Hip-hop music originated during the ‘70s in New York City to give a voice to the voiceless. Though the civil rights movement had granted “equality” to African-Americans, many continued to be plagued by racism and poverty. Hip-hop culture emerged as a response. Rappers became mouthpieces for their communities, revealing the civil rights movement’s shortcomings to an unaware public.
One would assume hip-hop music to have evolved through the years. But it actually seems to have regressed. Hip-hop artists used to rap about growing up not having anything. Now they’re rapping, or rather bragging, about having everything – gold chains, girls and Benzes.
Gary “Untouchable SNO” Tunnell, 28, a hip-hop artist from Southern Indiana, is an anomaly, however. He finds more inspiration in his predecessors than contemporaries, rapping about life and its hardships. SNO stands for “Struggle’s never over.”
“Everybody isn’t poppin’ champagne and drivin’ hummers everyday,” he said. “I do this for all the people out there that have been treated as a lesser individual.”
Even if a major record label signs him in the future, he wants to be regarded as “a regular person.”
“The life I’ve lived, so many people can relate to,” he said. “We’ve all had a car break down. We’ve all lost someone. I try to sing for the common individual.”
At age 20, Tunnell’s father died unexpectedly from heart issues. And it was making music that helped him get through this difficult time. A track titled “Lost Souls” on his latest album, “Beautiful Noise,” is about being grateful for life in spite of what it might throw at you. He sings in the refrain, “Just a lost soul, looking for a way. Giving everything I got to make it to a better day.”
“Beautiful Noise” is the first album in a trilogy. The second will have “Sound” in its title, and the third will have “Music.” Each album is unique, because each has a different producer composing distinctive beats. The trilogy is symbolic of what hip-hop should have done in its over 40 years of existence, which was to evolve. The titles progress from noise to sound to music.
Tunnell began rapping when he was 15 years old. He slept with a 2pac album underneath his bed. Being a white hip-hop artist, he knew he would encounter resistance. But as Eminem took the hip-hop world by storm in 1999 with his album “The Slim Shady LP,” he supplied Tunnell with renewed hope.
“I started rapping before Eminem came on the scene, so there weren’t any white rappers at that point,” said Tunnell. “Then when he blew up, it was an inspiration.”
Though it seems unlikely given the nature of Tunnell’s music, Bob Dylan and Frank Sinatra have also served as two of his influences. And currently, he’s working on a track that samples Michael Buble’s “Feeling Good.”
“I like all kinds of music,” he confessed. “There are so any artists that bring so many different things to the table.”
Tunnell grew fond of the English language at a young age, and is frustrated by how social networking is bringing about its slow demise. He suspects that within 10 years, people will have ceased using full words because of it. However, he isn’t quick to dismiss its advantages.
A music enthusiast from Great Britain stumbled onto Tunnell’s Twitter page in spring, which eventually led him to Tunnell’s official site, www.SNO812.bandcamp.com, where he downloaded “Beautiful Noise” for free. He later tweeted to Tunnel, “I feel like I robbed you,” because he didn’t pay for an album he felt deserved monetary compensation. Being more concerned with having his music heard than making money, Tunnell allows people to name their own price when downloading his music.
Tunnell has already released three CDs and four mixtapes, and he’s almost finished with the other two parts of his trilogy. He hopes his musical talent will eventually afford him the opportunity to perform in New York, where hip-hop began. With the shallow hip-hop music on the radio, it’s truly sobering to listen to Tunnell, who infuses each of his tracks with witty wordplay and meaning.
“We all love music,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be hip-hop or rock ‘n’ roll. There’s always a purpose for music in everyone’s life.”