Saturday, Feb. 24, ArtRat Gallery debuts a new showcase of local hip-hop curated by Black Canvas and hosted by Chasin’ Summer. 

GunRu vs. Everybody runs 7-9:30pm at 46 Division Ave. S in the heart of downtown Grand Rapids. (Admission $10 in advance, $15 at the door; tickets available from Eventbrite.)

About his artistic journey, Black Canvas writes, “I started rapping because I saw something missing in the game. I was raised on lyricism, style and substance. A lot of that has disappeared and what is left feels empty and devoid of artistry. I still see real hip-hop amongst the industry trash though, and as of the last few years the resurgence of real rap has been explosive, especially with the underground scene.

Portrait of Black Canvas (Derrick Williams).

"I've been in this game since I was 17 years old. I've seen music change over the course of my life, but the core of this genre remains timeless. I now record my own music, videography and do photography, and that has really helped me stay connected with the city, grow the brand and network with the right creatives.”

Ahead of the show, ArtRat asked Black Canvas (aka Derrick Williams) about his own OxfordGang collaboration, the GunRu event and the lineup of talent he's assembled for Saturday.

What's the history of OxfordGang? When did you and B.H. Tryggs start collaborating, and how do you work together? 

OxfordGang's Black Canvas and B.H. Tryggs.

OxfordGang was formed from family. B.H. Tryggs and I are first cousins. What has been our aesthetic and school of thought became the name of our group and record label. We are both equipped to fully record, engineer and master independently. We also both practice videography and photography. In collaboration, B.H. Tryggs produces a large majority of the beats we use, and I serve as our vocalist and handle logistics.

You've named Saturday's showcase "GunRu vs. Everybody." How do you see Grand Rapids' position in the hip-hop community? Is it an underdog ready to take on all comers? 

Grand Rapids' position in the hip-hop community has been one of contention. In recent years, I have seen many hip-hop artists battle for exposure, especially here at home. With showcases like "GunRu vs. Everybody" I aim to help create another avenue for artists who want to put the work, network, gain exposure and add paid show placements to their resumes. 

The city as a whole is viewed as an underdog because a lot of gatekeeping has prevented major progress, both politically (as far as some venue policies toward hip-hop artists) and socially (where favoritism has stifled progress). The underground scene here in Grand Rapids is brimming with untapped potential, and something huge is coming for the city. All the artists feel this collective energy.

Please talk about the performers you chose for the show. What can the audience expect from this lineup? 

I tried to be diverse in the artists I chose for this first showcase. I wanted to bring together a group of artists I felt could represent the energy of Grand Rapids and the surrounding areas as a whole and I wanted to work with artists I've personally seen rock a crowd. People who I see putting work in, who I intend to work with and I wanted to keep the creative energy flowing. 

Derrick Shorter is a producer, sound engineer and performing artist all within his own collective, Good Produce. He has produced for many artists locally and some with industry affiliations.

Wuzee can honestly be considered a local veteran in the scene and has at least a decade in the game. He is constantly on the move and popping up at shows in Grand Rapids and surrounding states. He is currently touring through Grand Rapids; Ypsilanti; and Brooklyn, NY.  

Flyer for GunRu vs. Everybody.

Mavimarx is another underground major and standout lyricist I have worked with. His flow can be tricky and the bars are constantly cascading whenever he graces the mic. He has also been in the game for quite some time and has rocked stages with legends over the course of his career. He has some strong industry ties, and I know he is on the brink of something major career-wise. 

Sosa Benzo is another artist who I constantly see putting in work and has made a name for himself. Both in Grand Rapids and Muskegon where he was born and raised. Bringing him out was important to me because a lot of the surrounding cities have had issues and petty grievances that ultimately harm the scene and community as a whole when our collective sound can be so much more powerful. I want to work to bridge gaps and as this is my first time working with Sosa, I aim to do just that. 

OxfordGang is known for slick production, lyricism and stylistic flow. We work to separate our sound from the crowd and have found success in that to the point that when our beats drop, heads turn and the listeners know OxfordGang is in the building. We remain true to what hip-hop is while staying innovative. A return to the real essence of rap. I had a set at ArtRat during one of the recent RAP AVE showcases hosted by 616 Records, and the crowd was ecstatic. I'm eager to return on the 24th.

What are you working on for 2024? Are there new releases, upcoming events or fresh collaborations in the works this year? 

Black Canvas in performance.

I have quite a bit planned for 2024. First, the "GunRu vs. Everybody" showcase is my first time actually coordinating with a venue on a large scale and understanding all the moving parts behind the scene. I'm already excited to get more on the board this calendar year as reception for this first event has been very positive and many more artists and collectives than I could bring together in one night want to be involved. There will be a vetting process but I intend to work with the many great artists this city has to offer. 

Black Canvas in performance.

Second: In 2023, I released my last album, "Vamp: Darkness is the Motto" and immediately began work recording video, promoting and writing for two EPs. One titled, "What You See Could Get You Killed," which my set at the showcase will feature tracks from and is set to release in the second quarter of the year. This will also be my first time having vinyl pressed for merchandise, and I'm looking forward to adding my tape to my collection. That's a huge milestone for me. 

The second EP, "Black is All I See," has been a bit more under wraps but features hard boombap production, the lyricism that OxfordGang is known for and some storytelling elements as well. A true hip-hop classic. I will have vinyl for this release as well.  

Where do you hope to see Grand Rapids hip-hop in five years? 

In five years time, I honestly see the scene here in Grand Rapids receiving more of the recognition it deserves. Many are unaware of the creative presence here or write it off as influence from states with larger ties to the culture, but that is a mistake. Grand Rapids has its own sound, and artists who find themselves in that are working to bring themselves to the surface and are putting the work in daily.