CANTON RAPPER GETS HIS GRIND ON
Canton-based hip-hop artist Nate Sylak captivates Northeast Ohio audiences with steamrolling flow and poetic bravado. So when he discovered his fans were having trouble accessing his music, he characteristically took matters into his own hands.
Last summer, Sylak was at a crossroads. After four years of hard work and hustle, his hiphop career appeared to have stalled. He was promoting two solo EPs — “The Show” and “Nate Sylak,” released in 2008 and 2009, respectively, by Rogue Lion Music — and his music had appeared on CBS’ critically-acclaimed series “Numb3rs,” A&E’s “Manhunters: Fugitive Task Force” and the Lifetime Movie of the Week “One Angry Juror.” Despite that, Sylak received a lukewarm reception from the Los Angeles record executives whom his producer Joe Dancsak, a.k.a. JD Visionquest 3000, approached about a record deal.
Sylak retired to his home studio to hone his craft each night after his shift at Carrabba’s Italian Grill, just as he had for the past four years. One night, with the boom of bass in his headphones, he had his eureka moment: He decided to stop stockpiling material to impress potential labelsuitors in favor of releasing a steady stream of music to his fans via social media and the Internet. In short, he decided to cut out the middleman.
“I want to release more music more often,” Sylak said. “That way, the fans get acclimated to who I am and what it is that I do. I never want that fire to die down, and I stoke it by stacking tracks back-to-back-to-back, week after week.”
This isn’t simply a case of a local rapper who gets rebuffed by the music industry and decides to go it alone. Sylak has consistently based his self-promotion on the principles of guerrilla marketing, an approach that has helped small businesses compete with large corporations since Jay Conrad Levinson published “Guerilla Marketing” in 1985. For example, he relies on low-cost technology to create, market and disseminate his product, and he collaborates with local bands — such as The Texas Beltbuckles, The Matt Corey Band and, more recently, Mr. 101 — to attract an audience with a diverse taste in music.
His L.A.-based producer, Dancsak, believes that this latest development in Sylak’s career is indicative of larger structural changes within the music industry. While the producer of an emerging artist can provide beats, production and guidance, the artist provides the hard work. “In that regard, Nate doesn’t stop,” he said. “The gunslinging aspect of rap has turned into how much product can an artist put out and keep the quality level high while they do it.”
The music industry today is reluctant to invest in unproven talent. “The industry expects artists to create themselves,” Dancsak said. “They are not star-makers anymore. Today’s artists get noticed by independent hustle, specifically through download sales, Internet page views, and film and TV placements. The artist comes out, and then the machine blows them up.”
Sylak’s track-stacking tactics seem to be paying off. He parlayed his social-media success into a three-song appearance on the compilation “The Chronic 2011: A Millennium Tribute to the Songs of Dr. Dre.” The album was panned by critics and ignored by record buyers, but Sylak’s performance was praised as the sole bright spot on an otherwise lackluster album. Dan Hyman of L.A. Weekly described Sylak as the album’s “lone hero.” Hyman reviewed The Chronic 2011 for the L.A. Weekly blog, writing: “This Nate Sylak dude is easily the breakout artist of the album … Dude kills it. Definitely worth a listen.”
As of mid-May, more than 1,600 fans had “liked” his page on the industry site ReverbNation, which connects musicians with fans, labels, promoters and talent buyers.
Tonight, Nate Sylak will strap on those headphones and refine his beats and rhymes, just like he has every night for the past few years. But sometimes he reflects on the things he’s given up to chase his muse.
“I think about all the birthday parties, anniversaries and social events that I’ve missed,” Sylak said. “I sacrificed everything for this one thing. I’ve put everything on hold. I think that should stand for something, and I think it shows in my performance. When I do a show, the place is packed. Why? Because I bust my ass. All I do is music. It’s all I got.”