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August 19, 2005
The first time I met Dan Kuypers, who is better known to many as DJ Copperpot, was at my workplace, a record store on Chicago's north side. All week in the store we had been playing the DJ's first full-length release Chapter Seven and were growing in our fondness for it. "This is a Chicago guy?" a customer would ask, and we'd beam back, "Oh yeah," as if we had discovered him ourselves.

Later in the week two college-age guys came in and talked to the store managers about being on the lookout for someone selling Copperpot merchandise and a bunch of records because Kuypers' car had just recently been broken into.

"Are you his manager or a street team member or something?" I asked the more vocal of the two.

"Nah, that's me, man. I'm Copperpot," Kuypers said with a smirk.

The first impression stuck and not just because of my naivety but also because of how seemingly removed Kuypers is from the typical hip-hop persona. In a clique where things like blackness, wealth, and hypermasculinity can bring you status, Kuypers is a lark. The 26-year-old is white, about average height and build for his age, and he doesn't have much cash to throw around (although more on that topic later). But when you listen to his music the only thing that matters is that Copperpot is putting out some of the dopest shit in the game.

One reason for the DJ's success is his unconventionality. Not only in his hip-hop appearance or attitude - he is self-described as a "nice asshole" - but also in the methods through which he morphed into the "Copperpot" identity and the sounds of which he formulates when he creates.

Kuypers comes off as confident, yet not arrogant. At the same time he is both professionally focused and diverted by an off-kilter sense of humor. He credits growing up in a poorer area of the generally affluent Chicago suburb of Evanston for his character diversity and general open-mindedness. It is no surprise then that the DJ has grander expectations within hip-hop than to just make cool beats for himself and his friends.

"I think hip-hop has the ability to bring people from all over - different religions, races, creeds, class - together," Kuypers said.

"I listen to jazz, 8 pm 'til 4 in the morning on NPR [National Public Radio]. I think that in 50 years or less jazz will be 8 pm 'til 12 am, and 12 'til 4 am will be hip-hop or some sort of urban music with hip-hop in there somewhere. My goal would be to have my music played on a reputable radio station by a DJ with excellent taste that considers it good music. People said hip-hop was a fad but it's a viable genre of music."

Rewind a few years back though and Kuypers had no intention of using music as a social communicator, or even as a career step for that matter. During college he had aspirations of becoming a poet and an English teacher and took classes to obtain those goals. In 2001, while attending the University of Illinois-Chicago (one of the four colleges he would attend) Kuypers was awarded a scholarship to a writing program in Prague, Czech Republic. However when he arrived in Europe, studies were the last thing on his mind. Having recently purchased an Akai MPC2000XL sampler with friends DJ Sapien and The Graduate, Kuypers had become infatuated with the sampling process. "While I was there, I was dreaming of my MPC," he says. He spent much of his time on the academic trip soaking up foreign culture, meeting new people, and buying rare records. Along the way a good Czech friend took him to local bookstores, where they would ask the shop owners to see their records. Puzzled at first, clerks would eventually return to the counters from back rooms and basements with boxes of dusty, old, cheap records of Eastern European jazz, funk, and soul music.

Kuypers remained in Europe an additional month to hang out with a new musical ally, British MC and Low Life Records owner Braintax, who he would later collaborate with on several tracks for Chapter Seven. He returned to the states financially strapped but with the eccentric collection of vinyl that he had amassed promising a future that would be rich with opportunity. So also began a period in Kuypers' life in which he maxed out several credit cards, spending money on everything from records to spur-of-the-moment plane tickets. Soon enough he had debt consolidators and credit card companies tracking him down and was eventually sued by Discover Card, among others.

On Chapter Seven there are a couple tracks that bring light to Kuypers' money situation and even the term "Chapter Seven" itself refers to the form of bankruptcy that the name Dan Kuypers is filed under at the Internal Revenue Service.

On the whole, the album and Copperpot's overall style are mostly about doing things a little differently and being on the cusp; Chapter Seven speaks the language of hip-hop but has its own distinct dialect. Most significant is the producer/DJ's usage of unconventional sampled sounds, infectious beats and scratching techniques. With this, his debut full-length, Kuypers crafts melodies from instruments such as xylophone, classical guitar, flute, harpsichord, accordion, glockenspiel, upright piano, jazz Rhodes keys, and a computer-generated video game theme song. A rarity on their own, these sampled sounds stand out even more in the mix of urban music because they are taken from different music cultures - Spanish, Czech, American, Far East European, and more.

"I'd like to think of myself as more global [sounding]," Kuypers says. "I don't think I have a Chicago sound. When you think about Chicago sound for rap music or hip-hop you think about gangsta rap, twisting, battle MCs…which I don't really associate myself with."

This is not to say that Copperpot doesn't identify with a local scene. He takes great pride in the community of talent that he came up in, mentioning that Diverse, K-Kruz, and LongShot are all "Evanston kids." He largely credits friend DJ Sapien with providing him with the guidance he needed during the maturation of his producing skills. He is also truly proud of his production site/release label/workplace, EV Productions, which is located only a couple blocks from where he originally grew up in Evanston.

But Copperpot's "global sound" is induced just as much by a sporadically located talent pool of MCs as it is created by local contributors, a great record collection, and an intelligent ear. After creating his first beat CD Chicago graffiti artist Slang introduced Kuypers to Bamski the Bigot. Shortly thereafter the two went into the studio for the first time and recorded Copperpot's first 12" "Cut the Cake." After releasing three EPs (Chapter Seven: Verse 1, Verse 2, and Verse 3) and while working on his full-length, Copperpot was advised by fellow Chicago artist DJ Rude 1 of Single Minded Pros to "put together a list of who you want to work with and send them shit, see what happens." Of those who were solicited many hopped on board and eventually appeared on Chapter Seven. Included were Chicago's Akbar, LongShot, and Diverse; east-coasters Mr. Complex, Edo.G, and Pace Won; and UK rappers Kashmere, Verb T, and Braintax.

Kuypers' list didn't end there though, and following his hot reception there was a line coming back the other way: big-name MCs and other artists who were seeking out Copperpot. Currently on the horizon are featured tracks that he has done with Masta Ace, an album with Verb T, a downtempo project with singer Emily Bishop, and an entire album with a personal favorite artist of his, KRS-One.

"It was like a dream come true," Kuypers said about recording with KRS. "I was nervous like a motherfucker, I'm not gonna lie…I had met him before but I had never picked him up to do a session."

Copperpot looks at his first recording experience with KRS-One as a growing process.
The efficiency and professionalism that the MC acted with helped to mentor Kuypers into a better sense of producing and studio assertion. He looks to build on that as both sides have expressed interest in recording an entire album together - Copperpot's beats and melodies, KRS's rhymes. In early June, Copperpot took a step closer and sent KRS's manager 30 beats for the rapper to work with.

In the meantime Kuypers is not waiting by the phone. In addition to all the other projects he has planned he also intends on moving to London in a year's time to work with Braintax's Low Life Records and he is close to finishing up a second full-length release. "My next record, it's pretty much almost done," Kuypers said. "I got a couple more tracks to record. The production is a mixture between the LongShot stuff and my old stuff, where I'm still sampling strange stuff but it moves more. It's danceable almost. It's faster…I moved to a higher tempo bracket," says Kuypers with a laugh. "It's like another weight class or something ."

In the control room of EV Studios, Kuypers leans back in a chair behind a large sound board, regretting too much drinking from the night before at his weekly DJ spot at Morseland in Roger's Park. He has a few hours to get home, eat, change, grab his records, and run to another gig on the other side of town. For Kuypers, life can sometimes feel as if it is trapped in some sort of weird Clark Kent-Superman dynamic. Then that leaves only one question, what's the meaning behind his alter ego moniker "Copperpot"?

"When I was growin' up that movie [Goonies] was the shit," Kuypers earnestly states. "Looking back on it, I think that movie conveyed the strong message that a search is the fruit of anything. It's finding things, that's the fruit. It's what you learn, what happens to you, the experiences along the way. I was really enthralled with that movie…Chester Copperpot the explorer dies during the search when he's looking for something. When I chose the name, I was like, 'I like the name Chester and I like the name Copperpot, I like the movie, I like the idea behind it. Go by Copperpot.'"

Thousands of dollars spent into credit card debt, tens of thousands of miles traveled to foreign lands, and hundreds of records later, Copperpot has found a way to transcend the character of his namesake by living to tell the experiences of his searches to a growing hip-hop world.

SEE ALSO: www.copperpot.cc

Josh Zanger
Joshua Ian Zanger, a native of rural Chicago, rocks many a world with his writing, style, and generally sweet aroma.

See other articles by Josh Zanger.



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