West Virginia’s mountainous hip-hop history

A celebration of the forgotten rabble-rappers of Mountain State rap from the Chuck City and beyond.

By Hugh Canada 

Listen to Hugh Holla CHH (Christian Hip Hop) on Youtube.

Part 1 of Hugh Holla “Local Legend Series” Documenting the West Virginia Hip Hop Scene in the early 2000’s. Share your WV Hip Hip History HERE.

The power of hip-hop can move figurative mountains, but how does it play in the literal mountains of West Virginia? When you think of hip-hop, it’s East Coast versus West Coast, Atlanta, Detroit, New Orleans, really any number of options. Your mind doesn’t automatically run to West Virginia. That’s understandable. However, there is a rich history of hip-hop in the nation’s 35th state and it started more than 40 years ago. It just took a while for it to make its way out of the mountains.

Hip-hop music originated in New York City in the 1970s as a cultural exchange among Black, Latino, and Caribbean youth and has grown into arguably the most consumed music genre worldwide. Over time, hip-hop has become more than just music — it has become a language, an appearance, a culture, and a lifestyle. Since its origination, hip-hop has broken through many barriers musically, racially, artistically, and regionally. Hip-hop is a combination of many elements, including deejaying, MCing, graffiti, and dance. What we know today as rap music came from hip-hop culture.

Inspiring a heavy buzz, hip-hop spread from its birthplace across the United States as the free-spirited late ‘70s gave way to the materialistic decadence of the ‘80s. Radio stations, television networks, and the world of film influenced innovation and creativity. West Virginia youth were no different. They took what they heard and saw in the media into their own hands to help create their version of the culture. TV shows like Video Music Box and Yo! MTV Raps, along with movies such as 1982’s Wild Style, 1984’s releases of Beat Street and Breakin, and Krush Groove, from 1985, are a few that come to mind. These films allowed people to visualize this hip-hop culture in the confines of their homes. 

This state is diverse and, despite the attempts of some, cannot be pigeonholed. This makes West Virginia hip-hop extra unique in that sense. When hip-hop crossed the borders into West Virginia in the early 80’s, the spark was lit and has never faded. Including every influential part of hip-hop history in the Mountain State would be nearly impossible, but as highlighted below,  the memories are worth sharing. Please share your own memories with us on social media.

Pride and bragging rights: the 1980s

Photo from a Charleston High Year book featuring Ernie White, Marcus Prieto, and Randy Prieto that you will read about. Visit BBG Instagram for more photos form West Virginia’s 50 Years Of Hip Hop. Share your WV Hip Hop History HERE.

If we’re talking about the beginning, we have to talk about break dancing, also known as either break- or b-boying. It became the popular thing to do when hip-hop music was playing. Some of the earliest memories of hip-hop in WV started with the dancing. In the greater Charleston area, the youth formed dance crews and would have battles at festivals outside of the old Kanawha Mall, the Town Center Mall, Civic Center, the Martin Luther King Jr. Community Center (aka the King Center), and North Charleston Recreation Center.

These battles attracted communities around the city and were often highlighted on local new stations. It was a friendly competition, but pride and bragging rights were on the line.

The Ultra Sonic Rockers represented uptown Charleston. That group of break dancers included Ernie White, Glen Whitestone, Lamont Honeycutt, Randy Prieto, Marcus Prieto, and Phil Spurlock (P-Dawg). From the West Side down to the Dunbar area, you had the Sex Force, featuring Shawn Forte, Derrick Isabell, Jon Byers, Norman Ferguson, and Carlos Bego. That area also included the Pretty Young Things (PYT’s), Taya Amerson, Tracy Phillips, Neicy Brooks, and Tammy Wilson. Around the same time about 50 miles away in Ansted, West Virginia, Eric Jordan and his friends were also forming the Atomic Robotic Footshockers, competing in the Morgantown and Pittsburgh areas. In Huntington, the E.L.F. Crew — Every Lady’s Fantasy — was also known to compete.

These are some of the names that would come together, along with many others lost to time and memory, to put on a show filled with pop and lock arm and leg movements, freezes, and acrobatic head spins, tumbling on top of linoleum and cardboard.  

The dance battles of the ‘80s eventually led to some MCs beginning to compete with rap on the microphones. The Soda Pop Crew is one rap group from Charleston’s West Side, members being Kevin Lee, J.R. Kinney, and Jimmy Peoples. They were known to battle with the group Rapology, consisting of Ernie White and his crew. To the victor go the spoils, and the winners received prizes ranging from boomboxes to keyboards — essential hip-hop items in the ‘80s. 

The aforementioned Jon Byers, now known professionally worldwide as “Superman DJ Jon Quick,” is an unsung hero of the early hip-hop movement in the state. Quick would DJ the music at these events while also being heavily involved in choreographing the dance routines. Quick could also be heard DJ’ing on the radio station by West Virginia State College, W-EYS (We Educate You Soulfully), which was one of several college stations where hip-hop could be heard over the airwaves at the time. Another was WMUL (Street Beat) at Marshall University. There was also a college station out of Beckley that Eric Jordan (one of the Atomic Robotic Footshockers) recalls being able to get a weak signal from back in the day; albeit with an iron hanger attached to his radio. He was able to hear hip-hop being played by DJ Stu Wynd on the Black Beat Show. Ironically, Quick and Jordan would meet later while in school at Marshall University.

Quick and Jordan stayed hands-on with the hip-hop movement while on campus in Huntington. Jordan said Quick was like a mentor, teaching work ethic and commitment to his hip-hop craft. The two went from doing Whodini routines at house parties in Huntington to making big strides as individuals with music.  

DJ Jon Quick has become a big-time figure in the New York hip-hop scene, plying his trade at radio stations 107.5 and 97.5. He has worked with many celebrities and well-known artists (way too many to name) while spinning music for over 30-plus years right in the mecca of hip-hop. Jordan went on to become an independent producer and worked with Father MC, Tekitha from Wu-Tang, Biggie Smalls, Craig Mack, Loon, Puffy, and DMX. Jordan would move back to West Virginia and start Soundvizion Records to help his younger brother Lionel Jordan, then known as 6’6 240, start to create his own impact.

Read about DJ Jon Quick in Black Enterprise: From Social Work to DJing for Obama and The Turntable Chronicles: Vol. 3 – “What Happened to that NYC Boom Bap?” by DJ Quick (photo from Blog post) Share your WV Hip Hop History HERE.

Making Inroads on radio: the 1990s

A foundation had been laid for West Virginia hip-hop in the ‘80s. Now, it was time to build the house. This decade is often considered the golden age of hip-hop. Producers began using more samples in their music, combining R&B with rap, and using updated drum machines that made for a decade of much more complex and ear-catching rhythms. Hip-hop was now mainstream; even “The Simpsons” released a rap album.

In West Virginia, these sounds could sometimes be heard in Charleston on radio station 1490 AM WRVZ. Having rap and hip-hop on an AM station shows how challenging it was at the time, especially in West Virginia, for this genre of music to get radio airplay. It wasn’t ideal, but was certainly better than nothing. Hollywood Henderson, Lisa and Gary Turpin (aka DJ GT), and DJ City Sid were just some of the memorable people involved at 1490. 

Coming out of Charleston during this time was a group known as Hype Touch. At one point or another, members included Tony Scott, Little Thomas, Lamere Whitestone, Ron Blanks, Jason Harris, Wallace King, John Coleman, and Leon Tatum. The Henry twins, Jerry and Johnny Henry were credited to helping Hype Touch develop some of their music’s direction and performance routines. Hype Touch became a household name in the capital city and garnered some respected recognition from the industry in the mid-90’s. They were able to gain interest from several local investors, and were invited to New York to link up with Jodeci. The group did many performances around the state including one at the governor’s mansion, alongside the late Lou Myers, a West Virginia native who broke through into television and film. Local news station WSAZ later did a full documentary on the group during their glory days.

304Live goes online: the 2000s

In the ‘90s, if you didn’t know, then you didn’t know. The internet was in its infancy. The world was not yet fully connected. If you didn’t attend the performance live, hopefully somebody had a camcorder with a fresh VHS. Kids in McDowell County didn’t know what kids in Kanawha County were up to, for instance. The 90’s may have seemed somewhat like a dry spot in the state for hip-hop if you weren’t in the know. However, things would change and speed up very quickly moving into the next decade. 

The rise of internet search engines launched a new movement in West Virginia’s hip-hop story. The change in access to the internet, from fuzzy dial-up connections (but not when you needed to use the phone) to broadband speeds of the new millennium, allowed the Mountain State’s youth to experience the wider world of music. Audio and video files had been notoriously unreliable and took forever to download. Though its standard is archaic now, the internet of the 2000s now meant that audio files — we’re talking songs here — could easily and reliably be shared to more people.

Chris Kessel created his website 304live.com and made it accessible to artists, producers, and fans across the state, nation, and world. This site was a place where relationships were built, music was shared, and collaborations were created between artists and producers. Before 304live dot com, most of these people really had no way of knowing one another. The site grew to have tons of followers, and this online community of like-minded individuals followed the hip-hop scene in West Virginia together. This rise in the accessibility of hip-hop through the internet in the 2000s allowed people around the state to know when new music was coming out, and where events were happening. Artists benefited greatly from this support. They were able to gain notoriety through 304live, something they would have otherwise lacked. 

The 304live era was a time when the West Virginia hip-hop scene was at its highest peak, considering the amount of music released up to that point. With social media platforms like MySpace and Facebook becoming more prevalent as the decade progressed, along with the rise of YouTube and Bandcamp, the game had changed. The digital star would now emerge. 

Local rappers H.O. Canada (or HBoogi, though now known as Hugh Holla) and Shawn “Plenty Rock” Moore were inspired to display as much of West Virginia’s hip-hop talents as they possibly could. The two traveled the state documenting artists and the scene itself in a DVD titled Local Legends.


Two heavy hitters as artists on their own, Hugh Holla and Plenty put all the focus on celebrating others in the documentary. A shortened version of Local Legends can be viewed on YouTube. To show the ever-changing internet landscape, the shortened version was posted because YouTube only allowed 15 minute uploads at the time. The full documentary is filled with interviews that told background stories and showcased freestyles from rappers and singers in and around the Charleston, Huntington, Morgantown, Bluefield, and Beckley areas. A double CD soundtrack accompanied the documentary.  

The artists active at this time deserve acknowledgment and gratitude for the work they put into creating the future face of hip-hop in West Virginia. Putting West Virginia hip-hop online opened the genre to the entire state.

Still active, forever rising: the 2010s and today

The next ten years saw more progress in West Virginia hip-hop music, and it continues now. With the modern-day boom of social media and other online platforms, it is now yet again easier for the world to see the talents in the mountains. West Virginia’s videographers have done a tremendous job of creating professional-level visuals for artists to reach the masses. Streaming platforms have allowed many of these artists to capitalize on successes that at one time may have gone unnoticed. 

Several artists gained some ground with their craft as the 2010s began, and a few were able to make a significant impact. One of those artists is Lionel Green, now going by his measurements — 6’6, 240. He was able to build a relationship with Bubba Sparxxx, best known for the 2006 hit “Ms. New Booty.” Six-Six would go on to record several songs with Sparxxx as well as the “Freek-a-Leek” rapper himself, Petey Pablo. Green received big love for his unofficial, but beloved West Virginia University Mountaineers football anthem, “Gold N Blue,” and its many versions due to several updates over the years. Making these types of breakthroughs had not been common for West Virginia artists, but several have since rubbed elbows with industry-level people in one way or another. Many have stayed busy releasing their own projects and often performing as opening acts for well-known hip-hop artists when concerts come to the state. 

If impact is the conversation David Morris (D-Why) certainly put in his work. D-Why has very deep hip hop roots and could spar with the best of them. His style evolved over the years which can be seen in “Mr McGavin” and “Macchiato Music”. D-Why was also able to land a track “No Budget” with notable artist Futuristic known for his hit “The Greatest”. D-Why has since shown his musical versatility tapping into multiple new styles.

Duck City is a modern group with that old school, golden age vibe. The members of Duck City aren’t new to long-time hip-hop fans. Gerardo Valentine (NDaKut), Chris Robinson (CHJ), and Tony Valentine (Diagnosis) have been around for quite some time. They continue to produce authentic hip-hop and have made Duck City a name associated with hip-hop in the state. NdaKut and CHJ have been a part of the world famous Grind Mode Cyphers, and always make a lot of noise representing West Virginia. 

Photo: Duck City Music is a hip-hop movement which originated in Rand, West Virginia. (The hometown of NFL Hall Of Famer Randy Moss. Rand University. Share your WV Hip Hop History HERE.

In the rich 50-year history of West Virginia hip-hop, there are many memories and many names that may never get the recognition they deserve. Much love and credit forwarded to some of our early DJs such as Bob Porter, David Martin, Richard Ruffin, Phil Spurlock, Rico Bradley, DJ Preston, Keith Waterman, William Harding (Sexy Bill) and Mark Macklin. Then later on Charlie Blac, Tee Edmonds (T-Nutz), Jason Bausley, Todd Hutchinson (ActRight), Larry Moore (Big L), and TC. These DJ’s and many others who have brought hip-hop to our area over the years for our entertainment. 

Woody Woods, the program director and DJ at 98.7 The Beat, in Charleston, has also been very instrumental in bringing West Virginia hip-hop to the forefront. Since Woods came to Charleston, there has clearly been a needed boost of radio enthusiasm and passion for hip-hop. The Beat is easily the best hip-hop radio station ever in the state. Radio personalities TJ the DJ, Leeshia Lee, and George Mitchell (GMoney) have all been a huge part of the radio/hip-hop movement at 98.7 in all they have done.  

From cassette tapes to compact discs to streaming, the record stores have been a melting pot of sounds from all genres — National Record Mart, Budget Tapes, Underground Connection. The clothes, the urban gear, the look, it came from Young’s Department Store, Esteps, Reflexionz Clothing. The herringbones, gold ropes, and gold teeth from Gold Valley. To the Song-A-Ree, Multifest, and West Virginia State University homecoming ceremonies. To the school pep rallies and talent shows, to the house parties, pool parties, all parties, and the concerts. The culture of West Virginia hip-hop has always been well-rounded and continues to make great strides. 

Share your perspective and memories with us at info@blackbygod.org IG Twitter Facebook  so that we can add to the collective memory and continue to build on this rich culture for another 50 years. There are tons of other artists that deserve recognition for their work in West Virginia hip-hop. The hope is that someday a West Virginia Hip-Hop Hall of Fame can be created to honor the best of them. 

Celebrate 50 Years Of Hip Hop with BBG. #jointheconversation Share your WV Hip Hop History HERE.

Editors Note: This is far from a comprehensive list of West Virginia’s hip-hop notables. The following is a living document that will be updated continuously until the full story is told. If you see a name or group that needs to be on the list, reach out to Black By God at crystal@blackbygod.org or use this form:  https://forms.gle/mvDvBjSWyDP5tihh9

Get the latest headlines from Black by God right in your inbox weekly.

Sign up for our newsletter


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses cookies to provide you with a great user experience. By continuing to use this website, you consent to the use of cookies in accordance with our privacy policy.

Scroll to Top