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Denver rappers The Foodchain embrace self-promotion

Member of The Foodchain
Photo courtesy of AEG Live

To hear Khouri Austin tell it, nobody in The Foodchain sat up one day and said, “Let’s start a band.”

“It just kinda happened, really,” says Austin, who goes by the stage name C1 in the Denver rap group. “I was always more of a solo artist, and I was in and out of different circles, but I was never really tied to one particular group. With The Foodchain it just kinda happened — before I know it, we’re a group.”

The band’s hip-hop is a blend in many ways. The group — four MCs, two DJs, a drummer and a keyboardist — includes Midwesterners from Chicago and Milwaukee, and the lyrical style pretty well reflects a blend of East Coast, West Coast and Midwest, with some emphasis on the hard-hitting, internal-rhyme-heavy East Coast style. A guest spot from dexterous New York rap legend Talib Kweli on 2010’s Corpses feels perfectly natural.

Musically, the group’s chorus-based, extremely approachable hooks fit effortlessly with back-to-back verses from highly talented MCs.

All of which means Foodchain faces a relatively common problem in hip-hop, and in the music industry in general: How do you get people to notice really good music?

“We released about 10,000 individual copies of the album,” MC Jayce Cabell, known onstage as FL, says of Foodchain’s first album. “We went right to the people and gave music out. We didn’t sell it to anybody.”

“No one knew who we were, so we compiled some songs and gave them to people, kind of swarmed the city with it,” Austin says. “It was tough, you know. Hard to even give people a CD. They were expecting us to ask for some money.”

That included thousands of handout sessions in Boulder, where the group built a solid following, the rappers say.

“Self-promotion has worked out really well for us, especially in the beginning,” Austin says.

And a central part of Foodchain’s self-promotion was being willing to take a big risk, spending thousands on their music and then giving it away for free.

Austin brushes off the costs; he says expecting short-term revenue isn’t the way to build a band.

“We felt that if we have the resources to do that right now, why not let people know who we are?” he says. “We figure, if we continue to make good music, all of that comes with it. … Not only is it music, it is a business. But, you know, we weren’t expecting quick returns. We’re in it for the long term. So all that’ll come.”

In the meantime, the group’s building a following using both face-to-face handouts and social media like YouTube and Facebook, where you can find a link to download Foodchain’s Brunch for free. Meanwhile, the group’s chilled-out 11-song Summer Series is available free from SoundCloud.

“We try to handle all the social media,” Austin says. “We really don’t got nobody doing that; we’re not outsourcing that. The self-marketing has been effective for us.”

“You gotta promote yourself,” Cabell says. “The Internet is only one aspect. You gotta get out and pound the pavement, talk to people, show them you’re a normal human being.”

He says one of the benefits of being in a large group is being able to handle promotion without help.

“I see as the advantage, we do everything in-house,” Cabell says. “That’s a great benefit to what we’re doing independently. To create music is not cheap.”

And the two MCs say the old standby of local promotion, radio, doesn’t offer many opportunities for promoting hip-hop.

“Radio plays a very little role in Colorado,” Cabell says, noting that most radio stations give airplay only to national Top 40 hits. “Somewhere like Basementalism” — the weekly CU-Boulder student radio program — “they do play local music, but it’s not as visited as 107.5,” a Denver station that plays Top 40 R&B.

“The YouTube thing is more important than the DJ,” says Austin, “because when you put it on the net, that’s worldwide.”

And that’s the goal — a goal the group is approaching with its next album, he says.

“All the albums we put out previous is just practice. All the shows is just practice, preparing us for what’s to come next,” Austin says.

He says there was a moment recently when the band recognized how big it could become.

“Whoa, we do have something,” Austin says. “We can really perfect this. We’ve been playing around with it, but it’s serious now.”

The Foodchain plays the Bluebird Thursday, Dec. 20, with a DJ set from 9th Wonder. Doors at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $15, 16 and older only. 3317 E. Colfax Ave., Denver, 303-377-1666.