UWRF grad manages hip-hop crew
December 7, 2006
Growing up attending a private Lutheran school, Joe Rask kept his radio dial tuned to country music. At the time, the 2003 UW-River Falls alumnus could not have foreseen his musical future.
Rask is part of the Minneapolis-based hip-hop production company Loonatix.
Loonatix is a record label that boosts the Twin Cities music scene by providing a unique style. What Rask described as “hype-hop,” or hybrid hip-hop, the sound can be likened to bands such as the Beastie Boys or Cotton Mouth Kings.
“We’re definitely on the different side of the spectrum than the radio hip-hop,” Rask said. “It’s in-your-face music, and it’s not for everyone.”
With lyrics about how women should vanish if they don’t want to smoke weed, and titles such as, “What If I Kill You,” Rask has found himself venturing from the Johnny Cash and Garth Brooks music his mother encouraged as a child.
“Johnny Cash is the original gangsta rapper,” Rask said, noting the lyrical content and delivery Cash used.
Yet one of Rask’s first encounters with music outside the country genre was at 12 years old.
“A kid had The Chronic album by Dr. Dre,” he said. “I was a Lutheran-school kid and couldn’t believe some of the stuff that was being said.”
He said he and his mother went to Best Buy, where he wanted to purchase The Chronic tape. With the “parental advisory” sticker attached, his mother wouldn’t let him get a copy. The sales clerk offered M.C. Hammer , but it wasn’t sufficient for Rask.
Progressing from there, the band 311 blew up his freshman year of high school, and he became a dedicated fan.
His musical passion grew to include Rage Against the Machine and the Beastie Boys.
Rask’s iPod is now mixed with all the musical influences of his past, as well as another passion — pop music.
“I love Justin Timberlake’s new album,” he said.
Having a passion for music is one characteristic that helps him succeed in his job.
As the booking agent and artists’ manager, Rask’s “jack of all trades” realm of responsibilities encompasses designing T-shirts, managing the Web site, and booking and coordinating shows.
“I make people think it looks really easy [to run a show],” he said. “I want to make it appear effortless.”
His abilities to manage the label and handle the merchandise sales are cradled with his marketing communications degree from UWRF.
His involvement as a band manager began when he was enrolled in a radio and television production class at UWRF and had the equipment to record an album for a friend’s band.
“We recorded a really bad record,” he said. “But if it wasn’t for that class, I wouldn’t be doing any of this.”
Always attracted to the creative side of marketing, Rask also spends some of his time working on the designing and promotion of Loonatix merchandise.
Professionally, he looks up to a label that excels at successfully putting out popular merchandise — Psychopathic Records.
Specifically, Rask also looks up to the Psychopathic band Insane Clown Posse (ICP), which he said he believes to be a genius at marketing to the 12- to 25-year-old male demographic.
ICP has been influential in other ways for the Loonatix production company.
ICP held a contest to find the next band to be signed to its label. There were more than 1,000 initial applicants, which were narrowed down to two.
Performing at an outdoor concert, the winner was determined by listener votes, and the Loonatix band Ruthless fell short by a margin of 65 votes.
Despite losing the competition and chance to be on a national label, it’s still an accomplishment both Loonatix and Ruthless use to gain credibility in the local and national music scenes.
“It’s easy to get on national shows because we’ve played with national bands,” Rask said. “Now we’re no longer blown off.”
Ruthless also went on tour across New York to cities including Manhattan, Rochester and Syracuse. They made other stops along the east coast in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and Cleveland, Ohio. Working their way back to the Midwest Loonatix stopped in Detroit to play at St. Andrews Hall, the club depicted as The Shelter in the 2002 movie, “8 Mile”, before ending back in Minnesota at The Rock Nightclub in Maplewood.
“It’s not a huge tour,” Rask said. “But it’s a start.”
Back on the local scene, at least one of the label’s six artists has played at most of the major Twin Cities venues, including First Avenue, the Quest Nightclub and Fine Line Music Café.
While Rask didn’t coordinate either show, two of the artists on the Loonatix label — Al Trahms, better known as Professor Fresh, and Ruthless - made appearances at the RF Underground last April, as well as at Hallapalooza one year.
“Big Joe put that together,” Fresh said about the Underground performance. “I love to play the music.”
When none of the other scheduled acts showed up to the Underground, Fresh put on what he describes as a “punk rock” flavor of hip-hop show by himself.
The vulgar lyrics brought a strong “tongue lashing” by the professional staff to the people who booked them when they played at an outdoor event in April 2004, Rask said.
Though surrounded by a group of friends who put out the type of music often referred to as “horror core” and engage in the smoking tactics their lyrics proclaim, Rask is different from his crew.
“He’s great to work with,” Fresh said. “We’re all pot-heads, and he’s not.”
Fresh said Rask is responsible, and he’s good at promoting the label and events online.
Rask said it’s hard to be the one who’s sober all time, but someone has to do it.
“Sometimes I have to be the grown up,” he said.
The sober days are not like his college days, when he said he spent plenty of time socializing at the bars with his agriculture major roommates.
Coming back to River Falls, Rask said he sees some changes in a negative light regarding the community and campus relationship and feels the desire to change the event scent on campus.
“I would love to go back to campus and work there,” he said. “They seem to be out of touch with fun.”