For the uninitiated, a beat battle is basically a battle of the bands for laptop-wielding hip-hop producers — an opportunity for the behind-the-scenes cats to get some time in the spotlight. And Soundtrack Beat Battle — run by Courtney "Coko" Eason — is the city's best.
"I want people to stop saying, 'Hey, we gotta go to Atlanta, we gotta go to New York and LA to get our start,' " says Eason over the phone from her Music Row office. "No, we can have this here, if everybody stays here and supports each other and works together."
Started in 2010, the Soundtrack Beat Battle has gone from a small event in the back of Rocketown to a major bimonthly club event that's garnering national and international attention for the quality of its contestants.
"We can make this Nashville sound that nobody else has," says Eason. "We can make this a poppin' place. But right now we've got people still kind of doubting the scene, saying, 'There's no way I can make it out of Nashville.' And if everybody still has that mentality, we're going to be fighting for recognition for years and years to come."
To her credit, Eason is doing her part to stem the brain drain — the Beat Battle has been integral in the local hip-hop scene's fight for recognition in the outside world, and part of the war is being fought against complacency within the scene's own ranks. Maybe it's because the battle has been attracting talented producers from across the country — and those producers have been getting shut down by kids from the neighborhood. Maybe it's because the Beat Battle puts the focus on production and songwriting, those most Nashville of musical occupations. Maybe it's just because you're guaranteed a night out with no nonsense. Just hype tracks from beginning to end. But regardless of the cause, Soundtrack has the natives restless and ready to put on for their city — and it's resulting in bold new sounds.
"The beats, the production, the writing, the composition, the hooks and things of that nature, that's what Nashville is all about anyway," says Eason. "It's a songwriting city. People just need to know that it's not only songwriting for country music. It's songwriting for a lot of stuff, production for a lot of stuff.
"Since the beat battle has exploded, people have realized that this is a city surrounded by [all types of sounds]. Memphis is right down the street — we got the blues and the rock. Right here we have the country and the gospel and the Christian. And then we're in the Dirty South, so there's that. And it all correlates to this crazy hip-hop beat that nobody has heard before. I think that's why Nashville producers are doing so well in this thing."
Eason has a point. While there isn't a homogenous sound to our local producers, more and more locals are gravitating toward a style that incorporates two of Nashville's favorite pastimes: obsessing over music history and geeking out over the latest music technology. It's tough to pin down, and it doesn't even have a name — we've tossed around "gospel-tech" or "train-breaks," but neither of those really captures the vibe — but it's there, and it's real. It's a combination of classic musicianship and contemporary values that couldn't really come from anywhere else, and it's only going to develop further if Eason has her way.
"We're hopefully influencing some younger kids that think their only option is to rap," says Eason. "There's too many of them. You run into these kids and they're all, 'I wanna be an MC, I wanna rap.' We're hoping that this shines some light so the younger kids know that making beats is cool, it's fun, and it's just as entertaining as being a rap artist."
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