There are all kinds of stories in the music world that begin with, “I loved this kind of music since I was 2 years old, and I knew from the beginning that that’s what I was going to do when I grew up.” But for Micah Davis and Jon Hargrove, co-owners of Mauldin’s HDI Records, that’s not the case. The two men joined forces in 2012 to bring Upstate rappers, hip-hop producers and DJs together and give them a way to get their work heard, but they weren’t lifelong hip-hop fans.
“We are a generation raised by baby boomers,” says Hargrove, 23. “There was no point during childhood where hip-hop was introduced to us by anyone. It was a genre to be discovered.”
“It wasn’t something that came early for me,” says Davis, also 23. “I was never encouraged to aspire towards it or given the chance to explore it as a child. My background was practicing cello five out of seven days a week and memorizing compositions for recitals or youth orchestra performances. It was through a friend during high school that I began to meet and collaborate musically with local hip-hop artists that sparked my interest into the genre.”
But once they were exposed to it, both men were hooked. “What spoke to me as a musician was the universal power and application of hip-hop,” Davis says. “The fact that this was the one genre in the world that can mix in any other genre, any sound, any background. It doesn’t take an expert to see that rapping is a diary in musical form. The stories, the pain, the success, the highs and lows… as a producer, I can’t find a genre more diversified or capturing as hip-hop.”
Since forming HDI (which stands for “Hi-Def Innovative”) in 2012, Davis and Hargrove have brought on a plethora of rappers, DJs and producers from the Upstate, including Kozu Nova, Mashio, King Casso, Droc, Rick Da Rula, Cook the Rook and Fat Zech. The music they’ve created at their recording studio in Simpsonville ranges from the moody, multigenre instrumentals that Nova concocts to Mashio’s more jittery, dance-music influenced tracks to King Casso’s confident, swaggering raps.
“I think we as hip-hop artists in the Upstate have to fight harder to have the same opportunities that say maybe a singer/songwriter would have,” Davis says, “because there is a stigma around hip-hop music. Our goal is to offer the city the safest yet the most fun musical events as possible. We feel like it’s part of our mission to prove that hip-hop can be as safe and as profitable as rock. While never turning our back on or pushing aside any other genre.”
Ultimately both Davis and Hargrove, who are currently touring with their roster and special guests as the No Days Off tour, see the Upstate’s music scene as roomier (and more diverse) than some might think. “There’s room for everybody to grow as artists and develop their talent,” Hargrove says.
“The real motivation comes from seeing so many artists and musicians like us who want the same changes for hip-hop in the Upstate,” Davis says. “Since we created the label, we’ve seen major improvements in the relationships between hip-hop artists and the city. But there’s so much more to do, and we are here to stay in the Upstate to see it happen.”