This past Friday, Oct. 8, Stellar Human on Robinson Street hosted its first-ever hip-hop show. The show was one of several live performances at the venue, in the back portion of the vintage clothing shop, has held over the past few months since COVID-19 restrictions began to lift. Admission was $5 at the door and the show was headlined by Tk McLaren, a Binghamton-area rapper now based out of Buffalo, and several other local acts as openers.
La Rue Simmons, who opened Stellar Human back in February of this year, was very excited for the opportunity to create the type of business that might specialize in clothing but also has the capacity to serve as a community center for supporting local art.
“This is something very special to me,” Simmons said. “I’m from the area, I was born in Johnson City. I just wanted to make a space where people could come and create, network and enjoy the good energy of the community.”
The Stellar Human opened as a vintage clothing store, focusing on higher-end secondhand clothes for sale, but Simmons has treated the space as more than just a store, giving opportunity for local fashion, visual and musical artists to use the store as a gathering place. In the past few months, Stellar Human has hosted small art shows, poetry readings and even a punk concert. Beyond just the original storefront, Simmons has begun expanding the space further into the back, where he’s converted old warehouse space into a small concert venue.
“I lucked out with the space in the back,” said Simmons. “Initially we had a basement in the shop that I wanted to use as art studios and stuff like that…. Unfortunately, with the fire codes the space didn’t work out, but I talked to my landlord and was able to acquire the space in the back of the shop which used to be warehouse space.”
Simmons saw the community he’s catering to as split in half, with Binghamton University students and locals oftentimes hesitant to enter the spaces of the other. Stellar Human was designed in part as a space where these often separate groups can come together over common interests.
“One of our goals is to be able to bridge the gap between locals and kids,” Simmons said. “There’s definitely a disconnect between the two, and each has a certain perception of the other. In an effort to bring these groups together, I hope these shows we’re having are a chance for locals and students to come together in a positive way.”
Rapper Tk McLaren was the headliner of Friday’s show, and he cited a good relationship with Simmons as well as the Binghamton community as the reason for being excited about the event. In addition to his own set, McLaren also brought along a handful of openers — all also local — who he respects.
“Opening for me are some great local guys that I know,” McLaren said. “Jay Womack, Wizz Rebel, Blizz the Illest. Just all guys I respect what they’re doing for the craft but also what they’re doing for the town.”
Working as a musician somewhere like upstate New York, the importance of belonging and contributing to a scene cannot be understated. McLaren spoke extensively about the help other upstate artists provide him with — whether they are from Binghamton, Buffalo, Syracuse or beyond. Even interested community hot spots and venues, like Stellar Human, provide a great place for local scenes to congregate and celebrate the community sentiment that’s so important to hip-hop.
Talking about his influences, this same emphasis on community is just as obvious in McLaren’s work. As a rapper from Binghamton who’s recently moved over toward the bubbling scene in Buffalo, McLaren’s influences aren’t only important to his work, but also serve as potential avenues toward success in the industry. Buffalo’s own Griselda Records — led by hot rappers Westside Gunn, Benny the Butcher and Conway the Machine — are some of the hottest in rap right now, collaborating with big names like Kanye, Lil Wayne and Tyler, the Creator. Even beyond their own success, Griselda Records has had the effect of elevating the status of many local rap artists like Syracuse’s Stove God Cooks with their platform, creating a whole new wave of grimy New York rap in the underground.
“I’m super lyrical-driven, but I try to keep it fun,” McLaren said. “I never want to make it too preachy, but I also want to raise the bar of the stuff that inspired me. They range from Jay-Z to Lupe to new guys active now like Smino … There’s this idea that if you’re not from the five boroughs, they kind of shut you out as a New York rapper. For Griselda [Records] to get where they are and be number one, that’s something special. I’ll always have mad love for Buffalo and New York, for what it did for me.”
For independent rap artists, especially in places like upstate New York, local events and concerts are integral for building reputations and relationships within a community. Stellar Human is positioning itself to be one of the best promoters of local artists in the whole Binghamton area.