UNION — Two local rap artists have signed with Tate Music Group because of their songs such as “Baby, I Will,” but they are best known in Union County for their “Yellow Jacket Anthem.”
During this season of Union County Yellow Jackets home football games, spectators have heard a special song over the Union County Stadium PA system. The song begins with a hip hop beat and lyrics “black-and-yellow, black-and-yellow, black-and-yellow,” and it is filled with football references and shout outs to the Yellow Jackets. The song is also played during game highlights each week on WBCU.
The artists — collectively known as “Carolina’s Finest” — are local rappers Cody Newton and Chris “Tru” Vanderford.
Newton has performed for virtually his entire life. His first performances were dances in the styles of Michael Jackson and Billy Ray Cyrus at local events when he was four years old. Newton eventually transitioned to acting, landing a role as “Boy No. 3” in the 1998 motion picture The X Files. Newton has also had leading roles in numerous projects such as TV movie “The Last Brickmaker in America,” in which Newton co-starred with the legendary Sydney Poitier.
Newton eventually took interest in rapping, and he began to focus time and effort on that form of self expression.
“I’m not going to lie — I got into rap because of its popularity at the time,” Newton said, explaining that the genre was the most popular among his age group. “I liked it, and it seemed like the thing to do at the time.”
In 2006, he began learning about the studio recording process, purchasing equipment and trying his hand at mixing music.
Vanderford has been rapping for several years, which began with him recording himself with his computer microphone. From there, he made CDs and distributed them — free of charge — to everyone he could.
In 2010, Newton and Vanderford ran into each other at Wal-mart, and naturally, they discussed the art of rap.
“I told him how I liked his video on Youtube,” Vanderford said.
From there, Newton honed his studio skills by recording Vanderford and mixing his sound.
“Finally, I was like, ‘You’re good. I wanna get in there with you,’” Newton said.
That officially marked the birth of the duo “Carolina’s Finest.” They recorded their first CD in Newton’s apartment.
“Cody helped me out a lot with recording and how to be a music artist,” Vanderford said, pointing out that Newton taught him about mixing and sound quality. “Other rappers could learn from Cody. He really helped me, and I give him credit for that.”
Newton and Vanderford said they think outside the box when it comes to their songs.
“We try to come up with creative topics so we don’t fall into the norm,” Newton said.
“For example, last year, Cody did a Halloween-themed rap song,” Vanderford added. “We rap about things we love.”
One of those things is football. Being from Union County, Carolina’s Finest created Yellow Jacket Anthem — a rap tribute to the Union County Yellow Jackets. The duo made hundreds of CDs to distribute during last year’s playoffs, and the song was incorporated into the team’s “Road to State” slide show. This year, the song is played during home games and on WBCU.
“We’ve been surprised at the people from Union who support us and compliment us,” Vanderford said.
Newton mentioned that the popularity of the Yellow Jacket Anthem has helped get their other songs heard by a wider audience. The duo was heard by someone at Tate Music Group and they were signed to a contract, which they hope will lead to radio air play and studio time in Oklahoma City where Tate Music Group is based.
Newton and Vanderford both have busier schedules now than when they started, as Newton is a student at Spartanburg Community College (via the Union County Advanced Technology Center) and Vanderford works third shift at Gonvauto. Nevertheless, they said they are hustling harder than ever to get their music out to the public. All of their spare time is spent recording — which they often have to do at separate times — or distributing CDs.
“When we do a CD, we push it,” Vanderford said, mentioning they utilize Youtube and Facebook in addition to distributing free CDs.
Carolina’s Finest’s new mix tape “Save the South a Piece” will “drop” later this month.
“The goal is just to continue to make music,” Newton said. “That’s the main thing.”
“We just want to be heard,” Vanderford said.