Student rookie rap group rises to the top

Anna Kleven, Staff Writer

It was Saturday, September 21st, the day of King’s Fair. On the outdoor basketball court in Matthews Park people trickled in and sat in folding chairs in front of a small stage. Rappers Ruby Mitchell, Thomas Bates, and Miles Jamison, identifiable by their Top Rookie t-shirts, huddled in anticipation. With the humble setup, it was easy to doubt a large turnout, but the crowd grew until the entire court was covered. Finally, they climbed on stage and the show began.

“At first it was really quiet, like people weren’t sure what to do, but then people collected in front of the stage and started getting into it; it was cool,” recounted sophomore Simon Henderson.

“The show was great. The concert really got started when the crowd got into the music and gathered around the stage,” said sophomore Oscar Leinbach. Overall the show was regarded as a huge success.

This was rap group Top Rookie’s first official concert. They had come a long way since November of last year, when the three friends spontaneously decided to record a song. “We were all just hanging out at my house, and we were like, we should make a rap group,” said Thomas Bates.

All three members had each produced music individually in middle school, but becoming part of a band brought new challenges. Mitchell noted that “being part of a rap group is different because everyone has to agree, so it’s harder to make decisions.”

As a result of their unique writing styles, they are able to incorporate a wide variety of musical lyricism into each song. Every song has three verses, “so there are three different writing styles in each song,” said Mitchell.

Their first public performance was at South’s talent show in March. “I personally just wanted to try performing. I’d never performed rap before and it was a good experience, to get a feel for what it is like,” says Jamison. Top Rookie took second place. Their act created the kind of hype they had hoped for, and they released their first album, Down By The River in May.

The group is currently working on another album. “It’s going to have a lot more features,” says Jamison. “You’re going to be listening to it and you’re going to want to dance more than you wanted to dance to our old album,” added Bates.

In the past, Bates has produced most of the beats. For their new album however, Jamison said, “we’re going to try to change that and have other people make beats.”

Top Rookie draws inspiration from a wide variety of artists: Chief Keef, Radiohead, Ab Soul and Kendrick Lamar, to name a few. Their music is a combination of new school rap and trap, a musical form of hip-hop that focuses on the bass over vocals.

Their lyrics are often locally oriented, such as the line ‘You know how my south-side homies do, You know how my Lake Street homies do, we hit up Pineda after school’.

They’ve found an audience in their friends and in their neighborhood. “They’re some of my closest friends, but apart from wanting to support them, they make passable rap music.” said Henderson, who is close friends with all three of the rappers.

Leinbach agrees. “I listen to Top Rookie because I like their sound and its great that they’re my friends making music the way they like.”

But finding an audience beyond their friends and immediate community is hard. It can be especially difficult for musicians to make a name for themselves in the sea of up and coming artists.  “There are a lot of groups,” said Mitchell, “so it’s hard to stand out.”

In addition to their music, they are trying to differentiate themselves from other groups through marketing and merchandise. Top Rookie is active in many digital spheres, including Twitter, Facebook, Soundcloud, and Youtube.

You may have seen their shirts or stickers, both designed by Bates. “I hear people ask about Top Rookie a lot, now that people are wearing their shirts.” said Leinbach. They have been able to spread the word by encouraging other students to wear their clothing, even coining the term “Top Rookie Tuesday.”  The paraphernalia has not only attracted attention, it has also been a significant source of revenue.

Top Rookie plans to stay together after high school. All three of the member see music as a definite career path. Mitchell advises other musicians “Don’t stop making music, because it’s easy to stop forever.”