Dante Cope: Hip-Hop Artist, Photographer, Music Visionary

Dante Cope may be the perfect representation of what makes Grand Rapids' ultra-collaborative music scene tick.
The hip-hop artist, photographer and musical visionary’s three-year-old Couture Tape Co-Operative gives an online home to a robust bunch of musicians and visual artists who trade services, post new works, share experiences and bolster each other’s projects with their creative talents. 

That’s because as an emerging musician on Grand Rapids’ hip-hop scene, Cope, 28, quickly recognized that many up-and-coming performers needed resources and help on the business side of things, from artist development and graphic design to marketing and booking.

Consequently, the initial aim of the co-operative started by Cope and Jamaal Cannon in 2009 was "almost as a teaching mechanism... teaching artists how to conduct business... and just to showcase different styles of music. Grand Rapids in general has a ton of great musicians and a lot of unique musicians, but there’s not always an outlet for those guys. As far as artists go, you need exposure."

And because different artists boast different talents beyond creating music -- from photography to business acumen to visual art to production -- the co-operative has become a place where musicians can solicit help for their projects or lend a hand to others, while posting their artwork, videos, and music for the world to see.

The site (@ctc616 on Twitter) is lovingly subtitled, "A collective of DJs, artists, and simply cool ass people wanting to increase the quality of entertainment in Grand Rapids and the world."

Even Cope's new album, Atticus & Atilla, a deliciously inventive affair that meshes mesmerizing instrumentation with compelling rhymes, has mined that collaborative spirit: A host of singers, musicians, and guest stars pitch in, including rappers El Nino, Autopilot, Duke Greene, and Cope's roommate, Suport.

Indeed, Cope says many Grand Rapids music projects become team efforts with a you-scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours approach: A film director might produce a music video for an artist who would, in turn, create a soundtrack for that director’s upcoming movie.

"We're tapping into each other’s talents," Cope says of the co-operative which now consists of a core of 10 to 15 musicians, videographers, photographers, and visual artists.

That’s important, Copes says, because he subscribes to the notion that a musician and performer must pay close attention to every facet of one’s art, including marketing and appearance. "How you present yourself, it’s all part of your art," he insists. "Everything in music from when you get on stage to when you get off, it’s all a show and about entertainment."

The co-op is just one slice of a Grand Rapids music scene that Cope insists has become uber-collaborative and friendly in recent years, a nurturing environment that cuts across genres with musicians and singers frequently contributing to each other’s recordings and performances. It’s a quality sometimes missing in other communities.

"It's pretty much open," says Cope, who started by performing at the Division Avenue Arts Collective (The DAAC). "I can call people if I need a singer for this song or a guitar player. Everybody’s cool, approachable."

Cope, aka Brandon Copeland (he created his stage name from his middle name and part of his last name), embraced the Grand Rapids music scene -- and the spirit of the DAAC, in particular -- after moving here from Jackson in 2004 to attend Grand Valley State University. He eventually left school to pursue his musical ambitions.

Raised in a home where his mom was a piano teacher, Cope plays keyboards, saxophone, guitar, and woodwinds. His diverse musical influences range from old-school superstars Stevie Wonder and Curtis Mayfield to Busta Rhymes and East Coast hip-hop, a broad palette that etches his music with an enticing, singular hue.

"I never considered myself a rapper, because I sing, too," he offers. "I never limited myself to doing hip-hop music. I have a lot of different influences and I want to capture all of that."

Cope -- who also has played saxophone with the psychedelic band The Extra Texture and jazz with Hugo Claudin -- has performed at The Pyramid Scheme, Con Artist Crew gallery, and Billy's Lounge, among other venues. Most recently, he appeared March 1 at The Pyramid Scheme as part of the "Twiz Presents NTS: The Palindrome Infection Comedy Hip-Hop & Live Art Showcase."

Ultimately, Cope says, he hopes Grand Rapids’ supportive art scene -- through ventures such as The Couture Tape Co-Operative, DAAC, and others -- can spawn even more collaborations to help performers build audiences, gain exposure, and give them a foundation for success.

"When I first started, there wasn't a lot of direction as far as how to go about booking and getting shows. I didn't want that (music scene) to die because we had opened a lot of doors for hip-hop in Grand Rapids," he says. "The music scene is budding and we need this, almost like a union of musicians."

Music critic and entertainment writer John Sinkevics comments on the local and national music scene at localspins.com (Spins on Music), and spotlights artists at 10 a.m. Wednesdays on Local Spins Live on News Talk 1340 AM (WJRW).

Photography by Adam Bird

Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.