Sure, the music industry has its share of overnight success stories. But greatly outnumbering them are tales of talented artists who, despite the odds, plod away for years in hopes of their big break.
As his name implies, there are no guarantees in the music biz, but rapper Longshot could be on the cusp of cashing in on all those years of paying his dues. The 32-year-old Chicago native brought his talent to the Twin Cities in 2009 after winning a Jake One/Rhymesayers Entertainment songwriting contest. In that contest, aspiring emcees recorded songs over one of Seattle producer Jake One's beats for the chance to record a single on Rhymesayers, the venerable Twin Cities hip-hop label.
"It's been nothing but love from day one," Longshot said of how he's been embraced by the Twin Cities hip-hop community. "I love Minneapolis. It's a great scene, great city."
Despite rejecting the "conscious rapper" label, Longshot's style fits right in with his Minneapolis contemporaries, as his lyrics favor substance over vanity. His 2006 album "Issues," recorded with Chicago producer Copperpot under the name CopperShot, delves into topics ranging from personal struggles to political frustrations. The track "Forgive Me" (which features a guest appearance by KRS-One, the godfather of conscious rap), includes a few jabs at former President G.W. Bush that would make P.O.S. proud. For Longshot, music is more than mindless entertainment: "Music without a message -- just give me a beat then," he said.
As well-suited for Minneapolis as Longshot's brand of meaningful hip-hop may be, the real-life Chad Heslup -- who lists Tupac and Redman as two of his favorite emcees -- is more than capable of delivering his rhymes with a gritty ruggedness often lacking in the Twin Cities' indie-rap dominated scene.
When Heslup was 8, he and his siblings were pulled from school and taken away from their mother, who was battling drug addiction. The six kids were split up and sent to live with relatives or in foster homes. Chad, the oldest, spent four years staying with his stepmother and grandmother before moving into a group home for at-risk kids, where he lived his teenage years. "It's the main fuel for my music," the rapper said of his tumultuous childhood. "I want people to relate. We all struggle. ... I just come from a different situation than most people."
Since 2003, Longshot has released five albums and toured with the likes of Tre Hardson (of Pharcyde fame), Brother Ali and Atmosphere, and served as hype man for fellow Chicagoan and Rhymesayers alumnus Psalm One. After more than a decade of pursuing a music career, he continues to chase his dream with the zeal of an 18-year-old.
In May 2009, Longshot recorded a single for Rhymesayers during the same weekend as the label's annual Soundset festival. More than a year and a half later, however, a release date has yet to be set. While he understands the label has more pressing commitments, he admits it's increasingly difficult to stay patient while waiting for his shot.
"You've just got to wait your turn," he said. "You know you're an all-star, but you've got to sit on the bench."