Building a hip-hop scene in an unlikely city

Story by Zack Katz, Staff Writer

When describing the music scene in Eau Claire to a visitor, hip-hop is probably the last genre to come to mind.

Acoustic rock, folk and country music dominate Eau Claire, but a group of students and locals, headed by sophomore Michael Vaughan, are attempting to introduce freestyle rapping to the city.

The freestyle club began forming this summer after Vaughan and a friend were inspired to start rhyming by his rap idol, Michael Larson.

“It started because of a really awesome freestyle named Eyedea,” Vaughan said. “He was my inspiration for getting into all this.”

From the start of the semester, Vaughan said he knew he would be forming a club to facilitate rhyming — but the process of doing so wasn’t as easy as he had originally expected.

“We went to (Blugold Organizations Bash) at the beginning of the semester and just stood in the corner telling people who we were,” Vaughan said. “By the time we got kicked out 20 minutes later for not being official, we felt like we had as many signatures as anyone else in there.”

Vaughan said the amount of interest surprised his small group of about seven or eight that had already been accumulated.

“We found it’s pretty easy to get people to do it,” he said. “Rhyming is contagious and kind of spreads itself.”

Vaughan said the club is for anyone looking to try their hand at rhyming, and hopes others will see it as an opportunity to be social.  Beyond the social aspects, however, he said he considers freestyling a way to grow personally.

“I used to do a lot of my writing in journals, but I traded that for freestyling because I think it’s more introspective,” Vaughan said. “If you’re stressed out or have a cluttered head, you just start rhyming and see what comes out of you.”

With his list of contacts and a small group of regulars, Vaughan said the freestyle club will be officiated with an advisor and looking to grow by the spring semester.

Beyond the freestyle scene, there are a handful of rappers who choose to focus on written lyrics at the university.

Sophomore Ahmadou Mfinanga said he has been rapping for as long as he can remember, and loves writing his material.

“It’s one of my main pastimes,” Mfinanga said. “I use rapping to kind of get away from my daily routine and just relax.”

Mfinanga said living in the dorms is a tough environment for writing rhymes given the lack of privacy and noise, but he doesn’t let that stop his creativity.

“I don’t think it’s something I’m embarrassed about doing in front of people, but I like keeping to myself when I’m writing,” Mfinanga said. “It’s sort of a personal thing for me when I’m here at school, but I put my stuff online for people to hear as well.”

Hip-hop has more to offer than some might imagine — given Eau Claire is so accustomed to rock and country, these artists might be a refreshing change of pace for the city.