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Sioux City hip-hop artists assemble for upcoming album, Hometown Heroes

ADVISORY: This video contains explicit language.

Five artists. One house. Three weekends. How producer AMMixes came up with the idea for Hometown Heroes, a collaborative album featuring rappers Psychedelic Sidekick, Sifu the Sensei, Gifo and Johnny Marz.

As Psychedelic Sidekick nestled further into the cocoon he’d fashioned out of loose studio blankets, Gifo also began to doze off. Johnny and Anthony were both at home, so they’d taken to their respective bedrooms. After logging 60+ hours of studio time, most of the guys were in desperate need of a nap.

Only Sifu the Sensei, still groggy but nevertheless ready to rap, remained. Sifu had miscalculated and slept right through the group’s taco truck break a few hours prior. He now found himself wide awake and taco-less, but safe from the post-taco comatose gripping his studiomates. Out of sync with the rest, all he could do was wait.

“I wanna hear those beats so bad, man,” said Sifu, unable to do anything without a producer in the room. This was one of the quieter moments from an otherwise bumper-to-bumper weekend of album creation––the third of three such weekends in early 2022.

Fortunately, Sifu would not have to wait long––three, maybe four episodes of Attack on Titan, which he’d thrown onto the studio monitor in the interim––before the gang began to trickle back into consciousness. Soon, the Hometown Heroes express was back on track. With Psychedelic, Gifo and Sifu slated to head back to Sioux City early Sunday morning, time was running out to finish that last song.

The Producer: Anthony "AMMixes" Maldonado"

They were all in the studio working on the Hometown Heroes project. It all began when Anthony Maldonado, the driving force behind the record, sought to produce an album that would literally hit close to home.

“I'm from Sioux City,” said Maldonado. “That's where I moved out here from so, it's like, let me put on for my hometown. Let me put people on to some sh-t that they're doing out there. Because they've been doing really great since I've left. The music scene…has just grown far from when I was last living in Sioux City.”

Anthony Maldonado, the driving force behind the Hometown Heroes project, sought to produce an album that would literally hit close to home.
Lucius Pham
IPR Studio One
Anthony Maldonado, the driving force behind the Hometown Heroes project, sought to produce an album that would literally hit close to home.

Maldonado, known professionally as AMMixes, grew up in Sioux City where he met friend and collaborator Johnny Marz. Together, they left Iowa to pursue degrees in music and audio production at the Conservatory of Recording Arts and Sciences (CRAS) in Arizona.

Following graduation in 2013, the pair jumped around a bit: first to Atlanta, where Maldonado landed a recording internship, then back to Sioux City, ultimately landing in Des Moines where the two now live and work.

Growing up, both Maldonado and Johnny credit Sioux City native Elroy (@elroysbeats) with not only inspiring their early hip-hop efforts, but also elevating the hometown standard. Described by both as a mentor and a peer, Elroy embodies the goal of the Hometown Heroes project: the idea of challenging and uplifting everyone in the space.

So as not to crumble under the weight of such a bold and declarative title, Maldonado knew that in order to call his project Hometown Heroes, he’d have to enlist the very best beatmakers in the 712. Both Elroy and fellow Sioux City producer/CRAS alum Cesar, AKA Gifted Innovational (@giftedisthename), were tapped to provide the album with a solid foundation of beats.

With the instrumentals secured, and Johnny always on hand to provide vocals, Maldonado had most of the pieces of the puzzle. At the beginning of 2022, the rest fell into place.

“The way it really all came together was Johnny was throwing one of his shows and Psychedelic was going to be on the [bill],” said Maldonado. “And then he just so happened to bring Sifu and Gifo with him. So I was like ‘Yo if they’re already gonna be out here, this will just be the group for the project.’”

"Rap Camp"

“There’s very few things in my life that make me feel like a kid again,” said Psychedelic. “So getting with the homies and knowing we’re about to just throw down all weekend, have fun––rapping. Call it rap camp.”

Three weekends, 72-hours each. Every moment in pursuit of one goal: one wholly collaborative album. As the story goes, weekend one started off strong, with Sifu rolling up his sleeves.

Working on the album in the studio
Lucius Pham
IPR Studio One
Working on the album in the studio

“I think that kind of set the tone for the intention of what I wanted out of [the weekend],” said Maldonado. “I wanted everyone to put their best foot forward at all times on this project. When it’s all said and done every verse you hear, everything you hear on this project is a representation of everyone’s best foot forward.”

The competitive spirit came out pretty much immediately, and by all accounts, it never left.

“I remember when I sat down,” said Gifo, “[Sifu was] like ‘Chill.’ [Because] I sat down and started typing right away.”

Sifu laughed and replied, “I would glance over at your notepad, like ‘this dude’s got a lot written!’ Look back at mine, I got like four lines down. Gifo’d say he got a paragraph, I’m like ‘Damn, this m-therf-cker’s on it!’”

Johnny Marz doubled down.

“Just being in the room with all these people just helps introduce new creative processes,” said Johnny Marz. “Because now it’s like ‘Oh maybe I want to try coming at this song like this,’ rather than how I would normally do it.”

This new, freeform rap camp experience was foreign to the guys visiting from Sioux City, but not to the ex-pats. In October of 2020, DeadStock Entertainment, an independent music collective of which Johnny Marz and Maldonado are both members, hosted a unique album recording experience that walked, in order for Hometown Heroes to run.

Dozens of Des Moines-based creatives including rappers, producers, videographers and artists of all stripes flooded the DeadStock campus and gathered together for 72 hours of unadulterated creation. With a constantly revolving front door, guests were encouraged to bring themselves and let the environment do the rest. The result? A 15-track monster mixtape titled 1810, with standout tracks like “All Star Shooter Squad,” “The Lions Den” and “Down 4 You.”

Maldonado, chief audio engineer and general overseer of the 1810 project (who also provided narration to the album’s outro, “Thank You”) learned a lot from the process and sought to replicate its success. Only next time, instead of Des Moines creatives, he’d recruit from Sioux City. And instead of 72 hours, he’d triple it.

“I think a lot of them [are] on production that I wouldn’t normally hear them on,” said Maldonado. “A lot of them are rapping like I’ve never heard them rap before. It even impressed me. A lot of them, it’s my first time hearing them in certain pockets, hopping on beats they don’t normally hop on and it’s impressing me.”

The Spark

“Outside of me wanting to produce a project for Sioux City, or produce four projects this year,” said Maldonado, “outside of that, the more important part for me is just to ignite a fire. I want them to go back home, go back to Sioux City and continue to make the best music they make throughout this year. I want this to be the spark for the new year.”

Already, it appears, Maldonado was successful in his venture.

“I’m just getting excited for the year,” said Gifo back in February. “It’s literally not even March yet, and so much is already happening.”

And a lot has happened. Following the last Hometown Heroes weekend, Gifo released his first full-length album, Never Late Is Better. A week after that, he shared the visual for the project’s first track, “Smoke”––shot by NastyCo.

All of the hometown heroes are juggling multiple projects of their own. This individual drive and proven work ethic is what made this particular collection of Sioux City sh-t talkers and beat makers so attractive to Maldonado, who appreciates their determination and dedication over three weekends.

Hoping to executive produce four projects in 2022, Maldonado is expected to drop Hometown Heroes sometime in “the second quarter.”

Lucius Pham is a writer, producer and videographer based in Des Moines, where he graduated with a bachelor’s of journalism & mass communication from Drake University. Since 2022, Lucius has profiled artists for IPR News and Studio One, including Dionne Warwick, Ginuwine, Pictoria Vark, GZA, McKinley Dixon, spill tab, Ted Park, Caleb Elliott and many more.