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Over the course of its seven-year history, HipStory has been many things. It started as a mixtape, found a home online as hipstory.org, and then, at one point or another, set its sights on conquering every corner of the musical world.
“It had many different aspirations,” founder and co-owner Cliff Notez says. “We wanted to be a label, we wanted to be a TV company. We wanted to be everything.”
Production company, collective—the list goes on. But no matter what shape HipStory has taken, it’s been driven by the sheer creative energy of the company.
Or, as co-owner Tim Hall puts it simply, the desire to “do a lot of dope shit.”
After finding success across album releases, film projects, a music tour, and more, HipStory has shifted its focus to providing clients with the expertise needed to accomplish their own creative projects.
“Our goal for HipStory is for it to be something that allows creativity to grow,” Hall says. “And it has the resources and the mindset to be able to turn those ideas into products that people want, that people care about, that people like.”
Born and bred in various Somerville studios, HipStory is a digital media production company dedicated to “redefining the future history” of media and hip-hop, according to its website. Right now, that means “focusing on what we’re good at and what we’re capable of doing,” Notez says: audio and video production/engineering, and event curation. These services are platforms to help artists who want to tell their stories get them out there.
And the types of stories HipStory is helping to tell matter. Central to all of the company’s work is a commitment to sharing the narratives of people of color, of those living with mental health issues, of those who identify as queer, and of those who belong to other historically oppressed identities.
“Part of who we are is, we care about creating an opportunity for marginalized voices to be heard,” Hall says.
Made up of musicians, photographers, graphic designers, visual artists, teachers, and more, HipStory is equipped to handle a diverse array of creative requests.
“There’s so many different backgrounds of ours that, like—I don’t want to sound cocky, but we can do anything,” says producer Tony Hamoui, who performs under the name Hamstank. “Any film, any genre, anything. We can do it.”
Only recently has HipStory redirected its course to serve clients in this way, though. It’s been a journey to solidify that identity.
Hall, 31, and Notez, 27, first met through the Massachusetts Literary Education and Performance Collective’s Louder Than A Bomb (LTAB) poetry slam festival in 2015. Hall, a saxophonist and Detroit transplant who had recently accepted a job at the Berklee College of Music, was a volunteer with the organization. Notez, who grew up in Boston, was coaching a team based out of Raw Art Works in Lynn.
A chance run-in at a Guitar Center set everything in motion. Soon, Hall was making trips to Notez’s Winter Hill apartment, which served as the HipStory homebase and studio for two years, to begin experimenting.
Speaking with the pair in Hall’s East Boston apartment, it’s easy to see how the two have come so far running HipStory together. They laugh and play off each other while recounting the origin story.
“The cool thing is that we just vibed,” Hall says. “It was kind of natural. We would show up. He would play a beat. I would play over it. We were just hanging out, and after a couple weeks, I’m like, ‘Yo, have you thought about doing anything with all this equipment?’”
“‘I already got a website,’” Notez remembers saying.
From there, the ideas flourished. HipStory and its affiliated acts flooded the Boston arts scene. Among the projects: Hall’s “Color of my Soul,” poet and rapper Oompa’s “November 3rd,” rapper Forté’s “The Impatient Mixtape,” and Notez’s “When The Sidewalk Ends.” There was also Notez’s award-winning film, “Vitiligo,” which explored mental health and the psychological effects of racism in America. The project, Notez’s thesis for his master’s in digital media from Northeastern University, won the grand prize at the March on Washington Film Festival.
Fellow HipStory artists VQnC, Hamstank, Hakim Hill and Nick Martin were also hard at work on both their own endeavors and collaborative projects that grew out of HipStory.
All of the creative output and acclaim culminated in a HipStory summer tour in 2017, which brought the group up and down the East Coast. More exposure and recognition followed.
But at this point, Hall and Notez felt they needed to step back and reassess their success.
“As a business, we were starting to realize, ‘Whoa, we’re doing a lot of growing. There’s a lot of things going on. We need to really figure out what makes sense,’” Hall says.
“We just needed to figure out, like, how can we bring in money so we can do half of the things that we actually want to do?” Notez says.
The group learned to leverage its collective talent and resources after participating in the Transformative Culture Project’s business accelerator, AccelerateBOS, which gave it a community of entrepreneurs to learn from. They were also awarded a $15,000 Live Arts Boston grant. Thus, the iteration of HipStory as a digital media production company was alive and thriving.
This year, the company has worked with the Boston Arts Music and Soul (BAMS) Fest, Company One Theatre’s production of “Hype Man,” a documentary for Fairfield University’s collegiate recovery program, and more. And, of course, the individual HipStory creators have been producing their own art.
“That’s the beauty of HipStory—it allows each person within the brand to maintain their own identity, while the identities mash together to make the HipStory brand,” says Hamstank, whose latest album “Rise of the Giant King” dropped in January.
The bright future of HipStory is only getting brighter. Hall and Notez are in the process of moving HipStory to a new workspace in Dorchester, and in the meantime are operating out of Pink Noise in Somerville. Maybe they’ll be a label or something even bigger somewhere down the line, they say.
Notez has a vision for the future in which HipStory has built itself into a company big enough to provide even more resources to artists and communities—education, philanthropy, and more. But for now, focusing on media production services will allow them to direct their business model toward a path of expansion.
The fabric of HipStory is woven from a spirit of encouragement, validation, and visibility. That’s what brought the group’s members together in the first place.
“Being around Tim and around Oompa, it was like the first time I was around these respected musicians that I love, and I was like, ‘Oh? You all think I’m good at this?’” Notez says. “I think that’s what everybody was getting from it.”
It’s a simple but profound message from HipStory: What you’re doing is important, and we see you. And we want to help you keep doing it.
This story originally appeared in the Do Gooders, Key Players, and Game Changers issue of Scout Somerville.
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