Hip Hop “blew up,” Tommy Shows said, when he was a student at Lake Anne elementary.
It was the mid-eighties and Shows, whose real name is Tom Oran, remembers watching movies like “Beat Street” and hanging out at the Reston Roller Rink.
“Everybody would go there and break dance,” Shows said. “Grant Hill would go there.”
Now Shows, 28, sees teenagers like himself at the Reston-area hip-hop shows he helps organize. Shows is the co-founder of Sound Creative Incorporated (SCI), a Reston-based entertainment management company. Shows founded the company with local producer Justice Johnson, who also grew up in Reston and has worked with some high profile artists, including Mya and DMX.
SCI manages a small group of local rappers: H.E.A.D., P-Soup, Chaotic and Mr. Kwik. The company also does street promotion for major labels like Arista and Jay-Z’s Roc-A-Fella Records. Just before “Blueprint,” Jay-Z’s latest album, was released, SCI employees and artists distributed “Blueprint” flyers and posters among Reston youth. And their work paid off. The Sam Goody record store, in the Reston Town Center, saw one of the nation’s highest sales numbers for the album. Shows said “Blueprint” sales say a lot about the kind of music teenagers in Reston are listening to.
“Everybody buys hip-hop records out here,” he said.
And Shows is hoping his work with the major labels will help launch his company.
“If I didn’t do these things, I might not be friends with the people at Arista,” Shows said. “And, when [H.E.A.D.] is passing out things for Jay-Z the fan thinks, ‘Oh, this guy is more than a local rapper.’”
He said the entertainment business is “all about your team” and he is constantly networking, developing relationships in the industry. One such relationship — with Mark Kates, former president of the Beastie Boys’ Grand Royal Records — got SCI rapper H.E.A.D. a spot on “In Our Lifetime Vol. 1,” a January compilation record from Kate’s new company, Fenway Recordings.
H.E.A.D.’S TRACK on the album, “I Love You,” is one of more than 20 songs that SCI hopes to release on a June album. Right now Shows is talking with program directors at local radio stations like WKYS and WPGC, trying to guarantee radio play for some of the singles on the album.
H.E.A.D., whose real name is Jovon Cochran, grew up in Washington, D.C. and has lived in Reston for six years. He is also known as Vincent Vega, and wears a University of Virginia baseball cap emblazoned with two V’s. Vincent Vega is the name of the laid-back hitman portrayed by John Travolta in “Pulp Fiction.”
“The name sounds like someone who is above the level,” H.E.A.D. said. “Someone who is ready to do what he wants to do.”
H.E.A.D. said he is ready to sell records. And he said he doesn't need to trade artistic integrity for commercial success — he doesn't need to sell out to become famous.
"There are a lot of guys who work a nine to five then go to a bar and spit lyrics," H.E.A.D. said. "They call themselves underground, but it's not really an underground or a mainstream thing. You make money or you don't. I will be underground, mainstream, Nas's favorite MC, everything."
IN ADDITION to his music, H.E.A.D. works a full time job. But he is determined to make sure hip-hop is not something he only does after work for the rest of his life.
He said he has the arrogant, detached attitude that a musician needs to be successful. He is not too excited about successes and he is not too depressed about failures.
“You have to be 100 percent behind your music,” Shows said. “You can’t care what other people think.”
H.E.A.D. met Shows in 1999 through Johnson, with whom both men were making music. And when Johnson and Shows decided to start SCI, the first artist they thought of was H.E.A.D.
“I was what you call a freelance MC,” H.E.A.D. said. “I was writing rhymes, rhyming in ciphers, freestyling at open mic nights. Me and a bunch of other cats that MC were all living at this one house, the mansion house, and I was just rapping for no reason.”
He said he had books of scattered rhymes but no fully-formed songs. Once he met Shows and Johnson, though, H.E.A.D. started thinking more about song development. And although he is hoping his recordings will be successful, Shows said H.E.A.D., unlike many big-name rappers, is strongest as a live performer.
H.E.A.D. makes frequent live performances with Reston jam-band Sam Gunderson and Cactus Groove. They had a 16-month run at Herndon’s Revolution Coffee House, just before it closed. And H.E.A.D. regularly performs at venues like Town Center restaurant Bistro Bistro or Falls Church night club The Ritz.
“AN ARTIST from the hood may not feel comfortable with white kids buying his records,” H.E.A.D. said.
But he said his best audience ever was made up entirely of white faces. The show was at a small, “hole in the wall” bar and H.E.A.D. was scheduled to perform with Sam Gunderson and Cactus Groove. At around 11 p.m. the set was at its high point, and H.E.A.D. was getting ready to go on. He said everyone was sitting down, but tapping their legs.
“They wanted to get out on the dance floor, but needed a reason to,” he said. “When I first got up I had my eyes closed and by the time I opened my eyes, my second verse, everybody was dancing. Everybody might not like hip-hop, but they all like me.”
Shows said Reston audiences are “colorful.” And, he said, that is a good thing.
“Our shows have every color individual,” Shows said. “That’s what we want because that’s what Reston is all about. Everybody’s got cash, so everybody is treated equal.”
Sam Gunderson, from Cactus Groove, also lives in Reston. He called himself “a fan” of Robert E. Simon, Reston’s founder.
“A big part of it is the commercial and residential areas that integrate various classes,” Gunderson said. “That is reflected in the music.”
H.E.A.D. said he gets excited when he sees “40-year-old, successful white men” at a show, dancing to his music.
“Seeing that, it’s not what the media wants you to see,” H.E.A.D. said. “But hip-hop is just music. There could be a guy, sitting in his favorite bar drinking a beer, and he finds out that everything he thinks about hip-hop is wrong.”
H.E.A.D. drops references to the D.C. metropolitan area throughout his songs. He laments the Virginia law which prohibits buying liquor after 9 p.m. and buying beer after midnight. He has lyrics about Fairfax County Police officers and the Reston Town Center.
“On the ‘In Our Lifetime’ poster, next to my name, it says Reston, Virginia,” H.E.A.D. said. “That's hot. The next thing, that’s inevitable, Reston has to get its own song. I’m working on a song about Chocolate City [Washington, D.C.].”
The District has not, historically, produced many hip-hop artists. Go-go, a hybrid of rap and dance music that depends largely on audience participation, dominates the Washington D.C. live music scene.
“I’ve been in go-go bands, and it is a beautiful thing,” H.E.A.D. said. “But in this area it’s hard for a rapper. The person on-stage has to make you want to get drunk. And that’s what go-go music does to people out here.”
EVEN SO, he said the D.C. hip-hop scene is growing.
“At the last three big concerts D.C. has hosted, they asked for local artists ... to open up the show,” he said.
But H.E.A.D. said he wants to “attack D.C. from around it.” He wants to attract listeners from places like Reston, Charlottesville and Martinsville then, after developing a fan base, he will put on shows in the city.
“Hip-hop is about telling people about your block, your state. It’s about, what word am I looking for?” H.E.A.D. asked during a recent interview. Shows, also present at the interview, finished H.E.A.D.'s sentence.
“It’s a way of announcing your existence to the world,” he said.
For news and more information on SCI and its artists, visit www.soundcreativeinc.com.