Local artist believes the best is yet to come
Vancouver is not the first city in Washington that comes to mind when one thinks of hip-hop culture. However, the Pacific Northwest has had a thriving underground hip-hop scene for 20 years and cannot be left out of the conversation. Vancouver native and Clark student Thomas Merfeld ’17, known in the hip-hop community as Wizeguy, has been there since its early days in the 1990s.
Merfeld began connecting words that rhyme with music when he was in the fifth grade. He met a kid named Matt Cavinta and they often rapped to a Rob Bass karaoke instrumental. The popular bands Run DMC and The Fat Boys were two of his early musical influences. At age 13, he assisted DJ Too Heavy at school dances by pulling compact discs for him and freestyling at the end of the dances. Merfeld continued to do this until he was 18, when his new-found talent went from a hobby to a job and eventually became part of his social identity.
Today Merfeld, 39, owns a record company called Wizeguy Entertainment LLC and is a staple in Vancouver’s hip-hop scene. He’s in the Merchandising Management program at Clark College, honing his business skills. Specifically, he took a marketing class that helped him clarify his message in the marketplace, and understand other intricacies of advertising.
“I am a self-taught recording engineer and recording artist. Going to Clark has helped me identify my goals for my music and take my entertainment company Wizeguy Entertainment to the next level,” said Merfeld.
“I have a recording studio that markets local musicians in various genres of music. The skills I’ve learned at Clark have strengthened my business,” he said.
He is also an artist on his music label. His current music group, called Raised by Wolves, includes rappers Benny Rooso and Terrell Carter, who is known as Tigo. Raised by Wolves denotes a pack of wolves that thins out the herd, removing fake hip-hop and returning what is real to the music genre, according to the group’s website.
Remaining independent in the business is important to Merfeld, who has passed on signing to an industry music label. Instead, he is contemplating a distribution deal to enhance his budget in order to increase the label’s exposure. For now Merfeld’s solo project, “The W Album,” is available in all major online stores.
When reflecting on local hip-hop’s history and trends in the marketplace, Merfeld remembers when Portland and Vancouver rappers didn’t get along and even had a rivalry. Now there is more collaboration and solidarity between the artists in the two cities. In the 1990s, many of Clark County’s music venues wouldn’t allow rap performances or support rap recordings. Where country, rock or classical music would be favored, rap would be scoffed at. Currently, there are many locations that support and welcome rap in Clark County. Merfeld is joyful that rap has come to be embraced and celebrated.
Merfeld sees the future of hip-hop expanding for Vancouver, as well as the entire Pacific Northwest as scenes thrive from Portland to Tacoma, and Seattle to Spokane. An example is Portland, Ore., rapper Aminé who has seen recent success in the mainstream industry with his song “Caroline.” Merfeld sees this region as one that has been virtually untapped. With an increase of people moving to the Portland Metro area and the popularity of television shows like “Portlandia,” Merfeld predicts that this will be the next big region to make noise on the hip-hop scene.
Vancouver’s hip-hop scene is on the rise. With rappers like Merfeld and many others, hip-hop culture will continue to gain clout and popularity. Even if many do not think of Vancouver when imagining hip-hop, it is a place where talented rappers continue to create. Merfeld and many other local artists and fans believe “the best is yet to come.”
Learn more about Wizeguy’s body of work and the masters behind the music.
Ryan Cunningham ’14 is a rap artist and spoken-word poet. He also works as an employment specialist at Clark County’s WorkSource where he helps youth and adults secure employment, develop career goals and receive training to develop employable skills.