Multiplatinum rap-metal-rock hybrid outfit Linkin Park has now acknowledged what so many in-tune music lovers in the area have long known – the Buffalo region is brimming with vibrant musical talent across the genre spectrum.
Jaycee Lamb, a hip-hop kid from Kenmore, and Jarrett Hoyt, a Lockport EDM artist, have both gained the attention of Linkin Park and Open Labs who collaborated to launch a contest to unearth under-the-radar talent. Any musician over the age of 13 was invited to submit a recording of an original song, and a team of judges (including members of Linkin Park) narrowed the applicants to one winner per month in one of several genres such as hip-hop, EDM, rock and an all-encompassing field called Wild Card.
Lamb and Hoyt grabbed the honors in January and February and are both now in the running for the Open Labs contest's grand prize – a full day in the recording studio with Linkin Park. Dubbed the Stagelight Monthly Music Contest, the ongoing series invites artists 13 or older to submit MP3s or WAV files of original songs that fit the monthly genre classifications. (The winner among the 12 finalists will be announced in early June.)
Hoyt grabbed first place in January for his trippy, tropidelic slab of EDM called "Took a Tab." Lamb followed suit in February with his trap-inflected hit-in-waiting "Outcast." Both songs tell us much about their respective creators, and interestingly, might be seen as bookends for the broad range of contemporary hip-hop, pop, electronic and experimental music being created in our region today.
For Lamb, "Outcast" was a song where he really "let it all out," he said. "So it’s a pretty personal song to me. Growing up, I felt a sense of distance from other kids, as if I was so different from them that I had to act a certain way just to come off as normal. Once I got older, I started shedding my old self and it really helped me become the person that I am today.
"The song is all about feeling abnormal, like you don’t belong, really. I feel like there are a lot of other people that can relate to that feeling."
That might explain both why the Linkin Park folks reacted so strongly to the outsider anthem, and why the video profile the Open Labs team filmed in Buffalo last month had already generated 100,000 hits a day after its initial posting on May 1. Each monthly winner became the subject of a short documentary produced by the the creators of the Stagelight Contest, who caught up with Lamb and Hoyt at World of Noise Recording Studios in Buffalo.
"I got involved in this project when some other hip-hop clients I'd been working with for a while brought Jaycee on board," said World of Noise proprietor and head engineer Nik Borgosz.
"The experience has been pretty amazing and inspiring. In a city that often views itself as an underdog, I think it's great whenever we get some positive national recognition. Everyone involved with the process has been great to work with. Very positive attitudes, very professional. It's been a dream."
For his part, Hoyt - whose interview video is raking in the views via YouTube and the Open Labs site - takes a more experimental approach to his music, following wherever the muse happens to lead, once he becomes fully engaged with an idea.
"I definitely wouldn't consider myself a strictly electronic musician, and definitely not EDM," Hoyt said, despite the fact that his submission took top honors in the electronic category. "I'm not even sure how to make a good (bass) drop. 'Took A Tab' was just a short deviation from the norm in my music, a result of me experimenting with (vocal processor) the vocoder. I liked the sound so much I made four tracks with that vibe in a little over three days."
Lamb and Hoyt followed divergent paths toward full immersion in music, merging variegated influences into an approach that, by their late teens, began to suggest something that was wholly their own.
"What’s funny is, I actually used to be a huge metal-head and ironically, I hated hip-hop until I was about 11, maybe 12 years old," Lamb said. "I couldn’t appreciate it for what it was until I was old enough to really understand and dissect the lyrics these artists were coming up with. Once I studied hip-hop, though, I was hooked for life."
Lamb cites the influence of Eminem, Kanye West and 50 Cent as paramount in his own development because "they were all killing it when I was growing up, so they all heavily influenced my style of beat selection and flow, until I started to develop my own."
Hoyt's background involved a more traditional instrumental education, one that he melded with his own creative ideas – ideas that eventually dominated his thoughts, and made traditional study seem more like a hindrance than a help.
"I actually got into music by myself, when I was around 4 years old," he said. "My parents bought me a piano when they realized I played my keyboard more than I played video games, or with any of my other toys. "
Interestingly, despite being in competition for the Open Labs grand prize, Lamb and Hoyt profess nothing but respect and admiration for each other's talents.
"Jarrett is the man," Lamb said. "I wouldn’t have even entered the contest if he didn’t post a Facebook status telling me to do it!"
"I actually learned about Jaycee when he was with a label I was in contact with," Hoyt recalled. "I checked out his music and I've been a fan ever since. The reason he's got what it takes is his work ethic. He works harder than anyone I know, hands down."
Hoyt is hoping for some specific assistance with his skill set, should he find himself in the studio with Linkin Park.
"The one thing I really struggle with is making my songs 'big' in the hook and bridge," he said. "I'd really love Linkin Park's advice and wisdom when it comes to nailing that catchy pop riff that makes all of their songs memorable."
Lamb is philosophical about it all, but remains hopeful.
"Just being considered to go into the studio with Linkin Park is an honor and a blessing. I expect them to select a group from the rock genre winners, but you never know. Maybe we’ll make some magic."