Here are five local acts — some young, some not, but all prodigiously talented — to watch in 2010.
The Rapper: Ron Ron
Not just anyone can rocket to local hip-hop ubiquity simply by making a music video. But while other rappers exhausted themselves throughout 2009 playing show after show, Ron Ron taped up a homemade green screen, popped a camera onto a tripod, and portrayed several characterizations of himself in the video that he posted on YouTube for his single "Hey Honey." By going viral, Ron Ron broadcast his way into the hearts of the bass-loving community and cemented himself as one to watch in 2010.
"The crowd I hang with is the same old crowd, so when people say, 'I was at the barbershop, and they were talking about you,' I don't know how to gauge it," Ron Ron said over the phone from Jacksonville, Florida, a few weeks ago. He had spent the previous evening tossing back Patrón at the Duval Diamond Awards, a ceremony for urban-music artists. (Friends of his were nominated but ultimately didn't win.)
"I do know, with a nice amount of certainty, that 2010 is going to be a big year," Ron Ron told us.
He has teamed up with 2009 Pitch Music Award winner Stik Figa for a collaborative album, produced by Greg Enemy, which he expects will hit the streets in early 2010. And then? He's keeping the next chapter under wraps, maintaining the mystery that made his sudden appearance in '09 so tantalizing in the first place.
One thing Ron Ron promises: If he goes through the music industry's meat grinder, he'll still recognize himself when he comes out the other end.
"I think I gotta really know who I am to survive through this," he says.
Though if he does become someone else, he'll have one more persona to play in his next video.
— By Nadia Pflaum
The Young Jazzers: Diverse
Diverse is a band with winning ways. In 2008, this five-piece jazz band of young musicians won the Gene Harris Jazz Competition. In doing so, trumpeter Hermon Mehari, tenor saxophonist William Sanders, keyboardist John Brewer, bassist Ben Leifer and drummer Ryan Lee not only got to open for the festival's headliner, DownBeat Jazz Hall of Fame drummer Roy Haynes, but also won a deal to record an album of original music on the Origin label. The CD is called Diverse and was produced by Bobby Watson, who plays sax on a track.
Mehari, 22, says Diverse, whose sound blends modern-day influences with deeply rooted traditional jazz, did not expect the 2009 it has had: "At our CD-release party at the Blue Room in August, people had to wait an hour to get in. Our CD hit 49th on the JazzWeek chart, and it's gotten international airplay in France, Australia, New Zealand," he says.
One reason for the group's success: "We like to provide a gateway to jazz," Mehari says. "One of our goals is to bring in young people and expand our demographic by making the audience happy and feel good."
Proof of that good feeling came in November when Diverse played the "We Always Swing" Jazz Series at Murry's in Columbia. "That was our best gig of the year," Mehari says. "We sold a lot of CDs, and a lot of people came up to us and said, 'I don't listen to jazz but I really like what you guys are doing.'"
As for 2010, the band will continue its Diverse Features Series, such as its recent RecordBar gig with guest Logan Richardson on alto sax, plus touring. "It's good to have Kansas City as a base," Mehari says. "There's a lot of support here with other musicians and fans. And the city has a small-town feeling, so it's easy to get the word out."
— By Robert Folsom