Meet One of the Figures in Northern Kentucky's Burgeoning Hip Hop Scene
Some may not know it, but there is a burgeoning hip hop scene developing in Northern Kentucky. Perhaps the most prominent artist among this group is rapper Trademark Aaron, who recently won the Best Artist award as part of the Greater Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky Hip Hop Awards. Trademark won Best Male Artist in last year's awards, and won Best Video the previous year for the video of his song Like Me.
A lot of people tend to group him as part of the Cincinnati hip hop community, but Trademark is clear about how he representatives himself.
“I honestly make a point of that,” he said. “Some people say 'he's from Cincinnati', but I tell them, no, I am from Northern Kentucky. It's not negative either way, it's just I would rather be known for being from Kentucky.”
He says that in previous years, the two sides of the river, rarely mixed musically, but that the separation has become less distinct.
“When I started out, everybody made sure to point out that I was from Kentucky,” he said. “It's a little bit different now, but when I was coming up, everybody from Kentucky stayed on their side of the river, as far as artists go.”
He says that his career picked up, though, when he started doing shows in Cincinnati.
“There are a lot of talented artists in Kentucky, but the Cincinnati hip-hop scene has been around longer and is more established,” he said.
Trademark Aaron, whose real name is Mark Glacken, has released three albums in the last few years, all of which have garnered a great deal of local and regional attention. The first one is For The People, followed by compilation project Words With Friends, and most recently, he dropped an EP called Act Accordingly in April.
“Act Accordingly was more of a personal album, I think,” he explains. “It was more about stuff that I was thinking about. I just try to progress with everything.”
For the People, was produced entirely by a beat producer named Corbett, where he and Trademark worked remotely, but for Act Accordingly, the two sat down together and made the entire project from scratch.
“We sat down and made several beats, we scrapped a couple of songs and we wanted to make one cohesive sound for it to where it kind of sounded like it went to each other.”
Trademark says that the newest release is a bit moodier than his previous projects, but that he is very satisfied with the finished product.
“I don't know, maybe I was just frustrated about some other things going on in my life, so the project came out a little darker, but I think the songs came out really good and the production is outstanding. Corbett is a really dope producer.”
Nationally recognized hip hop producer Hi-Tek recommended Corbett to Trademark as a nice match of style and sound, and the two have worked well together since. He says that though he has been through a lot of different experiences during his extensive rap career, there are still moments he cherishes as an artist.
“I think over the past few years, there were times when it wasn't fun, but once I'm on stage, I'm good,” he said when asked if making hip hop was still fun for him. “Maybe the politics that surrounds it hasn't been all fun, but even now, I love doing live shows. I like it better than actually recording. I've had a couple of shitty shows, but for the most part, I love performing, especially if I have Roy with me playing drums. We just feed off of the energy from the people and we have a blast.”
Aaron Roy is a drummer Trademark plays live with and says the two have been a pairing that he is thankful to be a part of.
“Aaron Roy is honestly too good to be playing with me,” he said of his drummer. “We just try to kill it every show. Not in a negative way or a disrespectful way to other artists, but at every show that we do, we try to out-do everyone else, and I think that should be everyone's goal. If you brought people to the show, we want to take them from you. Not like they won't be a fan of you anymore, but we want to get as many people as we can. If I am opening for a national headlining band, we want to out- do that act.”
A catch phrase Trademark uses often is “We Win” and is even a song title on Act Accordingly. On stage at Northside Tavern in Cincinnati this past summer, he explained that winning doesn't always mean defeating someone else, but by simply paying your bills, taking care of your self and your family, and leading a positive life are ways we win. The explanation on stage is an example of elements he uses to make his performances memorable to his audience.
“Whatever it was, we want there to be one thing during the show that makes people want to see it again or at least tell someone else about.”
Trademark was not always a verbose and outspoken individual like he may seem while on stage. He was home-schooled and wasn't exposed to a lot of hip hop as a kid. He describes himself as a shy youngster who didn't always have success making friends.
“I was always a shy kid growing up, didn't talk much. I even went to the University of Louisville for a year and I didn't even meet anybody while I was there; I just didn't talk to anybody I didn't know. Through music is how I became more outgoing talking to people. I fell in love with hip hop because of how people did things with words. It's expanded since then to where I've tried to do more with it, but I love this music and I love doing it.”
While his music career has become a large part of his life, it is not enough to sustain himself and his wife, so he works at a warehouse during the day. Not relying on his art to pay the bills has allowed him to preserve an artistic sense to his craft.
“It's not really about a paycheck,” he said. “You would like to get paid for your work, but if you're only in it for a paycheck, it's not art anymore. I'd rather be remembered for doing something I really believe in than getting paid.”
He says that a Words With Friends Two is in the works for 2015 and that he plans to keep playing shows and doing what he loves best. When things feel negative for him along his hip hop path, he goes back to what brought him there in the first place.
“The politics of everything can wear on you, but when that happens, you have to remind yourself of why you're doing it.”
Written by Bryan Burke, associate editor