He sat with a ball cap on his head and dark circles reminding his eyes of the rest they were lacking. Ryan Evans, 31, just finished working third shift at the casino and hadn’t had a chance to sleep yet.
The exhaustion could be due to Evans’ double life. On stage he’s known as High Tyde, the rapper. Now working on his ninth album, due to release by the end of 2014, Evans has been both a contracted and independent artist. In 2002 he was contacted by a talent scout and eventually signed a record deal with Word Records, a label distributed by Warner Music Group.
“It was the first time someone had shown a genuine interest in my music,” Evans said. “I was just a little over 20 and already getting to do things that most people may never get the opportunity to do in life.”
However, after struggling for creative control over his music, Evans left Word Records when the contract ran its course. Being “shelved” or a largely ignored artist at a record company is often an unfortunate truth in the ever-evolving music industry.
“The hardest thing for me was being told, ‘We like what you do,’ and then just kind of watch as they strip it all away,” Evans said. “That just made me want to fight harder to do everything myself.”
Leaving the label and the hard work that ensued changed the rapper’s view of the music business. “I have this undying respect for these acts that don’t have major label backing and more often than not, they’re pulling money out of their own pockets,” Evans said. “They’re out there grinding 24/7 because they don’t have big label dollars behind them.”
Despite the consequential underdog effect, emerging as an independent artist was something Evans said he needed in order to feel in control of his own destiny. It’s from this experience the rapper drew his stage name, High Tyde.
“I had been riding this wave of success and then it just kind of ended,” Evans said. “You can ride it for so long but eventually you will come crashing off of it. It’s up to you to do something or you will continue to sink.” Since leaving the label, the rapper has been staying afloat by independently writing, producing and promoting all of his music. However, despite plenty of creative ambitions, Evans admits it can be difficult to make music promotion stand out in a digital crowd of artists. Often limited to defining his music, his brand and his goals on a few social media accounts, the rapper finds an uphill battle.
“With music going digital, it’s so hard to be recognized as an artist,” Evans said. “I mean everyone has a studio in their house if they have a computer and a microphone. It’s hard to become someone.”
However perceptible the negative aspects of the digital age of music may be, High Tyde has also enjoyed the positives of it. In his previous album releases, Evans has been able to find people with shared passions and collaborated with artists on a strictly digital venue.
Evans says it’s the work in finding shared passions that will revamp local music. The Homer native and Kellogg Community College grad said the success of local urban musicians will be up to a community. This may be a tall order for rap, a genre often surrounded by negative connotations and viewed as egotistical.
“Hip hop tends to have this negative vibe that surrounds it,” Evans said. “It’s gangsters, it’s thugs, it’s violence. I’m trying to bring [the idea] to Battle Creek…that it doesn’t have to be negative. It can be positive and it can bring people together. It’s a genre that can actually do great things.”
Efforts to bring together rappers have come with recent events like the Midwest Music Challenge at the Warehouse, 1299 Columbia Ave. High Tyde claimed the title of champion but said it was about more than the competition. The event, created by Michigan native rapper Latino Saint, aimed to simply gather and network local musicians.
The next event High Tyde and other local rappers are taking the stage for is set for May 10 at the Warehouse. Evans has been personally planning and promoting this networking event.
“We need to get together and preserve the urban community of musicians in Battle Creek,” Evans said. “I would hate to see the city that I live in not be able to enjoy something that I’m really passionate about.”
Evans says he started rapping because he couldn’t carry a tune. But most often, it’s the reasons that musicians keep going that prove more interesting. Whether it’s performing as High Tyde or aiding in the production and networking of local talent, Evans said he just wants to see things progress. According to the rapper, music can be just as vital to education as reading and writing.
“I want nothing more than music to succeed,” Evans said. “It’s just so important.”