Kalispell hip-hop artist IQ’s new album probably won’t be passed around the Parent Teacher Association, but that doesn’t mean its tracks are altogether inappropriate.
“A lot of it is listenable, a lot is not,” IQ, aka Kevin Paul, said. “I’m not perfect.”
What parents and other Flathead valley residents can appreciate is that while IQ’s music includes sexual themes and pro-marijuana rhetoric, it is wholly void of the agitated, gun-promoting commentary that often defines mainstream rap music.
“It’s (sex and drugs) a part of everybody’s life. It’s real,” Paul, a recent transplant from Los Angeles, said. “I don’t know how people relate to guns and violence. That’s not real for everyone.”
Paul’s solid background in piecing together beats shows on his debut album, ADD, and the track “The New Jam” cuts right to the heart of IQ’s message: “Tell me this isn’t different/tell me again/Did you notice?/The violence is missing/oh wait, here it is/I’m gonna batter and beat you/I don’t got to use no gat to defeat you/I’d rather teach you.”
On a recent afternoon, clad in a hooded sweatshirt, jeans and a tan beanie, 29-year-old Paul hovered over a table at Colter Coffee on Main Street, looking and acting like anything but a West Coast rapper. He was reserved but not cautious, and true to his alias, his verbiage wasn’t littered with slang and profanities.
“IQ speaks for the message,” Paul’s manager Michael Laurino said. “It’s intelligent. It’s a political, social statement.”
Making a statement with rhymes is something the artist learned at an early age, while participating in the Drug Abuse Resistance Education (DARE) program. At the graduation ceremony, Paul rapped a verse about his experience.
“By the time I was 11, I had a whole album,” he said. The budding rapper would use a karaoke machine with its double tape deck to record his songs and put them together with instrumental tapes.
Paul’s mother, Susan Laurino, said her son demonstrated a knack for rhythm and poetry early on. He took flute lessons in the fourth grade, she said, and was a talented writer.
But when Paul showed an interest in the L.A. rap and hip-hop scene, Susan admitted she was unsure if he would find his niche.
“I’m thinking, ‘Let’s see, he’s white and he’s going to have a hard time breaking in,’” she said.
To her relief, her son strayed away from the rhymes reflecting the violent atmosphere and experiences of some living in the inner city.
“I’m very happy he didn’t get into gangster rap,” Susan said. “I enjoy his beats, and I enjoy his music when he keeps down the bad words.”
Paul said after falling in with the wrong crowd and landing himself in jail for possession of marijuana three times, he thought, “I’ve got to clean up.” It was 2005, and his new path led him to start his own label, Intelligence Records, and put together the group Linguistics. He also took the time to attend the Los Angeles Recording School and sharpen his skills with Pro Tools, a digital audio workstation for Mac and Microsoft systems.
Despite some exposure in small clubs as well as live performances at venues like the House of Blues in Hollywood, Paul struggled to make it in southern California.
His mom had moved to Kalispell, and encouraged her son to follow.
“Here there’s a following for that kind of music,” Susan said. “In L.A., you’re one in a pond of millions.”
Paul said he no longer thinks he needs to live in L.A. to be a successful hip-hop artist, as long as he’s able to tour. He’s happy to be in a beautiful place like Kalispell.
“It’s a nice change,” he said. “There’s not so much traffic, smog and crime.”
Sam Dennison, known to club-goers as DJ Que, said he thinks word-of-mouth will ultimately be what brings fans to see IQ’s shows.
“People in Kalispell are chill, and at the end of the day, people who like him will come see him,” Dennison said.
“Money Mike,” local DJ and manager at Kalispell clothing store girl 6, said in addition to good music, local rappers like IQ need to have their own style to make people want to show up and listen.
“You gotta have style, some dance, or you’ll just be another person who’s rapping,” he said.
With a new recording studio in downtown Kalispell, his first 17 and over live show in town coming up Friday, and a Web site project where he will provide beat mixing services in the works, IQ is laying the groundwork for a successful hip-hop career.
Dennison said the artists’ music is definitely different, and one of the things listeners will respect is his authenticity.
“(You can) realistically define it as hip hop. He is what he portrays,” Dennison said. “Mainstream people will enjoy his shows because he’s doing what he wants to do. He’s not sugarcoating it. There are lots of rappers in the valley who are not up to that level yet.”
To check out IQ’s rhymes and beats, see him live at the Elks Lodge for Freakin’ Phat Friday on July 24. Doors open at 9:30 p.m. Seventeen-year-old local hip-hop artist Shilo Goli will share the stage, and DJs Bionic, Nina and Que will spin. The event is hosted by Money Mike. Tickets are $6 pre-show and $9 at the door. Tickets can be purchased at Colter Coffee on Main Street, girl 6 at First Avenue and Center, Star 99.7 in the Glacier Building across from the Kalispell library and at Mountain Water Rec in Polson.
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