Alum rocks the BELL with hip-hop magazine

UI alumnus Tyler Hakes, editor-in-chief of aboveGround magazine. Photo by Tom Jorgensen.

Two years ago, UI student Tyler Hakes set out to create a publication that would reclaim the message of true hip-hop from the gangstas who had taken over that style of music.

Now mere months after graduation, Hakes is the editor-in-chief of his personally founded underground hip-hop magazine, aboveGround. Started roughly a year ago, aboveGround’s readership now stands at an estimated 10,000—a number growing daily.

Hakes, a journalism school graduate and recipient of an entrepreneurial certificate from the John Pappajohn Entrepreneurial Center in the Tippie College of Business, says aboveGround is an underground magazine because of its extensive coverage of nonmainstream hip-hop. His goals are to provide publicity for music otherwise unrecognized because of the lack of airplay on local radio stations, and to correct the public perception that hip-hop is only about guns, drugs, and money.

“A lot of people have the wrong idea about hip-hop,” says Hakes, a Cedar Rapids resident. “Hip-hop is more than this gangster connotation. It is about spreading a message. There’s plenty of hip-hop unnoticed by the mainstream that is different—this is what we are promoting.”

As a child, Hakes enjoyed listening to mega hip-hop stars such as Notorious B.I.G. and Tupac Shakur. His eardrums were consistently greeted with rhymes by Nas and Snoop Dogg. But as he got older, his affection for the music withered because he was unable to relate to the gangsta message.

Hakes discovered hip-hop’s underground counterculture after meeting a producer from New York who dropped artists’ names for Hakes to check out. He was overwhelmed with excitement at hearing this new music and compared it to stumbling upon an unknown treasure.

“The Bedell business incubator gave me the opportunity to work with peers seeking to be entrepreneurs as well…I liked being able to get advice from other students.”
—Tyler Hakes

“My eyes were opened to a whole new world of hip-hop that most have no idea exists,” Hakes says. “It rejuvenated my interests in hip-hop. I would present this music to friends and they would wonder where I found this, and wanted to hear more. That’s when I decided I wanted to share this music.”

Hakes started working on the magazine as soon as he enrolled in The University of Iowa’s Bedell Entrepreneurship Learning Laboratory (BELL) last September. The program is offered to any UI student seeking to start a business and provides them with fully furnished offices, experienced business advisors, and keynote speakers offering real-world experience.

Hakes says the BELL helped immensely in his ability to acquire the knowledge needed to start aboveGround.

“The Bedell business incubator gave me the opportunity to work with peers seeking to be entrepreneurs as well, which was helpful,” Hakes says. “I liked being able to get advice from other students. I also enjoyed the professionals that gave small seminars offering suggestions.”

Lynn Allendorf, the BELL’s managing director, says Hakes had a strong vision of what he wanted to accomplish the moment he walked in the door. His knowledge of the business is why he is succeeding with aboveGround.

“He really understands the industry, which is a profound prerequisite to success when starting a business,” Allendorf says. “What he has going for him is industry intelligence, that insider information that isn’t secret, but if one isn’t immersed in the field, they won’t know it.”

Check out aboveGround at abovegroundmagazine.com.

One obstacle Hakes has overcome is making contact with artists because the ability to reach artists outside the mainstream is a little more difficult. Social media sites have been paramount to his success.

“Twitter has really been the catalyst for me,” Hakes says. “It helps us reach fans, readers, writers, and artists that I would otherwise been unable to reach. Even if you are trying to reach the smallest rapper from Idaho, he probably has Twitter or Facebook.”

These networking sites have also helped Hakes reach out to others to help write stories, blogs, and reviews. His magazine currently has six members on staff and they are located all over the country, including Seattle and Los Angeles.

Hakes says he currently funds aboveGround out of pocket, but costs remain low. Web hosting is monetarily friendly and music access is cheap because the artists want to be publicized.

The future of the magazine remains bright. Hakes says he receives positive feedback and people are very appreciative of the magazine’s objective.

“The direction we are heading, I hope one day small, scale print is attainable,” Hakes says. “If you can sell 5,000 magazines for $10, that’s $50,000. That’s good money that is feasible if we continue to do good work and keep plugging along.”

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