The apartment complex where Harrison Montgomery lives is populated with creatives. Tyler Reese, co-vocalist of local hip-hop group Scenic Byway, lives below him, and Nick Romer, the band's trumpet player, lives in the next building. "I always hear acoustic guitar and a beautiful woman's singing voice coming through the wall," Montgomery says. "Guy down there? Dances ballet."
Montgomery is probably more familiar as Erasole James of the popular Salt Lake City hip-hop group Dine Krew. So he's accustomed to—and clearly enjoys—being surrounded by fellow artists. He shares this apartment with his girlfriend Kenzie Udseth, and their artwork, as well as that of their friends, adorns every wall.
"Art," Montgomery says, "is like currency here. I trade paintings, mixtapes, Dine Krew CDs ..." He steps quickly around the couch to his coffee table, picks something up, brushes it off, and hands it over for inspection. "Tyler makes things out of polyurethane. One day, I gave him a piece of art and the very next day, he brought me this rolling tray."
Roughly the size of a placemat, the mint-green tray has black Rorschach swirls that, if you stare closely enough, resemble intricate fractals. "He said it's an accident." The look on Montgomery's face says he loves it nonetheless, partly because of the mutual exchange of art.
Montgomery is talkative and affable, a storyteller. Those qualities likely came in handy when he was invited to join his friends in Dine Krew—especially since he wasn't even into hip-hop at the time. He got a crash course when he transferred from West High to East High, joining his friends Shelby Washington, Larsen Bernard and Josh Marty, along with Judge Memorial student Gus Robertson, to form "the core of the Dine."
At West High, Montgomery was doing his "emotional, Jackass/CKY, 'fuck the world' thing. Hip-hop took me out of that—boom, instantly." Dine Krew invited him into the group just before an end-of-year talent show in 2008. As a hip-hop tenderfoot, Montgomery had no real influences, no role models or inspirations. Except the ones surrounding him.
"I wasn't comfortable with it," he says. "I was embarrassed, and I was shy." Montgomery wrote a single verse to perform with the group. He doesn't recall the lyrics, but says it's preserved "somewhere on Facebook." Dine Krew's first gig was a hit.
His appetite for beats and rhymes whetted, Montgomery plunged into hip-hop music, growing along with Dine Krew. Together, they rose to the top of the SLalt Lake City hip-hop scene, spawning side and solo projects along the way. Montgomery himself has dropped two albums with Dine Krew producer Piccolo as WE-ET's, and two solo projects. In August, he put out the full-length Tawa's Nephew (EraJames.Bandcamp.com), a multifaceted tour de force written over two years, created with 11 different producers (including Piccolo) and incorporating jazz, psychedelia and Native American influences Montgomery absorbed from performing with Dine Krew. Last month, he debuted the EP No Time for Era (Damn Son). Both find Montgomery, whose stage name Erasole signifies that it's time for him to emerge as an artist, having become a sly wordsmith and skilled emcee.
But he's not about to leave his Krew, where he learned the hip-hop ropes. "Larsen and Shelby really shaped me into the emcee I am today," Montgomery says. "'Cause I never really knew much about music. I wasn't a historian and never tried to be. I know I'm ignorant to music culture nowadays. I know I should know more about the birth of hip-hop."
Except he's proof that you don't need to know everything to make great hip-hop music; all you really need is confidence, and an emotional connection. "Anybody can do it, no matter where you're from, no matter who you are," he says. "Those guys made me do it because I saw how much fun they were having, and how positively it affected their lives. Hip-hop, and the brotherhood of Dine Krew, really brought us all together in that super special way that no one could imitate, ever."