Edmonton hip hop artist making his name through creativity and an entrepreneurial mindset
In most ways, rapper Arlo Maverick suits his stage name perfectly; in some ways, however, not as much. But they all help explain why he won the 2017 Edmonton Music Award for rap recording of the year (a repeat performance of 2016), as well as why his 2016 release, Maybe Tomorrow, spent a season as a top 10 album on Canadian campus and community radio.
First, to see the obvious fit, look at Maybe Tomorrow itself.
Despite album sales in general being historically low, Maverick (a.k.a. Marlon Wilson, Marketing ’02) made one anyway – a 14-track concept album, no less. Loosely based on his life, Maybe Tomorrow is devoid of frivolous club anthems. Instead, it’s the story of a rapper named Soup mired in tensions arising between ambition, art and love.
As an entrepreneur, though, Maverick is hardly unorthodox. He’s a veteran of the local scene for a reason: Maverick may have the heart of a poet but he also has the mind of a marketer and promoter. We talked to him about combining the two to make a career as a hip hop artist in Edmonton.
techlifetoday: What did winning rap recording of the year tell you about the progress of your career?
Arlo Maverick: I’ve been making wiser decisions. That’s just based on experience and surrounding yourself with the right team.
How did it feel to also be nominated for male artist of the year and as an artist to watch?
It was an honour to be able to break through and … not just be the hip hop guy. It’s helping expose Edmonton’s music scene – and the greater Edmonton area – to [local] hip hop. We’re somewhat like a hidden secret.
How is the health of the hip hop scene in Edmonton?
I think it’s good; it’s growing. One of the downsides is that we keep getting to these points where every five years, something new comes out and we’re starting from scratch. A new generation will come up and they’ll be like, “This is our time.”
The generation that came before and the generation that’s coming up [need to] work with each other more. They try to go at it themselves as opposed to [using] information that allows them to be a better promoter, a better songwriter, a more savvy artist. You don’t have to start from zero. Here’s the foundation we created. Build upon that.
Did your NAIT education help you?
It taught me a lot of things that artists aren’t privy to. Like how to communicate with the media, the importance of public relations, how to create a marketing plan – just creating that strategy to go forward with a project.
Maybe Tomorrow has been described as a concept album. Why go that route?
To me, the whole idea of doing a concept album was like, “OK, this thing is going on in my life.” I don’t want to get too personal with it but at the same time I do want to reveal something of my life. So let’s do an album where the setting is a therapist’s office and, as each song progresses, people get to know a little more about me but [also] what’s going on with the character, what’s driving him.
I think that, as human beings, we enjoy stories. At one point, you had to be a great storyteller in hip hop. But now as long as you have a great club anthem, that’s all that people care about.
I think we have to create a balance. It’s great to have music to party to, but write a great song that keeps somebody close from beginning to end because the lyrics are so descriptive that a person can actually see what you’re talking about.
Music is a tough business. What keeps you in it?
The love that we get from an audience – that’s what drives me. Being able to write, gather with my band and producers and create music and collaborate.
What do you hope comes of all of this?
If I’m able to be an artist who’s touring and taking my music to the world and I’m able to live off that, that is more than enough. And just making a connection with people who say, “Your music affected me.”
The other day, [someone I went to high school with] reached out to me. She said that the album had helped her through a hard time last year. I was totally shocked. It’s one thing for a stranger to say, “Yeah, your music resonated with me.” But to have friends who are able to [benefit from] your work – when that becomes a common occurrence, I’ll feel like I’m doing my job.
Music business basics with Arlo Maverick
Want to break into the music industry? Arlo Maverick has combined his marketing expertise and experience as one of Edmonton’s top rappers in more than 80 YouTube videos on subjects including
- financing an album and securing grants
- making a media kit
- how to get your music on campus radio
- distribution tips
The videos total nearly three hours of free education. “Once we get to the point of having people who are more educated and informed about how to facilitate their careers, things begin to change. People won’t have to wonder if there’s an Edmonton hip hop scene – they’ll know that there’s an Edmonton hip hop scene,” says Maverick.