Central Arkansas hip-hop crew Arkatext has had a helluva 2012, what with the spring offering them opening gigs for venerated rappers like Bone Thugs-N-Harmony and Eminem protege Yelawolf. But the Faulkner County hip-hop trio is eyeing a new target audience.
"We're looking to do more shows at schools," Ike Preston Linck, or "Ipl," says, unflinching.
Given Arkatext's general distaste for being pigeonholed, it's not shocking that these 30-somethings from Conway are now mining academia for a fresh batch of avid listeners. For more than a decade, Linck, John "Metrik" Garrett and Peyton Rose have embodied persistence in the face of the responsibilities of adulthood, carving out all sorts of atypical niches in the Arkansas hip-hop scene. These latest, off-the-path pursuits don't just include tour stops on the education circuit.
"It was 'Cookie Monster' that got us in" to Bryant's Lawson Elementary in a recent show, Linck said. "We got there, and the kids knew all the lyrics."
You read that correctly: Arkatext penned and crafted a rather brilliant track about one of Sesame Street's most notorious denizens. And thanks to its catchy hook and stripped instrumental style, it's become something of a cult hit among the kids. That makes it all worthwhile, Garrett and Linck both said.
"We have lots of material that's positive, that's not hardcore," Linck explains. "It's good to show kids that hip-hop can be that way."
Garrett freely acknowledges that Arkatext hasn't eschewed customary, raw hip-hop themes. After all, the three late-'90s Conway High grads didn't exactly set out in the rap game with notebooks full of upbeat fare and surgically precise rhymes about childhood icons.
"As you mature in your art, and in life, things just change," Garrett said. "We are almost finished with another full-length album that's more traditional hip-hop, but more self-reflective and inspirational. It's completely clean. We want to have more purpose."
With an estimated dozen albums under its belt ("A lot of them," Linck quips, "we wouldn't really want people to hear") Arkatext is still riding high from the success of "Game & Fish," another themed album that sprang from Rose's sporting passion. Garrett doesn't hunt and Linck has only been enamored with the outdoor life for a few years, but that didn't stop the three from going full-tilt on a slickly produced, 16-track album with titles like "Chatterbait" and "Backstrap Assassins."
Rose said the inspiration was fittingly natural: "I've been fly-fishing like a madman for 10 years and hunting like I'm dying of hunger for eight."
"Peyton kind of originated the idea — well, he latched onto it," Garrett said. Linck initially characterized "Game & Fish" as being a "gimmick" but paused, observing that the connotation wasn't fair.
" 'Gimmick' may not be the right word," he said.
"It's a concept album," Garrett said. "And people have really responded to it."
That's the measure of Arkatext's jarring longevity in an industry where three easygoing white dudes with 8-to-5s (Linck is a claims adjuster, Garrett is a project manager at Acxiom and Rose is a community organizer for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel) typically wouldn't thrive, much less excel. Acknowledging that their artistic ventures are a "hybrid" between hobby and hard labor, their upcoming slate of projects suggests they're committed to expanding the scope of their unique brand. An album titled "Wolves" is on its way, along with a compilation of side projects called "Bang." Even a spiritual album is in the offing, and what would you expect from a group whose manager, Matt Joyce, is a renowned Elvis impersonator?
"We're just trying to grow the audience," Garrett said. The outreach has included a deft, fun paean to Razorback football, "Go Hogs Go", which earned airtime on local radio and which the group has performed live at tailgate parties.
"There are tons of people who are Hog fans who might not be hip-hop fans, and we want to change that," Garrett said, then wryly noting the football squad's misfortunes this fall joked, "We jinxed them, obviously."
Arkatext's next gig of note is a songwriting showcase on Friday at the Alchemy Songwriting Competition in Conway (see To-Dos). To listen to some of the group's material, and order a fresh-pressed copy of "Game & Fish," visit arkatext.com.