HighTyde -- Will and Grace

For a minute or two, up-and-coming hip-hop artist HighTyde was skittishly pacing back and forth, running his hand across the top of his hood-covered head. He finally took a seat in a nearby chair, staring toward the opposite side of Warehouse Performance Venue’s greenroom. He’d just been crowned champion of the first Midwest Music Challenge, LAFA Music’s northern spinoff of their widely-acclaimed Urban Music Challenge competition. He shared this space with a television crew documenting the night.

As HighTyde stood to engage LAFA executive director and MMC creator Tye Ramos, his face showed a mix of emotions. The bright beam from a video camera highlighted his excitement, disbelief, and a hint of nervousness while Ramos detailed a $3,500 prize package that included a trip to Las Vegas. HighTyde, with a closed-mouth smile stretching his profile, began to ever-so-slightly shake his head. “Thank you so much,” said the gracious Battle Creek, MI native born Ryan Evans. He took a deep breath to collect himself as the camera lights faded. A conversation with SoulTrain.com was next in line.

When asked how it felt to have won this Challenge, HighTyde responded, “Surreal.” Being interviewed by SoulTrain.com? “I’m completely honored. The history of Soul Train speaks for itself. I don’t even have to speak on that! Not all artists these days get opportunities like this!” He described the contest as “a great experience”, and said he was taking home everything he learned from the judges. “I’m going to become a better artist because of it, I’m going forward, and hopefully inspire other artists to come out to competitions like Midwest Music Challenge. You are never going to get the feedback you need until you do this sort of thing.”

The judges’ opinions and expert feedback may have been taken to heart, but the toughest critic HighTyde faces looms in every mirror he confronts. After taking a second to reflect, he admitted his cohesiveness needs work. “I’ve always been a party track kind of guy,” he said, “and I want to be able to tell a story without jumping around. That’s something I knew going into the event. I’m just going to hammer it home!”

As HighTyde stated earlier, he hopes to inspire. Those in West Michigan and beyond may understand why positive inspirational figures are as valuable to Battle Creek as $3500 prize packages are to contesting artists on the rise. HighTyde’s hometown was one of eight Michigan cities on researcher Neighborhood Scout’s 100 Most Dangerous Cities in the US list for 2013. Their analysis tracks American cities with a population of 25,000 or more, based on the number of violent crimes per 1000 residents. Battle Creek ranked #61. “Urban music has such a negative connotation that surrounds it, so getting artists to work together is the main key,” HighTyde said. “When you promote positivity together, that’s really what’s going to prove the stereotypes wrong and uplift everyone it touches.”

When it’s time to write, HighTyde said he tries to speak from the heart. It might come out differently at times, he said, “but that’s the imagination talking. Every song has a little bit of basis in the state of reality our economy is facing.”

HighTyde’s hearty party rhymes have brought him a loyal fan following, many of those turned out to support his MMC victory. His skill and appeal landed him with major label Word/Warner Bros. in 2003. Unfortunately, they had little idea how to market the Cereal City line spitter, so he departed the label in 2004 with his head still held high. “I sat on the shelf for two years,” HighTyde recalled, “but I took it as a positive! I learned from everything I took from Warner Bros. I learned those were not the things I was going to do as an independent artist. I was not going to make those types of mistakes on my own, and I was going to promote myself harder than they ever did!”

It was not Warner Bros. who got HighTyde played on The HYPE Radio Network, booked to perform at Tremplefest II, headlining his own Project Cypher event, or signed up as a Midwest Music Challenge competitor—which, again, he won. It’s been his will to succeed, hard work, and, apparently, harder self-promotion. All of it appears to be paying off, but not going to his head. “Hip-hop is known for ego, more than probably any other genre,” HighTyde said. “But the best thing I can tell any artist is you’ve got to be humble. These aren’t givens. This is opportunity. You take it, and you show gratitude.”

For more on HighTyde visit his official website hightyde.com.

- Joe Walker