It's a Wednesday night at the Starbucks on Ward Parkway, and Miles Bonny is tucked away at a table near the back, finishing off his grande peppermint hot chocolate, and the scene is completely ludicrous.
A dozen people pass through the coffee shop during the hour he's there, and none of them seem out of place. But when Bonny — one of the most forward-thinking figures on the Kansas City independent hip-hop scene — drinks cocoa at suburbia's biggest cliché, it's practically surreal. It's sort of like watching Dennis Kucinich announce his new pro-logging stance at the grand opening of a Fuddruckers.
To be fair, this meeting place wasn't his idea, and he doesn't come here often. He'd be much more comfortable somewhere with a little more class and culture, like the Spitfire Grill on 39th Street or the Hangout at 36th and Broadway — both places where he's done quite a bit of DJ work.
But considering Bonny's long list of musical accomplishments in 2007, a quiet, cookie-cutter coffee shop isn't such a bad place to discuss it all.
"Everyone's busy. It's just a matter of where you decide to put your energy," he says, offering a modest explanation of how he found time to involve himself in more than a dozen album releases in less than a year. The phrase "more than" is a necessity here because, if you ask him, he can't recall every project he worked on in 2007.
"It's hard to say what order these happened in," he says. "I kind of worked on them all at once."
Although he got his start as the beat maker for local hip-hop darling SoundsGood (partnering with the now-retired MC Joe Good), Bonny's latest efforts haven't been limited to the turntables. When he wasn't spinning onstage or in the studio in '07, he was busy producing, recording, promoting and even spending some time behind the mic.
One of Bonny's first solo projects of the year was a 7-inch single titled "Miles Gets Open."
The soulful, jazzy tune, on which Bonny himself plays trumpet, showcases his jazz upbringing in New Jersey, where his father, now a woodworker, used to work nights as a musician across the river in New York City. Thanks in part to the song's homemade YouTube video, which shows scenes from the streets of KC, German label Melting Pot Music took notice of Bonny.
The label liked the single enough to release Bonny's next project, the Closer Love EP, in October. Overnight, Bonny had gone from being a Kansas City favorite to an internationally distributed musician with radio play in Germany, Japan and England.
"Gilles Peterson hosts one of my favorite shows on BBC radio, and he played my song and mentioned me by name," Bonny says. "That was my second-biggest music goal in life. I almost didn't have any goals left after that."
Bonny found some new ones.
Although Joe Good has all but disappeared from the local hip-hop scene, Bonny released an instrumental version of SoundsGood's second album, Biscuits & Gravy, in 2007. In 2008, he plans to put out another full-length SoundsGood LP using material that was recorded between the band's self-titled debut and Biscuits.
Bonny's next work, Steveland, released December 15, took a different turn. The five-song album features Bonny singing and playing the horns over a 2002 tribute to Stevie Wonder by high-profile indie producer Madlib.
Bonny also tried something new with Steveland in terms of marketing and promoting the album: He made only 44 copies. Each album is individually numbered and features a cover handmade by Bonny.
With his newfound international exposure and the prospect of a limited-edition album, Bonny says Steveland has become a highly sought-after release. And, he says, it has taught him the value of shrewd marketing and promotion.
"I try to compare indie hip-hop to indie filmmaking," he says. "There are thousands of independent films out there, but how many have you heard of? People can't spend their lives digging for a diamond in the rough. Somebody has to let them know about it.
"If there wasn't a Starbucks on every corner," he adds, "would anyone care if there was one on a street corner in Seattle?"
When he wasn't recording his own albums last year, Bonny was producing and recording for locals Stik Figa, Deep Thinkers, Reggie B, John Brewer and Adru the Misphit, all of whom are members of Innate Sounds, a collective of hip-hop and jazz musicians that he helped form in — you guessed it — early 2007.
Bonny says Innate Sounds was supposed to be a refuge for like-minded musicians, not a label. But now he hopes to form a full-fledged label around the group, with distribution, in the next year.
Bonny also collaborated with Innate Sounds member CES Cru to remix several songs from the group's first album, Capture Enemy Soldiers. He plans to work with CES in 2008 to produce and promote a full-length album.
"I'm trying to help them in whatever way I can," he says of CES Cru, a duo featuring rappers Ubiquitous and Godemis. "They're amazing, talented artists and performers. They're as good as they need to be. They just need more people to hear them."
Bonny has obviously been busy professionally, but that doesn't even begin to take into account recent changes to his personal life. Over the past couple of years, he has gotten married, bought a house, had a baby, realized that babies need insurance and, as a result, gone from being a full-time musician to a musician with a day job and benefits.
After the New Year, Bonny will begin releasing a series of instrumental-only compilation albums on iTunes to help clear out his massive backlog.
"Once I got my head together after getting married and having the baby, I realized that I just have tons of beats," he says. "I have beats that sound like nothing I've ever done before."
One might worry that a domesticated life would kill Bonny's fast-paced musical goals and make him a perfect fit for the Starbucks scene. But if his achievements in 2007 or his plans for 2008 are any indication, there's little chance of him becoming a laptop-toting, John Mayer-listening suburbanite — even if he does enjoy the occasional latte.
And anyway, with this kind of workload, a little extra caffeine might come in handy.
See Myspace.com/MilesBonny for gig updates and music.