FAIRBANKS -- The Fairbanks rapper known as Alaska Redd has been crafting beats and rhythms in the Interior for more than 15 years.
Redd bought his first drum machine and synthesizer when this kind of equipment was hard to find. He operated and later downsized a recording studio and he is now in the midst of something he's never done before, a statewide tour.
On stage, 34-year-old Redd, whose real name is Josh Silva, wears his long red hair in braids, has a long goatee and wears an Alaska-shaped medallion around his neck with the 907 area code on it. He performs songs with beats designed to get audiences moving and lyrics filled with wordplay, profanity and Interior references
Silva lives with his wife, two teenage sons, two elementary-school-aged stepsons and dog at a house with a recording studio in the University West neighborhood. At an interview in the studio last week, Silva wore a T-shirt from his On My Grizzly Tour, but not the 907 medallion or the braids. He laughs easily and speaks remarkably slowly for someone who knows how to spit out dozens of lyrics in a few seconds.
"This is what I'm about," he said. "Spreading Alaskan hip hop and Alaskan music. It's a music I want to bring to the rest of the world"
He's busy with new projects to accomplish this goal. There's the tour, his next album -- tentatively titled "Snow Suits and Bunny Boots" -- and his first music video, which just came out.
The video, which is on YouTube, is to Silva's song "Lyrical Stick up" with fellow Fairbanks rapper Rio (Jamario Hewins). Fairbanks residents will recognize all kinds of local landmarks in the video. It starts with a close-up of the plaque on the Golden Heart Plaza fountain and goes on to feature Silva and Hewins strutting their stuff at locations including the Midnight Mine bar, the outside of the Yukon Quest cabin and at the downtown parking garage.
The song is about Silva and Rio showing off their rapping skills and challenging other rappers. But while he likes to trash talk in his songs, as a promoter and organizer Silva is all about giving credit to fellow hip-hop artists and growing the popularity of Alaska hip-hop. Silva has recorded six albums under his name, but for the past two years he's been more involved making a series of eight mixed tapes -- albums that feature a combination of local artists and out-of state talent.
Alaska hip-hop has a lot of potential because people in the Lower 48 are curious about the 49th state, he said. Silva has gotten lyrics about 50 below weather and the midnight sun into his songs. He's has been meaning to get in a line about Alaska's previous governor.
He's also trying to build some regional brand identify.
"I rep my city, my state, I'm from the great Northwest" he raps in "Northwest Connection," a song like "Lyrical Stick Up" on his recent mixed tape "The Smokalation." That song also is a chance for Silva to talk about the less glamorous and bittersweet side of music promotion:
"Nobody knows the real work behind a small man's trade/Politics and making connections, straight grinding for days./All the funds you put and won't never get back /just to put a CD out and put your city on the map.' "
Silva has a grandmother who sang opera in San Francisco and a father who had a rock band that played in bars and had jam sessions at home.
But Silva's introduction to hip-hop music came not from his family from but from break-dancing. As an elementary school student in Spokane, Wash., Silva first got into break dancing, then beat-boxing. He learned to emcee came after his family moved to Alaska in search of better-paying roofing jobs for his stepfather.
Fairbanks had a minimal hip-hop scene when Silva was going to West Valley High School in the mid '90s, but he found himself improvising short raps with friends. Before long he was doing impromptu hour-long free-style sessions at house parties.
That led to an introduction to 50 Below records, a group of early Fairbanks rappers led by former Ryan Middle School teacher Brad Johnson. Some of them were going to Los Angeles to record, and Silva was almost seduced by promises of wealth and fame in Southern California. But at 18, Silva had become a father and the move did not make sense.
Silva wanted to keep rapping in Fairbanks, but when his friends at 50 Below left for California, he needed to create beats to rap to himself. He still writes most of his songs by finding beats he likes and then finding words that go with them. He began ordering equipment through local music stores and catalogues, working as a roofer to pay for the gear.
In 2002, he rented a downtown storefront to open Redd Dot Studios. The business was a success for a short while when it was still a novelty, he said.
"Every dude in town who wanted to be a rapper or thought they were a singer came to my studio," he said. "But people start finding out how serious they are about their music when they start paying for it. ... I found out after about five years in the business, it's not the biggest cash cow in Fairbanks."
Silva still operates Redd Dot out of his home studio but does not spend nearly as much time with the studio side of his business as he used to.
Silva's music is not exactly kid-friendly, but it tends to be light spirited, he said.
"We're not out here thugging, so we don't really talk about that," he said. "We talk about partying and having fun."
One way he's trying to introduce hip-hop to audiences who would otherwise have a closed mind to the genre is using a live band, an approach he calls Alaska hip-rock.
On this tour, he's starting his songs with a conventional electronic beat for the first few songs and then adds in the live drum set, guitar and base.
"It's heavier, it's grittier. It's all played live and we've got the DJ scratching and throwing samples in there," he said.
Silva's tour stared with a show in Barrow last month, and soon heads for shows in Wasilla and Juneau.