Here’s what promoter Tanki Nyane wants out of IC: Local hip hop pinned down, weathered posters of emcees competing with indie rockers, people strolling down Clinton Street on their iPods listening to Animosity and his future brethren. Nyane wants to clog the Iowa rhyme drain, build a scene worth cultivating, drop “Iowa” and “hip hop” in the same phrase without this reaction:
“People are like, ‘Iowa’s lame, man, I don’t want to be a hip hop artist in Iowa City, man.’ Dude, it’s not about that,” Nyane said. “If your talent is good enough it doesn’t matter where you’re from. You can be from Two Buck Pacaloo — but if you have that drive, that skill, it’s not going to matter.”
For him, the key to such a stake is The Industry, a near year-old establishment sitting at 211 Iowa Avenue at the Q-Bar’s old home. Like Nyane himself, The Industry is a local work-in-progress — a venue with drive and dreams that has yet to really make its mark.
“This town has a really solid music core, and if you bring in anything new, there’s a little upheaval. It’s been a bit rough,” said Josh Nelson, an Industry employee since it opened its doors in late April 2008. “The Yacht Club and the Picador has its regulars, its dance parties. They’re established. We’re a little bit more diverse, unpredictable.”
This combined with a problem unique to The Industry: one of space. Unlike other area strongholds that tuck stages away in corners and take only a couple hundred to fill, The Industry echoes with space — Nelson claims a capacity of at least 550 — though often it’s filled more by deep beats streaming from its top notch sound system than by people. On perhaps a typical Thursday night, a deejay was composing his set from a table held up by cinder blocks, music covering the dozen or so liquidly moving on the sparse dance floor. It’s tailor-made for a barn-burner, a giant show that would overflow the Yacht Club two times over.
The only problem is getting people inside. That’s what Nyane wants to fix.
Though a bit of a drifter, 23-year-old Nyane is eager to plant his feet in Iowa City and “brand” both a scene and himself — a difficult and somewhat vague task, though one that Nyane’s wholly committed to. A native of Lesotho, a country in the southern Africa, Nyane is accustomed to movement — escaping violence there when he was a child, landing in Iowa City in his teenage years. Enter some “trouble” and direction from his mother to take off and find himself, he traveled the United States, selling cigarettes and cologne out west, working on an Alaskan rig and finally returning to Iowa City less than two years ago to start again, again. He’s trying to establish “Nyane Enterprises,” his marketing firm — with dreams of making his name in local music.
“If I’m in Iowa and no one’s rapping consistently in Iowa — and if I can make it big here, people are going to love me like Ashton Kutcher, you know what I’m saying?”
Of course, Nyane doesn’t act alone. Sid Mali, otherwise known as “Sid the Kid” — a 2007 University of Iowa grad who recently set off for the West Coast to build his name as a purveyor of hip hop — does the heavy lifting, making East Coast connections and working with Industry booking to schedule the big shows. From South Africa proper, Mali is close enough to Nyane to be considered a “cousin,” a business partner and friend committed to the IC scene.
“If you could see this guy work, you would cry,” Nyane said. “How does he do it? He’s always real [Nyane snaps] on the ball.”
Efforts to talk to Mali for this article proved Nyane wasn’t lying. Interviews were set and shifted based on his intense amount of business: apparent meetings with the President of Botswana, his own journalistic endeavors for his impressively stacked Amazashow.com, and culminating with a booker’s worst nightmare — the cancellation of an act.
The original Industry show, the one Nyane was banking on sparking the renaissance of the IC hip hop scene, had its headliner drop out. DJ Whoo Kid, the “mixtape king” and deejay for 50 Cent’s G-Unit crew, was summoned by Fiddy to perform in Texas — revoking his presence at The Industry on April 18th. Luckily for (and a credit to) Mali, a few meetings and two days later he reported another artist was booked for the slot: Kidz in the Hall, an up-and-coming emcee duo who may even better fill whatever yearning the area has for the genre.
“Does Iowa City deserve a hip hop scene? Oh yeah. Oh yeah man,” Nyane said. “It’s never going to be a New York City. But it could come close to a little Minneapolis. It’s going to take time and it’s gonna take work, but I’m 110 percent committed to making it work… when people come to Iowa City, I want them to be like ‘yeah, I’ve heard about that person, I’ve heard about The Industry — I want to see it.’ I think it’d be the best thing. I truly do.”
With the perpetual exodus of artists to the hip hop havens of the coast and a struggle to find to find the secret to scene starting here, the still-local Nyane has much to do. And time will tell if The Industry has the backing to both seduce major acts and convince local ones to stay. But whatever the venue, one gets the sense Nyane isn’t going stop his plight any time soon.
“All these extra hours, all this extra work, it’s for a reason,” Nyane said. “You just have to keep pushing until your knuckles fall off and you can’t take it anymore. That’s how you know you’ve made it.”