In this day and age, the words “anonymous Twitter account” conjure all sorts of nefarious associations involving egg-avatar photo trolls and #fakenews-spewing spambots. But when Melissa MacMaster started surreptitiously posting about the Halifax hip-hop scene under the @902HipHop handle back in October of 2014, it was with the intent of mobilizing a community, not dividing it.
Most music-industry workers begin as fans first, before acquiring the business skills that allow them to transform their passion into a viable career. MacMaster took the opposite route. While working as a consultant at Nova Scotia’s Centre for Entrepeneurship, Education, and Development, the Antiginosh native partnered with a local not-for-profit youth organization to teach small-business skills to aspiring creatives. Though the program was open to everyone from visual artists to jewelry makers, MacMaster noticed something peculiar about the participants: the vast majority were hip-hop MCs or producers.
Despite having a deep history with rap music that dates back to the ‘80s, and despite producing the odd breakout star (Buck 65, Classified) in the ensuing years, Halifax has traditionally lacked the sort of centralized infrastructure that would both allow local artists to have sustainable careers and promote the scene internationally. MacMaster realized she had an opportunity to help build it. But there was just one problem with her plan: At the time, she knew absolutely nothing about Halifax hip-hop.
As she recalls, “Somebody said to me, ‘You have a lot of knowledge and you have a lot of business skills, but you don’t know anything about the music industry. Where’s your credibility when it comes to being an artist manager?’ But I fell in love with the hip-hop scene at the time, so I decided to start this Twitter account, @902HipHop, and really start going crazy, promoting everything that was going on locally in hip-hop. And that started a buzz: ‘Who is @902HipHop?’ ‘Did you see this on social media, they’re promoting our show!’ For six months, no one really knew who I was. I just hid behind this Twitter account, and then I started engaging and working more with artists. Quake Matthews became my first official client, and I transitioned into artist management.”
For the next two years, MacMaster hit the international conference circuit, partnering up with export programs that took 902 Hip Hop’s growing roster of artists to showcases everywhere from Utah to Europe. But the experience also clued her in to a pervasive problem in the hip-hop industry: the chronic logistical hurdles faced by music supervisors who want to license rap-oriented tracks to TV and film.
As MacMaster explains, “The main issue of placing hip-hop music is, there are often samples within the instrumental, or there are too many co-writers on the track, and the supervisors can’t get proper clearance. Or the artist doesn’t have any of the files! There might be a dope track, and I’ll be like, ‘I need those instrumentals to do a placement,’ and they’ll be like, ‘Oh, that’s a YouTube beat,’ or ‘I can’t reach that producer, I can’t get that file.’ I kept hearing about these issues over and over at music conferences around the world.”
But these were problems that 902 Hip Hop was in a unique position to remedy, thanks in large part to the geographically isolated – and therefore, tight-knit – nature of the local scene.
“I manage a number of Halifax hip-hop artists,” says MacMaster, “and I know that a majority of their music is being produced locally as well. So there’s no issue: I can call up Dylan Guthro, or whoever’s producing and ask, ‘Hey are there any samples on any of these tracks by Quake?’ No one else was really providing a one-stop shop for clearable hip-hop music… and that’s when the light bulb went on.”
The result of that eureka moment is now live at 902hiphop.sourceaudio.com, where music supervisors can easily access (as of this writing) a catalog of nearly 400 tracks by 12 different Nova Scotian artists, all cleared and ready to be licensed. The music can be searched according to criteria like BPM, genre, and mood, and many are available in instrumental and a cappella versions as well. The centralized database negates the need to trade files via Dropbox or Google Drive, while the intuitive user interface will minimize the amount of back-and-forth correspondence required to seal the deal. If a supervisor likes what they hear, they can just click “License Now” and away they go.
“This is what I actively do now on a daily basis,” MacMaster says of 902 Hip Hop’s licensing efforts, which, through a partnership with U.K. publishing house Split Music, recently landed a track by producer Matty Galaxy in a campaign for voice app Trainline, featuring renowned U.K. mock-MC Big Shaq. And given that the new site streamlines a lot of the administrative tasks involved with securing a placement, MacMaster can now focus more on building new relationships, be it with the show Atlanta, or in the actual city of Atlanta, where TV and film production is currently booming. But throughout 902 Hip Hop’s evolution from mysterious Twitter handle to music-licensing machine, MacMaster has stuck to the same guiding principle: just figure it out as you go.
“For the past year, it’s really been about building the catalogue for the site and being very diligent in working with music supervisors – because this was a whole new world for me,” she says. “I learned about artist management working with Quake, and now here’s another opportunity – something I knew nothing about, and now I’m learning all about it!”