2014 CWMA Winners | Music | Salt Lake City | Salt Lake City Weekly
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2014 CWMA Winners

Westward the Tide, DJ Matty Mo, Better Taste Bureau take top honors in this year's City Weekly Music Awards

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Better Taste Bureau work like underdogs to get to the top.
By Colin Wolf

When Better Taste Bureau first stepped onstage at The Complex on March 1, the entire vibe of the room changed. And toward the end of their set, when they dropped their massive single “Out West”—from their December 2013 release, The Better Taste EP—the audience got instantly rowdy and slammed harder than an early-’90s ONYX show. It was then that showcase judge and Mic Masters CEO Nate Syncronice turned to me with a look of shock perhaps best described as “Macaulay Culkin face.”

There are a lot of factors that play into a quality live hip-hop performance, but, without a doubt, the ability to get the crowd hyped is one of the most important variables of any show. And Better Taste Bureau’s Shaun Bussard, Ben Harris and Mason Brewer have found a way to perfect it.

Like a football coach prepping for a game, BTB film the majority of their gigs, combing over the footage and picking out what works and what doesn’t.

“We look at the film and make some critiques,” Bussard says. “We try to keep it genuine and natural so when we go onstage, everything seems like clockwork.”

Their sets are diesel-injected—no fillers, no love ballads, just bangers and mash. “High-energy sets are what we do best,” Harris says. “For [the CWMAs], we knew we had to be the group with the most energy.”

And the approach paid off. BTB was one of the few groups that really went out of their way to engage the crowd with a healthy dose of call & response tracks: “When I say ‘too many,’ you say ‘hipsters,’” for example.

On a related note, “Too Many” is a track I hope they play when they perform at this summer’s Twilight Concert Series.

“Honestly, hipsters love making fun of other hipsters, so I think it’ll go over pretty well,” Brewer says with a laugh.

It’s this sort of honesty and humor that makes BTB so ridiculously accessible and fun to listen to. Their sound is squeaky clean, well-produced and extremely calculated—every lyric is deliberate and precise, and just about every beat seems to have been washed and rinsed by Brewer’s mad-scientist fingers.

“I think people get into our tracks because they’re catchy and our call & response stuff is pretty simple,” Brewer says. “People just naturally get excited when they see other people putting their hands up and getting live, so crowd interaction is really important.”

However, just existing as a quality high-energy act only goes so far; you still have to get people out to your shows. In their relatively short existence, BTB have nonchalantly thrown some of the best and biggest local hip-hop shows. In April 2013, the release party for their album As Good As It Was packed more than 200 people into The Shred Shed and sold out a week in advance.

“We don’t have a street team or anything like that,” Harris says. “We actually do a lot of promotion ourselves, and we have a very loyal group of friends and fans that love helping us out.”

But even though they have a substantial and dedicated fanbase, BTB are motivated by the self-diagnosed status as Salt Lake City hip-hop underdogs.

“We’ve been underestimated for so long that it’s actually helped us and motivated us to be better,” Harris says.

Being driven to surpass their contemporaries is something BTB has thrived on, but remarkably, they’ve done it with little to no trash talk—a rarity in hip-hop.

“We’re our best critics,” Brewer says. “Every day, we’re constantly reminding each other that a certain bar is sort of whack, or that a beat isn’t necessarily that great. We’re definitely tough on each other, and I think that pushes us to improve.”

In other words, they put in work­—a lot of it. And over the past 12 months, they’ve had a meteoric ascent. They were crowned as U92’s Home Grown Champions in summer 2013 and performed in front of roughly 5,000 people at Summer Jam. In November, they dropped an insanely creative Groundhog Day-inspired rap video for the song “Looking Back,” featuring Luna Lune. And now, Better Taste Bureau is City Weekly’s Rapper (er, rap group?) of the Year.

As a thank-you, the new kings of Salt Lake City leaked “Outliers,” a single off their new album of the same name, due out in April. The track can be heard at BetterTasteBureau.com, and they’ll be making a triumphant return to The Complex on May 3 for the Outliers release party. 

Best Weird Al Moment

One of the biggest surprises of the rap showcase at The Complex was Atheist. Backed by the House of Lewis crew, Atheist’s set was a perfect blend of insane theatrics and quality hip-hop. Though every rapper held it down that evening, Atheist was the only emcee with the balls to not only rock red & black plaid pajamas with a white lab coat, but also sport a giant cut-out mask of his own face. Toward the end of his set, Atheist and Donnie Bonelli ripped off their shirts and chanted, “When I say ‘Utah,’ you say ‘Legalize gay marriage,’ ” to which the crowd reacted with cheers and one of the most genuine slow claps I’ve ever witnessed. (Colin Wolf)