In southern West Virginia, The Movement Entertainment Group has hosted an awards ceremony for the past four years. It’s part of the DubV Fest, a weekend music festival like Floyd Fest, Clifftop or Bonnaroo. Only it’s held indoors, usually at a nightclub, and features mostly hip-hop artists from out of state.
It started about seven years ago, including performers like Hoobastank, Saliva, and DJ Unk. But it also supports local talent and even hosts an award ceremony for West Virginia artists. This summer will mark the 8th anniversary of the DubV Fest and fifth anniversary of the awards.
“The talent is so heavy in the hip hop world in West Virginia that you wouldn’t believe it,” said DubV Fest organizer and promoter Brian Reznor.
The awards include Artist of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Up and Comer of the Year, Best Single and Best Video. Some past winners of Artist of the Year include:
Ponce De Lion from Wheeling, West Virginia
FamZ from Princeton, West Virginia
Last Year’s 'Legend': Jamie Smith from Beckley, West Virginia
The Legend Award honors those who have influenced the scene in West Virginia.
Rezner said it’s a sort of “hall of fame.” Back in the early 2000s, Jamie Smith was one of the only artists creating or producing hip-hop in the region.
“It was like Jamie inspired a culture that didn’t exist in this region before,” said Rezner.
Jamie worked as a hip-hop DJ, working on turntables and mixing sounds live--quite unlike what was once imagined of a radio disc jokey in years past.
Jamie had gained legendary status around the region for his work behind the turntables (also known as vinyl record players) and the award was meant to recognize his talent.
From Guitar to Turntables and Beyond: Jamie's Musical Evolution
Jamie’s music can be described as a hybrid of traditional Appalachian music with a hip-hop break beat. His father, who had played in a band himself, influenced Jamie's love for music at young age.
Jamie taught himself how to play guitar, started a punk band and had his first gig at 13. He said music, of all sorts--bluegrass, gospel, classic rock--were a regular part of family gatherings
"When everybody is in a circle like that and they’re all on the same level,on the same page, on this tune. It inspires the same emotion in everybody that you’re sitting there enjoying that moment with. It’s just incredible,” Jamie said.
Playing in a circle with some of his family is still a part of his life.
Jamie and his friends started entertaining themselves in the small town by experimenting with electronic sounds with a hip-hop rhythm.
“We were producing it in my mom’s living room when I was in high school, making beats on crappy keyboards and using borrowed four-track tape recorders to produce singles and albums and stuff," said Jamie. "We were emulating in a lot of ways the guys that we loved.”
“We were just doing it to be the dopest DJ and the dopest rapper around,” he said.
Jamie started putting out mixtapes under the label Illkenetics. A mixtape is basically taking mainstream music or produced music and putting your own style, blends and sounds in a compilation of music.
The music was gaining popularity in southern West Virginia and Jamie was pretty confident in his work--until he heard from this crew out of Morgantown led by Eric Jordan and artist 6'6" 240. The crews eventually met up and wound up collaborating on Illkentics Mixtape: Volume 8.
Jamie usually worked with one of his childhood friends, Beckley native rapper that went by the name Nauseous, because as he said, "his lyrics made ya sick as in - you'd be sick with jealousy because his raps were so dope.
Jamie Smith Becomes DJ JLS
Then Jamie was robbed. Someone broke into his house and stole all of his production equipment including beat machines, samplers, a keyboard--everything--but the turntables and records.
“That’s really where the monster that became DJ JLS was born was out of this necessity of not having the stuff that I wanted to be doing," said Jamie. "That wound up being I believe one of the most profitable adventures that I ever did, which happened completely out of accident.”
Jamie moved away to California with Nauseous and continued to work on music projects. He said California introduced him to a lot of musicians, producers and rappers and some of them produced what he considered good material. But a lot of them didn't.
He said that there just weren’t as many standouts there as there were and stil are in West Virginia.
“Here it’s just condensed raw talent and everybody has the same you know everybody wants to get something off of their chest about the struggle here because it is a struggle here. It’s certainly not easy," Jamie said.
He doesn’t work much as a DJ any more he’s still producing music as part of his company Kid in the Background. But now instead of making music with a crappy keyboard, he works in a professional studio. It’s not all hip-hop these days. His latest project is with Matt Mullins and the Bringdowns.