Updated: Jun 27, 2022
Belmont’s Showcase Series continues with an electric night of hip-hop and R&B performances Saturday.
Kendall Stowers, James Cole, Sheldon Smith and Jake Whipple make up this year’s Hip Hop/R&B Showcase lineup, and three out of the four names on the bill are artists of color.
“I think that’s really great and it’s good for influencing representation and also showing the student body that, hey, Belmont is not just indie-pop or country or indie-rock,” Smith said.
“There’s a lot of different artists here that have a lot to bring to the table.”
The first beat drops in the Curb Event Center at 7 p.m., and the winner will go on to perform as one of the Best of the Best in the semester’s final showcase.
KSTOW. Josef Lloyd
“I honestly feel, deep down, that hip-hop is the most intricate and most personal form of music out there,” said junior Kendall Stowers.
A native of St. Louis, Missouri, Stowers, always admired rap music and rappers’ abilities to tell their stories. Years before he started rapping, he would even listen to beats on their own.
It wasn’t until he was pressured by a friend to freestyle in the car one night that he started to think music was something he could do.
“Freestyling became a normal thing. Then I started writing, and it just progressed from there,” said Stowers, who performs as KSTOW.
And while Stowers is still set on rapping, he said that coming to Belmont exposed him to more pop and country, which helped to change his perspective on music-making.
“It’s definitely diversified my thought process and how I look at it … I’m still yet to collab with a country or pop artist, but I’m looking forward to it,” said Stowers. “I need to get myself out there.”
Stowers takes any chance to perform that he can get, and has played everything from talent shows to last-second concerts. But he said the thing he is most looking forward to about the showcase is the opportunities that will come afterward.
“I’m tryna work with everybody,” he said.
James Cole. Josef Lloyd
James Cole saw an online video of ’19 alumnae Bren Joy performing at a Belmont showcase the year before he enrolled, and he’s wanted to take the same stage ever since.
“Seeing his got me really excited about the school. After seeing it at a young age, I’ve always wanted to do it,” said Cole.
Cole defines his sound as “pop R&B,” but his music didn’t start out that way.
Originally from Tampa Bay, Florida, Cole first started singing as a part of his school’s chapel services in the fifth grade.
“Around seventh grade, I decided I didn’t want to just stand up there and sing, so I picked up guitar,” said Cole.
Cole grew up listening to contemporary Christian music, which led to many of his early originals taking on a more acoustic, singer-songwriter sound.
“I knew that I wanted to sing secular music. I just played what I heard but wrote what I felt,” he said.
It wasn’t until he came to Belmont that Cole fell in love with R&B, which he said is still his favorite genre. While he has performed live before, he is excited about the possibilities that performing at a Belmont showcase brings.
“Everything is very customizable, and I really like that. It really gives the artists the experience of having their own show,” he said.
Sheldon Smith. Josef Lloyd
“I feel like R&B music is all about feeling,” said commercial voice sophomore Sheldon Smith. “It’s feel-good music and it connects to your soul.”
And Smith’s music is a part of his being.
Growing up in a family of singers and attending a Baptist church granted him many opportunities to sing gospel, furthering his vital vocal style.
Saturday will mark the Houstonian’s second time on Hip-Hop/R&B bill at Belmont.
“Last year, for a lot of different variables, it just was not my time yet,” Smith said. The soulful singer found his freshman showcase difficult, he said, with the pandemic limiting his opportunities to perform and practice, plus the fact there was no live audience to watch the 2021 showcase series.
This year, the sophomore and his band are prepared and excited for what lies ahead.
“We have such an amazing and incredibly talented lineup,” he said. “Everyone’s just gonna do an amazing job. I’m really excited to just support my other artists because if we don’t support each other, who else will?”
“Just come out and support and enjoy some good music from all of us. And as for Sheldon Smith and his band, we’re in it to win it,” he said.
Jake Whipple. Josef Lloyd
Songwriting freshman Jake Whipple was destined for the stage.
Born into a highly musical family, both his parents are members of Farmer’s Daughter, a Tuscaloosa rock band which opened for Earth, Wind & Fire in May 2015.
Though he comes from a rock background, Whipple’s passion for hip-hop began in middle school, inspired by Philadelphia rapper Lil Uzi Vert.
Whipple loves the trap sound but thrives to send his music into the realm of melodic rap, he said, following artists like Daniel Cesar, Anderson .Paak, H.E.R. and Bruno Mars. He believes the three songs he’s bringing to showcase do a good job of replicating that sound.
As the only freshman in the showcase lineup, Whipple is approaching the process with excitement and energy.
“Getting into showcase has really boosted my confidence. I feel like it’s all coming into play and I’m just really grateful for it all,” he said.
While Saturday’s experience will be the largest crowd he’s performed to, Whipple is no stranger to the stage, coming into his own acting in musical theater and playing gigs behind a guitar.
“I just think if I stay here and keep doing what I’m supposed to be doing, things will be looking up.”
As for his showcase set, Whipple said the song he most looks forward to playing is his third and final, “Running Away.”
“It has the most energy to it. I think it’ll end on a high note,” he said. “I’m very excited to be part of this … and I’m also looking forward to hearing what everybody else has to bring to the table as well.”
“I think it’s gonna be a good time.”
PHOTO: From left to right, Kendall Stowers, James Cole and Sheldon Smith. Josef Lloyd
This article was written by A.J. Wuest and Connor Daryani.