Colorado Springs hip-hop crew Ghetto Camp Entertainment started making music together in the service overseas. A couple years later, they're back home, nudging open the door with debut albums by rappers D Slim Da UnderDawg and Bangga, both produced by AP, aka Aaron Pryor.
"We all deployed together. Two of us worked in the same shop, and Bangga worked in another section of the platoon," says Pryor. "We knew him prior to deployment, and we all just kind of linked up and got real close."
Comparing their tour of Afghanistan to the nearest hot, arid, godforsaken place he could think of — "Hell" — he describes music as the dim light in their darkness.
"When we're hitting that dry cell — and we're not getting anything that we really want as far as push — I tell both of them and myself to look where we came from," Pryor explains. "[From] being in the middle of the desert, trying to record off a Lenovo laptop that crashed at any given moment because it got too hot, to being able to actually get a studio in our own right, and be able to make music whenever we want, being able to push it out and do shows and stuff we had only thought of. It didn't even look like something that could be accomplished."
The crew shrank from quartet to trio with the subsequent departure of Scoota B, a Chuck D-ish baritone who can be heard on several of their early tracks, including the infectious "Ghetto Camp Soldiers." A trilling West Coast synth line and gang-shouted vocal sample set the stage with an old school feel, which is at least partly the result of Pryor growing up in Detroit listening to Dr. Dre and Eminem.
Meanwhile, D Slim's woozy swagger rides a percussive spit with Southern sway, thanks to his Georgia/South Carolina upbringing, while Bangga's more of a slithery flow suggests his Big Easy patois. The track came together in the middle of the night, and has that feel.
"We were just sitting in the studio. We weren't even planning on doing that song. It's like 3 or 4 in the morning, having some fun and we liked the beat."
Another striking track is D Slim's number "Enemies." The loop features a haunting downbeat piano line and a snapping snare breakbeat, as Slim twists a line about envy, enemies and how the real know the real.
"Mental illness, heartache and a lot of stuff referencing day-to-day things," is how Pryor describes it. "It's not like typical hip-hop that's out now with a lot of dancing and things like that. That's not what we're geared toward. We like making things that a lot of people can relate to, things that have a message."
Later this month D Slim will release Soul Not for Sale. Then next month, on Feb. 13, Bangga will put out his debut album, Last of a Dying Breed. While Ghetto Camp Entertainment are trying to make a name for themselves, there's an aspect of their work that's its own reward.
"It's more family-based," Pryor says. "There's a business side that goes into it. We make a lot of business decisions amongst each other, but we try to stay close like family. There's a relationship outside the booth."