Far away from the tourist-laden byways of Highway 59 and the Beach Express, Hood Rat Skate Co. sits on one of the backcountry roads that surround Foley. When this establishment is not filled with the thunder and pop of rolling skateboards, Hood Rat hosts a number of live shows featuring a plethora of local and regional acts.
According to owners Cole Cleveland and Monya Brown, shows at Hood Rat are a beautiful aspect of running this business, especially when it comes to the emo rap scene. The artists in this scene use a foundation of hypnotic beats and mellow tones to fuel verses filled with a passionate mix of emotional frustration, depression and heartbreak that seems like a therapeutic reflection on the melancholy side of life.
Among the handful of emo hip-hop artists in the area, Yung Oni Mask could be considered one of the scene’s most promising rising stars. Yung Oni Mask’s stage handle is based on another one of his infatuations.
“I’ve been into traditional Japanese art since I was a little kid,” Yung Oni Mask explained. “My dad used to do traditional Japanese art tattoos at the house while I was growing up. My first tattoo was an oni mask. I got it when I was 17 and started going by Oni Mask a couple of years back.”
Yung Oni Mask said his journey into the hip-hop world began with fellow up-and-coming rappers Stiles and Memysalvation. Stiles and Memysalvation had started using Yung Oni Mask’s home as a recording outlet. At the time, he was living in an apartment in downtown Mobile with 10 other people.
Yung Oni Mask said the collective’s creative endeavors initially began as a hobby/experiment in “trashy music” that evolved into something more artistically grounded. With an Xbox headset wrapped around his head and a computer connected to the apartment’s TV, Yung Oni Mask began freestyling verses alongside instrumental tracks he found on YouTube. This method helped him establish a quick, simplistic writing process based on spontaneous emotion.
“All my songs come from a vibe. Most of the songs, especially the ones that I perform at Hood Rat, I made in 30 minutes from beginning to end just off of a feeling,” Yung Oni Mask said. “I’m not the type to work on a song for weeks or days. I like to get it all done in one sitting.”
As with many artists, Yung Oni Mask’s connection with his audience served as fuel to drive his career forward. His first show at Hood Rat Skate Co. is a testimony to the symbiotic relationship between the artist and his consumers. When he took the stage, Yung Oni Mask felt the love and energy that only a live audience could provide. This connection combined with the artistic independence that Hood Rat encourages pushed Yung Oni Mask to further develop his sound.
“It’s the freedom that they (performers) have there (Hood Rat),” Yung Oni Mask said. “They let the artist take control of their own show. It’s a good vibe and laid back. There are great people that work there. Everything feels good there and feels right and comfortable.”
As with musical artists across the nation, Yung Oni Mask is trying to make the most out of life in a pandemic lockdown, especially since he feels more reach on the stage than in the studio.
However, he is making the most of the situation while preparing for the future. Yung Oni Mask fills his days staying connected with his fan base on social media outlets such as Snapchat and Instagram. His ultimate goal on social media is to remind his fan base that he is still promoting and creating his music in preparation for the end of lockdown. As far as his future plans, Yung Oni Mask hopes to take his live show into new territories alongside other emo rappers.
“I’m planning a tour with a rapper out of Panama City called Lil Purple Zombie,” Yung Oni Mask said. “Also, me and Stiles are working on a tape that we’re going to promote really hard. We’re also planning a Southeast tour. I know Hood Rat has some stuff planned for us, but I’m really wanting to get to North Florida and into the New Orleans scene. I’ve already got a few connections over there. Hopefully, I’ll be able to book a big Southeast tour.”
While he makes the intercity connections to facilitate a tour, Yung Oni Mask is discovering other “niches” of emo rap scenes in other locales. Together, Yung Oni Mask and his new friends are trying to establish a conglomerate of emo rappers around the Southeast. He has found many like-minded rappers in North and Central Florida. Now, Yung Oni Mask and his fellow rappers are collaborating on a social media-based campaign to bring their sound to the masses.
“We all work together when it comes to social media,” Yung Oni Mask said. “Everywhere that I’ve been outside of Mobile, I still feel at home.”
Yung Oni Mask hopes to have a productive year. When he is not polishing his sound, Yung Oni Mask is maintaining connections on the West Coast for a possible tour next year. In addition to his music, he is also solidifying his merch offerings, which he takes a DIY approach to as well. He creates everything from hoodies and T-shirts to ski masks all in-house. When he opened for Xavier Wulf, Yung Oni Mask sold out of all his merch. With this in mind, he said his fans might be seeing the establishment of a clothing line alongside his music.
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