Aliso Black doesn't like to talk about the dues he's paid to his local hip-hop scene. He'd rather just show you the worn-out soles of his white, high-top Chucks, the armpit stains under his sweatshirt, or a car trunk full of mixtapes and show fliers. Then of course there's the swath of Google entries that that pop up when you type his name and the phrase "OC Underground Hip-hop" in the search bar. Sure, playing countless shows and setting major hip-hop events like Sound Asylum earn him respect on the local backpack rap circuit. But lately, the MC born Aaron Williams is starving to show scores of discriminating hip-hop heads outside OC just how much he's sacrificed in the rap game by running a grassroots campaign for a slot at next year's Paid Dues Festival. As far as he's concerned, his entire career as a local underground artist is emblematic of what the annual concert is all about.
"I represent, the hungry cats on the come up who haven't got a lot of shine, I represent the underdog, the guy who's putting the work in, he's just not getting noticed," he says. "I don't know anyone who works at Paid Dues, my cousin doesn't own a record label. I don't have any special avenues for music, I never have."
It's going to be a long five months until the celebrated indie rap tour comes around in April of 2013, but in the last several weeks, Aliso's strategy of gaining sponsorships from local businesses, filming and posting every show he plays and having his fans tweet the hell out of rapper Murs (a frequent headliner and major force behind the fest) is actually starting to work. Recently, he struck a deal hip-hop clothing store CGS in the Santa Ana, who are offering 10% off purchases for anyone who comes in and mentions Aliso Black and tweets or posts a request on Facebook to see him on the bill. He's now a regular guest on programs like Internet station B-Side Radio, pitching his potential and spitting a few sample bars for prospective supporters. He's planned out a schedule of pep rally shows and community benefit gigs to keep his hype going as he plots his next move to get noticed.
Though he's the first rapper from OC to do something like this (that we know of) he definitely isn't the first MC to run a Paid Dues campaign. In 2011, San Bernardino rapper Noa James inspired him after he successfully ran his own campaign that earned him a slot on the festival. For Aliso, whose stack of mixtapes and music videos have been piling up over the last five years, a campaign like this was just the kick in the ass he needs to create more demand for his flows.
"I felt like I needed to do something to push the envelope for me as an artist, he says. "When things become to easy and comfortable I know I need to step it up."
Last week, he scraped together some gas money and drove from his nativeAliso Viejo
to theHouse of Blues
in Hollywood to see Murs perform and hopefully hand him one of his mixtapes. Murs, a founding member ofLiving Legends
, was also there promoting Paid Dues, encouraging people in the crowd to cast write-in ballots for rappers they wanted to see at the festival. While he noticed plenty of rappers simply writing in their own names countless times and casting a ton of ballots at the artist merch table, Aliso opted to simply work the crowd, hand out CDs, shake hands and ask for votes. One of the people he hit up in the crowd, he says, happened to be Murs' brother--though he had no idea at the time.
"As far as I knew, he was just another dude in the crowd. We talked for a minute, I handed him a CD and he's like 'oh fasho I'll give it to my brother.' I didn't even think anything of it," Aliso said.
After the show, as Aliso waited in a long line for a Murs meet and greet, he recognized the guy he'd given the CD to. It turned out to be Murs' brother who called Aliso over to the front of the line to come meet him and shake his hand and tell him briefly about his mission. While he hopes that was a big step toward getting himself on the bill this year, by no means is Aliso resting on a sliver of good luck. He's still got five months worth of campaigning to do, which also includes trying to finagle an opening spot on another Murs show at the House of Blues on Dec. 27.
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"With all this tweeting and facebook posting, nothing could compare with doing my shit right there live in front of the man making the decisions," he says.
Despite his frustrating lack of funds for promotion he says that all of his success with old-fashioned leg work and community building is a result of currency he's built up over the years.
"My campaign is only going off of dues paid. Or else people would be asking me 'Who the hell are you?' he says. Everything you see me doing is straight off the fucking handshake. Even if by some stroke of luck he finds out he got a spot on the festival stage, he knows the hustle will have only just begun. "I'm campaiging until I put my mic down at the end of my set at Paid Dues," he says. "We gonna ride this thing until the wheels fall off."