Driving home along Binford Boulevard last Friday night, Naptown's renowned rapper Oreo Jones began to panic.
"I had my first-ever, breathe-in-a-bag-type anxiety attack," Jones says. "I made it home, ran in my room, and had to lie there, facedown on the floor in the dark and just breathe."
Thoughts of his dozens of details and to-dos had gotten the best of him as he headed home from one of his multiple jobs. On this night Jones had just finished his shift at iHeartMedia Inc. He handles production work there, running the boards for remote radio broadcasts for stations such as ALT 103.3, Fox Sports 97.5 and Q95 94.7.
The 29-year-old, who is a top contender for #1 hip-hop act in the city by NUVO's "Best of Indy" poll, has a lot on his mind these days. The multitalented local icon works as a rapper, recording artist, production technician, host of his irreverent cooking show Let's Do Lunch with Oreo Jones and as a food runner at the trendy Milktooth restaurant on Virginia Avenue.
In addition to carrying out all these undertakings, Jones decided 2015 was high time for Indy to host a huge hip-hop festival -- and he'd be just the guy to organize and curate it.
So, after months of preparation and collaboration from sponsors, fellow artists and countless others with a vested interest in showcasing local and regional talent, this Saturday, Aug. 29th, Chreece will finally come together.
The all-day, all-ages event will feature 40-plus acts of Indiana and Midwestern hip-hop talents, everyone from emerging emcees and deejays to producers. And the performances will be staggered time-wise to enable audiences to catch most all of them at the six different Fountain Square venues. They are: White Rabbit Cabaret, The Hi-Fi, General Public Collective, Fountain Square Plaza, Pizza King and local label Joyful Noise Recordings.The first-ever event like it in Indy, Chreece is slated as a hip-hop festival by musicians for musicians (and all other fans of the music genre). Ticket sales from the festival will benefit Musical Family Tree, a nonprofit and Indiana music archive whose mission is preserving and spreading Hoosier music.
- Courtesy Oreo Jones
Indy's hip-hop renaissance man, Oreo Jones will add "event organizer" to his long list of jobs following Saturday's Chreece.
No stranger to hard work and juggling jobs, Jones says he's been a dedicated wage-earner continuously since he began slinging Dilly Bars at Dairy Queen at just 12 years old. And he's usually held down two jobs at a time, even while attending classes.
Jones worked and paid his own way through college, because that's just how he was raised. "You pay your way," he says matter-of-factly, without complaint.
"Since I was a kid, I've always had to work harder than the next person," he says. "People saying, 'Oh, no. What if you fail? You can't do this or that.' I've always just been blessed to feel like I can do whatever I want, and be able to take that step outside my comfort zone."
With a good measure of moxie and self-confidence, Jones didn't let a little detail like inexperience prevent him from plunging headfirst into creating a major entertainment event.
He knew it would be well received and he'd get a great deal of community support (which he has), but the only event he's ever planned was his "Pops' and Uncle Earl's Indy 500 party."
His father, Mark Powell, lives in Speedway and enjoys hosting a day-before-the-race backyard barbecue, complete with an old-school barrel grill. For two years in a row, Jones has helped his Pops with the event. The all-day celebration drew nearly 150 people each time and featured about eight bands -- everything from rap and garage rock to experimental music.
Jones says his 56-year-old father will definitely attend Chreece, which will be exponentially larger than Pops' Indy 500 gathering. As for Uncle Earl, "I'm not sure if he'll make it; he's all over the place," he says with a laugh.
Chreece (named for a goof-up from his cooking show, when he started to make a toast and slurred "cheers" and "peace" together, forming "Chreece") will run throughout the day this Saturday with all ages welcome to all the venues, except The Hi-Fi and the White Rabbit Cabaret. It will close out at The Hi-Fi with a headlining performance from rising Chicago rapper Mick Jenkins.
Before ever spitting a bar, Jones remembers cutting his teeth on punk and hardcore music, playing in the punk band "The Screaming Hemorrhoids" while in high school. After moving from Warsaw to Indy, his focus shifted to hip-hop, which "just felt natural" he says.
Now having pursued this path for a decade, Jones has gained respect from many in the community, including the legendary Rusty Redenbacher who also will be performing at Chreece.
- Courtesy of Rusty Redenbacher
Rusty Redenbacher is one of more than 40 acts coming to Chreece this weekend.
"As an ambassador of the culture and an ambassador of this city, I've gotta tell people, 'Man, look at what Oreo is doing over here,'" he says of Jones' talent. "Oreo is just a completely unique artist in every way. Sirius Blvck can rap his _ss off, dude ... The new cats are just ill, man. They have a whole different way of understanding rhythm and structure, and it blows my mind sometimes."
In addition to being a fan of Jones' music, Redenbacher strongly supports the Chreece cause as well. Having rapped in Indianapolis since 1995, he sees the festival as a groundbreaking step for the city.
"In terms of moving the hip-hop culture forward in Indianapolis, nothing like this has ever happened, and it's going to pop off without a hitch," Redenbacher says.
Even in nearby cities, hip-hop festivals are few and far between. With years of firsthand music-industry experience, Josh Baker, co-owner and operator of MOKB Presents and Do317, is aware of only one other hip-hop festival in the Midwest -- the Minnesota's Soundset. However, the longtime fan of hip-hop also recalls a Cincinnati fest called Scribble Jam, which he attended several times before its final year in 2008.
"It was a very authentic event," Baker says. "You really felt emerged in that culture, and it was just great. I think that's something that this thing [Chreece] can become in the future years."
When it comes to local hip-hop talent, MFT Director Jon Rogers believes Indiana has an excellent selection of artists to offer the rest of the country. He says, "As I've been able to watch Indiana hip-hop culture change and grow in the last few years, I've learned that there are lots of rappers, producers, musicians and deejays here who have more talent than most artists who are 'successful' on a national level."
In his eyes, this should give music lovers all the more reason to come check out Chreece and see what Indiana hip-hop is all about.
"Whether the larger industry will pay attention to these Indiana artists or not, I respect them, I participate in the culture, I attend their shows, and I buy their albums," says Rogers, who has also played a pivotal part in organizing the festival. "Chreece has turned out to be a perfect opportunity to encourage others to do the same."
- Photo by Roberto Campos
Oreo Jones and Sirius Blvck (both of Rad Summer) performing together.
Ultimately, Jones would like to see all of the artists performing at the festival gain from the experience too. "If you look at other cities like Chicago, I feel like everyone kind of bands together, supports one another, and shares each other's music. I think it's time in 2015 that we do that, and I hope that Chreece lights the powder keg for it," he says.
But with so many artists in one place at the same time, the end goal of Chreece is simply to expose more ears to Indiana hip-hop.
"I would encourage anyone with an open mind to come check out as much of this event as possible," Rogers concludes. "Even if you don't love much hip-hop music, you may just fall in love a little more with Indianapolis and its people."
As for hip-hop newbies not sure which act to follow, Jones says one can't go wrong taking in shows on the Fountain Square Plaza. It's where the "unsung heroes" -- the producers -- will be performing original work they've written. Usually in the background, there they'll be on stage and showcasing their skills.
For more information on Chreece, visit the festival's official website.