El Prez looks at PayDay LA as a way to bring together rappers and fans.
“We just try to put the two and two together, you know, grab the fan by the left hand and we grab an artist by the right hand, bringing it together,” El Prez says. “We are saying, ‘Hey, we all need to work together and we all need to connect and combine’.”
The L.A. rapper came up during in the “blog era” of the L.A. hip-hop scene about 15 years ago. It was a time when websites promoted up-and-comers, and the city, if it wasn’t flush with opportunities for local emcees, offered more than it does now.
He noticed in recent years that venues had closed their doors or stopped hosting hip-hop shows.
“That whole type of experience is missing right now,” he says. “Where 10 years ago, you could find that experience in almost every major city. I wanted to set up a safe space and an environment where all these people can play with each other and network with each other and discover new artists.”
A show in a venue that holds 200 or 300 people can seem out of reach or many aspiring artists who might be relegated to pop-up shows at clothing stores, rapping on a makeshift stage or trying to get on as an opening act for touring emcees. El Prez’s desire for a better live hip-hop opportunity for the unsung resulted in PayDay LA. The curated rap show recently celebrated two years of monthly shows at The Virgil on Santa Monica Boulevard.
“I knew the fans are our there, and I knew the artists were out there,” he says. “I took it upon myself to find a venue and start doing a monthly event that could showcase all the dope rap artists out there for the fans who are looking for them.”
El Prez says that technology has opened a lot of doors for artists. Ten or 15 years ago, it wasn’t as easy to record and release an album. Now recording technology is widely available, and an artist can upload tracks to a streaming service and interact with fans. It’s gotten a lot easier, but he fears that record labels might just be looking at clicks, followers and page views to pick artists to support. He says metrics can’t tell you everything. Not every talented emcee has a huge online foot print, and that might lead to people who should be heard being overlooked simply because their social media skills are lacking.
“That’s what we are striving to do differently is try to build that relationship and make that relationship different,” he says. “They need these super fans to support them at all stages of their career.”
PayDay is not an open mic. Would be hip-hop stars can’t just show up and sign up for five minutes of stage time. El Prez and his co-organizers select who goes on, and they find talent through various means. The show leans toward L.A.-area rappers, but folks from Atlanta, Philadelphia and Chicago have come through to perform. It’s mainly focused on emcees, but an occasional DJ set is not unheard of.
Chuck Dizzle, of Real 92.3’s Home Grown Radio, also covers hosting duties for PayDay LA. He has been surprised by the level of talent on display each month, but also by the amount of variety in the performers who represent many sub-genres of hip-hop music. It’s not strictly boom bap by any means, and an audience can expect a lot of different sounds.
“You’ve got artists like that, and then you have, you know, the ratchet artists, you got the artists that are making or attempting to make radio hits,” he says. “You’ve got the ‘lyrical miracles,’ the cats that are just out there strictly for the lyrics. You have melodic artists. It’s not just the same old same.”
He says that being on the radio, he has his finger on the pulse of a lot of L.A. hip hop artists, but he usually surprised at least once every month.
“I walk away from each show at least having discovered one new artist,” he says. “For me that’s impressive because I see a lot.”
He says people who come out to the show often have the same reaction.
“They usually come in to support artists they love or fuck with,” he says. “But then they walk away seeing maybe an artist or two or three or four that they had no idea who they were.”
DJ Qwesscoast, of Elevate Culture Presents, has handled DJ duties at PayDay LA since its inception and sees it as an important platform for emerging artists to get some quality stage time. He says the shows are drawing between 100 and 150 people each month.
“It’s definitely growing,” he says. “We’ve had some influential people come through, a lot of artists, DJs, record execs, the media and other promoters. It definitely has spread through the culture and people understand this is a platform they can go through and use.”
To him, an artist’s live performance is just as important as his or her recorded material.
“It’s what seals the deal,” he says. “Your record is like your calling card. When they get to see you live, that takes it home or turns it off, because the energy doesn’t lie.”
El Prez hopes that artists who performa at PayDay LA will gain fans who will follow them and not only buy their music and come to their shows. He says that in 2020, it’s easy for music fans to take a casual approach to fandom, and he sees PayDay as a way to change that relationship dynamic for the better and create more dedicated fans.
“I tell people it’s like the NBA draft,” he says. “We are betting on these artists’ potential to be the next household name or the next superstars of tomorrow.”
The March installment of PayDay LA at The Virgil has been cancelled due to coronavirus. They hope to be back in April. Check out playlists compiled by the organizers on Spotify.