THE DEATH OF THE DEATH HOUSE Ft. Dante Cope X Belve
By Guadalupe Olgine Jr.
The Death House. You know, that dingy, dark and raw but unequivocally most popular underground GR music venue that had a fucking skating ramp in it. I covered this gem almost 2 years ago, but wasn’t technically “allowed” to talk about it. Until now. Because the Death House is now, well, dead. And to quote the 2013 album title of Drake, the human pudding popsicle himself, “Nothing Was The Same.”
So we decided to put this out and revisit a time when I hit up local GR bar The Meanwhile with the last two people involved with The Death House. We discussed in detail what was actually happened with The Death House, and clicked-and-clanked over rap, race, and dranks.
In 1929 Author and Poet Frigyes Karinthy popularized the 6 degrees of separation theory with his novel, Chains. We are all connected by less than 6 steps, or “chains” of interaction. Tell anybody in West Michigan and they will easily say “cut that number in half.” Seemingly everyone knows someone who knows everyone; we’re all connected in strange ways. For most people here, it’s something petty, like, “Yeah, they work at (insert mediocre craft brewery here).” For myself and my interviewees, the chain is rooted in the local music scene. Dante Cope, a fixture in Grand Rapids hip hop since Myspace was a thing, co-founded a recording studio that I ended up working at years later while he pursued other endeavors. I met Brandon Sykes because he ended up taking my room in a house I vacated. “Oh yeah, he raps too”, I explicitly remember my old roommates telling me whenever I came back to stomp them on 2k. “Cool,” I nonchalantly replied, as 70% of my friends are rappers. I later went to a show he performed at and immediately regretted my initial indifference. “You were right,” I declared. “This dude raps.“
Dante Cope is no stranger to the hustle. Besides constantly creating music for himself, he has also produced and engineered for countless other artists. He promotes shows for his Beat Suite series, as well as who ever he is bringing in at The Death House, but more on that later. Despite all that, it seems as in 2016 he’s been a man possessed. He recently returned from New York assisting GR Poet Fable with his Mental Health Awareness speakings. Earlier this year he was in Flint, assisting residents with the water crisis. On any given night in the city you can catch him rapping at Eastown venue staples Billy’s or Mulligan’s, playing sax at Founders or Pyramid Scheme, or jamming out with a 7 piece band at Mexicains Sans Frontieres. All while continuously dropping #truthbombs all over Facebook, ruffling feathers with statements such as “in America everyone is born a slave. You have to buy your freedom.” Or, “most artists in this city shouldn’t call themselves as such”.
First and foremost, formal introduct…”Dante mother fuckin’ Cope, and motha fuckin’ Sykes.” “Yup, Brandon Sykes!” Between the two of them I can hardly get my questions in. “ I do rap music for rap heads, jazz music, for jazz heads, and music for anti-fuckboys” states Cope. Sykes has a more bookish approach; “I do Lit-Hop. LIT, DASH, HOP, not hip-hop, Lit-Hop, I do that shit.”
I fire off my first question: “Do you guys feel like Dutch white people and solely Dutch white people run this city?” Sykes answers first: “Gentrification is funny as fuck. You wanna go somewhere, and take it over, and the people that were already there, don’t act they’re foreign, of course. So, like, you got people coming in from the country and from the suburbs…” and Cope can’t help but point out the obvious: “Right now there’s a white chick walking a little ass dog, down Wealthy St. 5 years ago, that shit wouldn’t happen.
Sykes cuts back in to say “It’s not about that, though, it’s about the treatment. They treat us like we’re the foreigners when in all actuality we’ve been here the whole time. It’s really…” As the bartender approaches I cut them off to buy drinks, “what do you guys want?”
Cope: NOT Tequila
JR: Tequila? “3 shots of Tequila”
Cope: No he said NOT Tequila.
Sykes: You almost had me fucked up!
I order three shots of fireball, we clink, tap, and drink.
Speaking of Death House, I know that’s your guys’ joint venture, a fan favorite of locals. How did you guys link up for that?
Cope: “I knew the punk (rockers) that had it before, and nobody else really jumped on it… kinda fell into our lap. We just wanted to bring live-ass shows in a different type of setting.”
Sykes: “You got the bar shows out here, and those shows be wack, well not wack, but weird. Cuz Everyone that performs is trying not to piss off the venues, or the owners, so it’s not about the music first.”
I know that both of you, especially you, Sykes, have rocked plenty of stages in Detroit, lately. I’ve lived all over this state. I’ve found the “east side” doesn’t even consider it as such, it’s just Michigan, while here in GR everyone is so determined to separate themselves, as “West Michigan“. Do you feel a divide?
Sykes: “It’s open season messing with Detroit artists that come here and vice-versa. It’s dope going over there and messing with some legendary artists. Sometimes people here are passive-aggressive.”
Cope: “That’s the main thing.”
Sykes: “They’re about movement. They won’t stand there your whole set, cross their arms, nod their heads, then tell you “you’re dope” after you get off stage. If they think you’re dope, you’re gonna feel it. It’s not the, uncomfortable, lean against a wall and look at me funny then tell me 20 minutes later I’m dope. That’s not cool.. I mean, it’s cool, but..”
Cope: “Grand Rapids is conservative.”
*laughs* Sykes is outnumbered (as a GR native). Point being, you guys have ran through a multitude of shows through numerous scenes, and cities. There’s no mistaking The Death House is a culmination of sorts exhibiting those experiences. Do you feel you’ve accomplished what you want to, with this endeavor?
Cope: “There’s a lot more political work to do.. like Detroit has a bunch of underground venues. In Grand Rapids you can count them all on one hand type shit. The city doesn’t embrace it. It’s not the people. It’s the actual city that doesn’t embrace it.
I feel like you guys have done well with the Death House. Lots of people have been there. I’d say even more don’t know where it is, but have definitely heard about it. You’ve kept things pretty low key, to the point where you almost didn’t even want to be interviewed about it. Is this all for a reason?
Cope: “Yeah, that was on purpose. And that’s why we’re shutting it down. Because A, too many people have been putting the address out online, B, everytime we do a show, some young cats break somethin’, or fuck up somethin’.”
People don’t know how to act.
Cope: “See… motha fuckas just don’t appreciate shit. Even before we got it, they were doing mad punk shows, and none of them hit us up after we took over. They never ask to book a show, they never ask to do shit.”
Do you think it’s a jealousy issue, or a fuckboy issue?
Sykes: “It’s cuz we’re black, dude.”
Cope: “I think it’s a politics issue and race issue. People in West Michigan are just gonna do some shit they’re used to doing all the time.”
How will you guys remember this experience, running your own venue, throwing your own shows, when bars and clubs around town wouldn’t let you?
Sykes: “WE MADE SHIT LIT!”
Cope: (laughs) “Shit was lit. But now I’m just focused on music, and putting out all these projects for The Dante Cope Experience. I have some shows coming up as well, May 14th at Mulligan’s, and in July we’re gonna do the Vinyl release for Vivat Lupas at Founders.”
I actually wanted to touch on that record, which, in my opinion was vastly underrated, dare I say slept-on. It’s a record that, sonically, is all over the place. Do you feel GR has it’s own sound, or are you trying to create one?
Cope: “Grand Rapids doesn’t have a sound, but that’s why the music is good here. I have my sound, Sykes has his sound, Rick Chyme sounds totally different, we have WuZee, and it’s all GR. We have diversity.”
That’s why I was initially surprised to see you and Sykes collab, you guys have completely different styles.
Cope: “The music brings everybody together. Even our band, our band has a bunch of different people from different eras. Hugo is older, he’s seen like multiple eras of art in the city, underground venues and that. Then we got Ari, who’s young, knows a bunch of stuff that I don’t even know about. It’s all about the music.”
Any new projects we should be on the lookout for?
Sykes: “Well I just re-branded myself as Belve, so be on the lookout for that, also the Belve and SEVENth joint, I got a couple tracks with Nick Speed out of Detroit, a producer, fuckin’ dope. He’s worked with Danny Brown, 50 Cent, Lloyd Banks. I also just worked with L.A.Z. of Clear Soul Forces, they’re dope as fuck, be on the lookout for everything, I’m sitting on bombs right now.”
Cope, are your feet permanently rooted in GR or are you do you aspire to move anywhere?
Cope: “I dunno yet. I may move to New York. I’m going to NY with Fable the first week of May, that’s coming up soon.”
Do you feel like you’re at the crux of your career? You’re young enough to do anything but also at that age where a re-invention could be too late. It’s a tricky spot.
Cope: “I’ve done everything I could (in GR). I’ve performed in every venue.. if I’m here, I’m helping out the scene more than it’s helping me.”
I feel like a lot of artists do that, but it’s not necessarily by choice.
Cope: “Yeah, and if I stay here, it’s by choice. There’s a lot of dope artists in the city coming up, that don’t have an outlet, or don’t know how to put their stuff out because the city has no infrastructure. There’s no ‘this is how you do shit here’.”
Do you still produce for others?
Cope: “Very rarely. I produced for Rosewood, there’s gonna be another Brickstreet Project coming out soon, I produce for Suport, and that’s about it. There’s one other artist I produce for but I can’t tell you who that is.”
Cope: It’s Future. I’m producing for Future. If Metro Boomin’ don’t trust you, I’m gonna shoot you.
I know you engineer, is that strictly for yourself?
Cope: “I do that for a couple people, but that’s not what I’m trying to do. I recently moved into a new space, and actually I’m not even trying to engineer for myself anymore. So like, my roommate owns one of the best studios in Grand Rapids. I’m trying to have him record my stuff now. We recorded the Extra Texture album together, so I’ve worked with him before. Put this on record, Dante Cope is recording at least 3 of those 8 (aforementioned) albums at Amber Lit Studios. Awesome shit.”
Anyways, now you essentially live with a bunch of musicians as roommates. Do you feel like that helps cultivate your music at all?
Cope: “That’s the plan.”
Since the last interview, Belve has since moved to SW Detroit, where he says no one is afraid of Pit Bulls there but him. He’s recently become a first time father and his new album BELVE is out now. The official music video for “Crem De La Crem” by Belve featuring The SEVENth, on Belve’s 2017 self titled EP, available on all major streaming platforms.
Since the interview, Dante Cope has been kept in full grind mode with his 6 piece fusion Jazz and Hip-Hop band, Les Créatif. Check out Cope’s DEEP BLUES, off his brilliant and latest release Jasmine in the Brave New World. Available on Spotify, iTunes, and bandcamp.