20 Years Awesome works to create space for hip-hop in Cedar Rapids
“Music was everything,” said Rick Noggle from behind the counter of his vintage store, 20 Years Awesome, located in downtown Cedar Rapids. “Work was not relevant. Money was not relevant.” Writing, recording and performing under the name imperfekt for roughly two decades, music was Noggle’s main focus—his baby, even—until he had an actual child. Then his world changed.
Even if you knew nothing of Noggle’s past when stepping into the store, it’s hard to miss the trademarks of his personality which grace the storefront: the personally sourced, thrifted merchandise reflects the man’s continuous hustle, while the shop’s aesthetic is ripe with reverence for urban culture, with a mobile graffiti wall corralling the retail space and hip-hop CDs from Noggle’s personal collection on the speakers.
A b-boy at heart, Noggle began rapping in the late-’90s before incorporating graffiti and breakdancing into his repertoire. In 2005 he purchased an MPC beat machine from eBay to help advance his craft. This led to a string of self-produced releases throughout the late-2000s into the mid-2010s, including 2011’s Tunes for Improvement, which Little Village Magazine praised for its “laid back, raw, breakbeat style.” "Tunes for Improvement was the best thing I ever made back then,” said Noggle, reflecting with a bit of melancholy in his voice. “When I look back on stuff it just makes me think about how much more—that all I was doing. That was my full life.”
Super Fresh Saturdays
From 2006 to 2012 Noggle produced Super Fresh Saturdays, a live event series celebrating hip-hop culture, across various Cedar Rapids venues. This led to the creation of Super Fresh Culture Fest, which ran annually from 2012 to 2014. At the final event, Illinois-based graffiti artist Stuk One created the mural that now adorns 20 Years Awesome. “I've had the graffiti wall in my garage since 2014,” said Noggle, adding that it also served as stage dressing when he curated the hip-hop stage at the 319 Festival a few years later.
“I've always been looking around at empty spots,” he said, commenting on the lack of a proper outlet in Cedar Rapids for live hip-hop. "I've always been wanting to open a venue, more [out of] necessity, so I could do shows." "I went to college for a few semesters at Kirkwood for Business Management,” he continued. “One of my final projects was opening a music venue so I did a bunch of research [on] how to do that kind of stuff. It all came full circle back to this.”
Cedar Rapids isn’t a beacon for hip-hop culture, but for over two decades Noggle has been trying to buck that trend. Not unlike the mission behind Super Fresh Saturdays and the Super Fresh Culture Fest, when describing the ethos behind 20 Years Awesome Noggle said, "[I’m] trying to put something here that's not here." The store took another step toward providing something unique to the city when it welcomed sneaker sellers Ashton Wilkins and Krase Baker into the store for a pop-up shop this past summer. The collaboration went so well that the duo, operating as Sole Street, have since set up permanent residency in the back of the storefront where they buy, sell and trade high-end sneakers.
Wilkins began selling sneakers several years ago, including a few successful appearances at the Kick-it Iowa City sneaker expo, and a spot at the 2014 Super Fresh Culture Fest where he and Noggle first met. It wasn’t until the past year where he connected with high school friend and avid sneaker collector Baker, but the collaboration with Noggle is what helped the duo bring their idea to fruition. “None of this could happen without my man Rick,” said Wilkins.
“Everybody knew Rick as a rapper,” said Baker. “Growing up around here you knew Rick.” It hasn’t been a lack of passion that’s diverted Noggle’s focus from music, so much as a natural shift in priorities that came with becoming a husband and father. "It was a struggle when he was first born,” said Noggle, speaking of his now-seven year old. “Just trying to figure it out. Diapers and all that stuff is all expensive, so I was not doing great financially." In a bid to make his finances work, Noggle tried his hand at several jobs before landing in construction, which was his main gig until the pandemic took hold. "I just had to figure it out. Here I am now, thinking about music all the time but not really making it that much."
S.L.U.R.N. (Super Lyrical Underground Rap Nerds)
Among his contemporaries, Noggle isn’t alone in his dilemma of balancing the passions of his younger self with the responsibilities of his modern life. Several others among the Mic Hand Crew, a midwest hip-hop collective of which Noggle was a member, have moved on from music, themselves. "Within a three or four year span we all kind of got married and had kids and we're all kind of just doing that now."
That isn’t to say that Noggle is done making music, only that “it’s just on the back-burner.” While he hasn’t released new music for several years, he also hasn’t given it up. Noggle will be performing October 28 in Dubuque, opening for Carnage the Executioner at Esther’s Lounge. He added that he and Case the Joint, who is also on that bill, have a project they’ve been working on “slowly but surely,” tentatively titled "S.L.U.R.N." (short for "Super Lyrical Underground Rap Nerds").
When asked whether he has a musical legacy in the city, Noggle was quick to reply. "I do, I absolutely do. It's pretty cool really." Despite the changes that life has delivered, or maybe because of them, what accompanies a visible longing to create is a sense of gratitude for what he’s already created; one that might not have developed in the same way had life not worked out as it did. “I could never make music again and be completely comfortable with it because I got what I was trying to do,” said Noggle. "I don't have to do anything anymore and I feel accomplished musically."