinnati just has a soulful, beautiful, hard-city vibe," Approach says. "It's like a rough, grimy area, but the music they make is so pretty."
IV. Thou shalt stay off the Internet forums.
You'll never catch Approach arguing on hip-hop message boards.
"I don't participate in anything that's detrimental to what's going on," he says. "Anyone who wants to see what I think, I'll tell 'em. I won't sugarcoat it for them. But there's no need for me to go on a public domain and debate that in all caps."
V. Thou shalt remember that Kansas City includes the suburbs, too.
Approach has lived in Overland Park since the second grade, and he's proud of it. "From Olathe to Kansas City, Missouri, and all of Wyandotte County — I consider all of that to be KC, to make up this metropolis," he says sternly.
"I went to Shawnee Mission North," he continues. "Mac [Lethal] went to Shawnee Mission South. Brother of Moses [rapper Aaron Sutton] went to Shawnee Mission North with me. A lot of prominent figures in the scene are from out there."
Approach marvels at the progress that hip-hop has made in Kansas City in the last several years. He and Lippincott rooted the Datura label in Lawrence because it was friendly to hip-hop at a time when venues in Kansas City were not. When the hip-hop scene in Lawrence proved peaceful and successful, venues in Kansas City started opening their doors to the new scene.
"I'm glad KC finally embraced it," Approach says. "I feel like they respect it. The forefathers — the Veteran Clicks, the Tech N9nes, the Basement Khemists, the Heet Mobs — they did a lot of grunt work, too, and people went, wow, there's some cats doing it, there's hip-hop in Kansas."
And soon, California will be finding out about it.