Hilton Head Island may not be the epicenter of American hip-hop culture, but it is where McKenzie Eddy says she found her love for the genre and her voice.
While a student at Hilton Head Island High School, Eddy, 28, began listening to Jay-Z, Nas, The Notorious B.I.G. and other hip-hop heavyweights and found herself deeply affected by the music, most of which is set in inner-city housing projects plagued by drugs, crime and violence and, some might think, strangely juxtaposed to her life as a white teenager on the island's sunny shores.
She saw it differently.
"Of course, I wasn't connecting literally when I listened to a record like Jay-Z's 'Reasonable Doubt' or Nas or Biggie," Eddy said. "But over time, I came to realize that they were poets. Regardless of whether you were connecting to it on a literal level or you could relate exactly to what was being talked about in the songs, the artists were offering you a peek inside their world and into their experience."
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It was that mentality, in part, that helped Eddy make her genre-bending album, "Slow Your Horse Down, Son," a record with some tracks that wouldn't be out of out of place on a Feist or Cat Power album and others that feature Eddy rapping alongside Cam'ron, GLC and Murs.
Eddy, now an emerging star in the independent hip-hop scene, will appear Feb. 21 at The Big Bamboo alongside John Cranford of Cranford & Sons, rapper Kat C.H.R. and folk artist Sean O'Connell to celebrate the release of "Southern Stomp," a five-track EP the quartet wrote and recorded in Bluffton last year.
Though the four artists had spent little time together prior to recording the EP, they worked like longtime collaborators.
"I had been spending some time in Charleston and came back to Hilton Head and everyone was talking about Cranford," Eddy said. "We asked if we could sit in with him, we stayed in touched and recorded the EP in about three days at this woman's house in Bluffton."
After graduating from University of South Carolina in 2008, Eddy moved to New York City and found herself immersed in hip-hop culture in a way she never imagined -- working for former Roc-a-Fella CEO Damon Dash and his media collective DD172. Dash is listed as an executive producer on the "Southern Stomp EP."
While recruiting and signing artists for Dash's company, Eddy was hard at work on her own music, collaborating with rappers like New Orleans' Curren$y before recording "Slow Your Horse Down, Son."
"We came up with some beats, and I write pretty quickly so it didn't really take that long," Eddy said. "I like my songs to really be a mixture of personal and narrative songs and with 'Slow Your Horse...' I really wanted it to feel like storytelling. Like Cinderella or something but told through my perspective."
With more music on the way, including another project with Cranford and a collaboration with the Philadelphia-based jam band Disco Biscuits, Eddy is pursuing other business interests, including opening a performance space and art studio on upper King Street in Charleston.
Though she is still toying with names for the venue, Eddy said its existence is, in part, a testament to what she learned while working under Dash.
"He definitely taught me to be fearless ... on the business side of things," Eddy said. "I know that I always have to be working hard and I can't take any of the success I've enjoyed for granted."
As she prepares to open the business space, release the EP and work on future projects, Eddy said she will continue to pursue music and whatever else satisfies her creativity.
"I only think about music in terms of whether it inspires me," Eddy said. "It depends on the kind of mood I'm in but if I hear something and it inspires me then I don't really care what genre it is. It's way too easy to be defined by genre."
McKenzie Eddy's personal mixtape