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Shuffle: An Online Platform to Unify Cleveland's Hip-Hop Sound

photo of John Stursa and Ripp Flamez
Ripp Flamez (right) is one of many Cleveland artists whose work is featured on John Stursa's (left) curated hip hop site, ImFromCleveland.com.

A teenager’s hobby has turned into the go-to website for showcasing Cleveland’s hip-hop scene. For this week’s Shuffle, WKSU's Amanda Rabinowitz talked to John Stursa about how his site, ImFromCLeveland.com, is helping the city's hip-hop community find its identity.

From hobby to career
Twenty-three-year-old John Stursa of Lorain, grew up listening to artists like Chip the Ripper and Lil Wayne with his brother. At the age of 13, Stursa began posting videos of his favorite local hip-hop artists on his YouTube channel. He amassed more than 13,000 subscribers.

'There have been artists who will trash what we’re doing and I’ll still post their music because I like it.'

Local musician Eric Vajda — better known by his stage name DJ E-V — saw Stursa’s YouTube channel and reached out to him with the idea to start a website. Together, they launched ImFromCleveland.com in 2010.

“Any time people are releasing music, videos, mix tapes, projects, whatever it is, it’s on our website,” Stursa said.

John Stursa grew up listening to rap with his brother. In his early teens, he earned an online following through music he posted on YouTube.

Stursa said his site is mostly focused on artists from Cleveland. Stursa also uses his industry connections to connect with national artists who come through Cleveland.

“I have a lot of connections, a lot of relationships over the years,” Stursa said. “So there are certain people who will send me things when things are happening.”

Many artists, many sounds
Cleveland is full of hip hop talent, but Stursa believes artists these days don’t have a unified Cleveland sound the way they used to.

“We’ve had (a distinguished sound) in the past,” Stursa said, citing the ‘90s Cleveland hip hop group Bone Thugs-N-Harmony as an example.

“When Bone Thugs came out, they influenced everybody, the entire rap scene. And then [Kid] Cudi and [King] Chip came out, and they had that kind of influence as well.”

After that, the “cappin” sound – with artists depicting characters who flaunt their wealth and status but are actually broke – came to be identified with Cleveland.

“It was kind of known as a Cleveland sound at that time,” Stursa said. “There are a lot of talented artists, so we have sounds coming from different places.”

Cleveland artists like Q Money, Chxpo and Ezri especially stand out to Stursa for their contributions to the hip hop scene, but the community is still trying to find its unified sound. 

Spreading good music
Stursa and E-V's site also has its detractors. Some artists feel they don't get the attention they deserve on his site.

“It’s hard to please everyone,” Stursa said. “There have been artists who will trash what we’re doing and I’ll still post their music because I like it.”

Stursa is willing to take criticism for the sake of unifying Cleveland’s hip hop community because, as he put it, “If it’s good music, people should be hearing it.”

Stursa is partnering with Underground Music Showcase to begin regular, local hip-hop concerts at the Grog Shop in Cleveland. 

Editor's note:  This story was originally published on March 1, 2018.

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