Story and slideshow by HALEE CRAM
Many success stories in today’s world start out small. This one began with the idea to turn a pigeon coop into a photo booth.
Elm Productions started in the back of a house in Cottonwood Heights. Chase Reed and Evan Moore knew they wanted to do something big and weren’t afraid to use any resources at their disposal. Reed suggested that this photo booth idea evolve into a recording studio.
The two of them worked hard cleaning and reconstructing to create a place where they could follow their dream. The recording studio was finished in a little over a month and that’s when the real work began.
“From there we decided we wanted to be a production company,” Reed says. “Production to us meant everything from music, to merchandise, to events, to photography. Literally everything. Cut out the middle man.”
Reed and Moore put their thoughts into actions and started working with a few artists around the Salt Lake Valley, funding their projects. Their first show was Dec. 4, 2010, at In the Venue. It showcased Cunninglinguists and DL Incognito and was an all-ages concert. The producers’ main focus has always been to have all-ages everything.
They believe if they can get the younger crowds to their shows, they will establish audiences for their artists from the roots up and perpetuate their own business. Another core belief for Reed and Moore? No contracts. They have lost money because of this policy, but feel it has helped them filter out artists to find their most worthwhile relationships and projects.
After their first show, Reed and Moore decided to part ways with their current clients. They had no idea what would come next for them. To acquire additional business, they chose to give out free tracks to artists. Anyone could come in and record because Reed wanted to give local, new rappers a chance.
This is when Zane Dennison, “Zigga,” showed up in their studio and rapped songs “Rhythm of My Life” and a version of Wiz Khalifa and Curren$y’s “How Fly.” Reed said he “killed it.”
Mmusi Butandu’s entrance into the up-and-coming company was just as much of a coincidence. Butandu, “Bentley,” met Reed’s brother and expressed his ambition to become a rapper. As soon as could be arranged, Bentley was flaunting his skills for Reed and Moore just as Zigga had.
The producers knew instantly that both Zigga and Bentley had “it” and adopted them as the new face for their company. This is when Reed and Moore developed the concept BIZ as a brand and started producing merchandise associated with it and their new artists. Being “about your BIZ” is the “movement of living out your dreams,” Reed says. When Zigga and Bentley tell their stories, they make it clear how just they exemplify this.
“It’s just my life,” Zigga says. “Every song that I write is an inspiration in the moment.”
He explains that this is why rap is a harder genre to be involved in. Where many genres of music may express different emotions throughout their songs, rap audiences have a short attention span and an artist has maybe three minutes to get one emotion out.
“That’s why a lot of people don’t finish their songs. They don’t feel the same way the next day,” Zigga says.
Zigga has a lot from his past and day-to-day life to draw on. Born in Iowa, he lived in Oakland, Calif., from the ages of 5 to 12. During this period of his life, he played coronet, was in the band at his elementary school and composed poetry. The first song he ever wrote, he recalls, was on Fresno Avenue at his landlord’s house. It was called “Falling Down to Earth.”
At 12, Zigga moved to Utah with his father. Right when he moved here, he began to make music and rap. He says rapping was an “easy transition” from poetry. When his father decided to move back to California, Zigga was left here to make a name for himself.
Zigga’s inspirations include Jay-Z, Lil Wayne and Birdman, who he says has “passed into iconicism or whatever it is.”
Zigga’s already-released music includes the songs “Napalm” and “Ain’t Afraid.” In the near future, he will have an album that collaborates with the techno producing company Pretty Lights, called “Pretty Lights and Shifty Nights.” It will include his new material over Pretty Lights’ original songs.
Bentley’s story sounds similar to Zigga’s. The rappers agree that they are able to connect as a result of their past and their music.
“I swear I wrote my first rap around [the age of] 9 or 10. It was about ‘Why do all the girls love me? Is it the cars, is it the money?’ And this is coming from a 9-year-old who knows nothing,” Bentley says. His mother thought it was a phase that was funny, but he has proved rap is a lasting part of his life.
At 15, he and his family moved to Utah because his mother got a contract to work as an obstetrician. He says he didn’t always live in the best situations or have “a good sense of family” because his mother was always at work or school.
Bentley says he sees Reed, Moore, Zigga and the rest of the Elm crew as his family and appreciates the chance that they have given him. They have helped him to “make it on the stage, on the mic.” Bentley is featured on many of Zigga’s tracks including “Motivation,” which is a remix of the original song by artist Kelly Rowland. He will be releasing more of his own tracks very soon.
Even though Bentley and Zigga are still working on their repertoire, they have already performed on the stage. Reed and Moore produced their first concert with the rappers on June 11, 2011. They opened for the well-known artist the Ying-Yang Twins.
“I was tripping out,” Zigga says. “I wasn’t nervous, though, that’s the thing. It was like winning an award, like an acceptance speech.” The show was well-attended and is considered a success by the whole crew.
Working altogether, Zigga and Bentley create music, while Reed and Moore continue to establish their company and brand. Their collective goal? To make it big. All four of them have been working with Capitol Records and have a clear view of what steps they need to take to become the next big names in the hip-hop industry. Because for them, rapping is their BIZ.