When describing someone's style, "steezy" is an adjective that means smooth, stylish, clean and cool. The term is thought to have originated from snowboarders and conjures an image of being laid-back.
But the young men behind Kearns-based Steezy Boy Records are anything but happy-go-lucky.
The local record label has set its sights on dominating the hip-hop scene in northern Utah, and it has the talent, backed by gumption and bravado, to make a stab at it.
Label co-founder and co-general manager Chris Bush said his artists are prepped to make an impact. "This region, we can take it over," he said. "We're a team. It's a hobby [to other hip-hop artists in Utah]. This is our career."
Bush and fellow general manager Keith Bowman are backed by kingmaker Tracy L. Reed, of California-based TraMaí Entertainment, which specializes in artist management and development. "They're go-getters," Reed said. "They're not lazy."
As founder and executive producer of the California Music Industry and Showcase, Reed invited the Steezy Boy team to the 2012 Grammys, where they sat in the auditorium and hobnobbed at parties, such as veteran music mogul Clive Davis' annual pre-Grammy party at the Beverly Hilton.
Before and during the trip, the label handed out nearly 50,000 samplers to anyone who had a free hand.
Self-promotion and bluster are part of the game when it comes to the hip-hop industry. (After all, when was the last time you heard a rapper deliver self-deprecating lines such as "I'm slightly above-average / And I don't make much money"?)
But the three core artists of Steezy Boy Records rapper Saquan Smith, singer Andrew "Andru" Markel and beat-maker William "Melo Knocks" Berry entice the ear and show a knack that's not often heard from local musicians. Throughout the sampler, they demonstrate the ability to craft catchy hooks with Markel's silky voice, generate compelling narratives from Smith's life experiences, coupled with Berry's bass-heavy rhythms. While they haven't yet created a signature sound Berry's production draws from a variety of styles, including West Coast, Dirty South and G-Funk, among others the three have an undeniable rhyming chemistry.
Steezy Boy Records grew out of Bush and Bowman's music promotion business, which they started after they moved from Mississippi to Utah. Bush remembers someone back home telling him,"You can stay here and go through hell, or go to Utah and go to heaven." Bowman's cousin had played football for the University of Utah and told him that the state "was a great place to start anew," Bowman said.
The two built a recording studio inside Bush's Kearns home and started to recruit R&B singers for their nascent label. "That's when Saquan came to us," Bowman said. "God sent us Saquan, Melo and Andrew."
It wasn't so much a marketing scheme as a personal preference that led Steezy Boy Records to agree on a company theme: clean lyrics. "We're trying to make a change," said Smith, who graduated from Kearns High in 2010. "We came from church homes, with good manners. People use obscenities as filler. Ray Charles and B.B. King didn't have to curse."
Markel, a Spy Hop alum and 2011 Granger High graduate, grew up singing in church. He developed his smooth style listening to gospel as well as Usher and R. Kelly. Berry hails from Chicago, where Common, Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco charged a scene that had been largely forgotten because of battles between the West Coast and East Coast.
What differentiates the five from other local hip-hop artists, Berry said, is the "family bond" they have developed. They share an almost cultlike single-mindedness toward success that includes the group getting up at 7 each morning to make music and forge connections in a state not known for its rap scene. But perhaps that can change.
"We're in Utah," Bush said. "We're in a Mormon state. It's a clean city. You can take [our music] to bar mitzvahs, to churches. Justin Bieber can go anywhere. Ludacris can't."
Reed predicts success for Steezy Boy Records. "I wouldn't be surprised to see them land a major-label contract within the next year," she said.
The peaceful, easy feeling of Steezy Boy Records
O Hear songs from the label's sampler at www.myspace.com/lookmeupkid.