A new recording studio is officially open for business in downtown Syracuse.
Venom Nation Records owner and CEO MarsaQuaon Thomas started from the bottom, hustling to promote local hip-hop artists out of his house for the past six years. In March, he expanded the music label’s footprint by opening 21 Studios on the third floor of the building at 800 N. Salina Street, a stone’s throw from where he grew up.
21 Studios is a recording studio specializing in sound recording, engineering and production for artists on Venom Nation, but is also open to the public for anyone interested in renting studio time. Thomas, 28, said he first acquired the space about a year ago, but getting it ready was a grind, both physically and financially, due to the Covid pandemic.
He suffered another setback earlier this month when he was told he cannot use the space for events, such as artist showcases, despite having enough room for up to 300 people. Thomas said the Assumption Church next door complained after three local artists performed live in 21 Studios as part of a paid audition for Styles P, a New York-based member of The Lox who collaborated with major artists like Diddy (Puff Daddy), Jennifer Lopez and Akon.
Friar Rick Riccioli told syracuse.com that the church, through its lawyer, objected to “a very loud event” between 2-4 am that included some 100 guests.
“The church and the friars are asking the recording studio to act as good neighbors, with any music events to be in conformity with city codes and use restrictions for that property,” the pastor said.
Thomas, also known as V-Lot, still remains optimistic about building a home for music artists and creating jobs in the Syracuse community.
“The goal is to focus on more than just hip-hop, reach out to multiple genres,” he said in an interview with syracuse.com | The Post-Standard. “The goal is to become the biggest label here in Syracuse.”
Thomas, who graduated from Fowler High School in 2013, started Venom Nation on Townsend Street. He wants to stay in Syracuse and keep the local business while helping artists gain a larger audience beyond Central New York.
VNR currently has seven artists signed, including Pesso Banks, Kelz ShowOut, Kye 3D, and a group called NFM (No Future Mistakes) featuring rappers like NFM Breeze, NFM Spazzz, Loodie NFM, and NFM Rell. Thomas also recently added a female artist, who goes by Egypt, to the roster.
“We’ve been building this since we were little kids,” said Kelz ShowOut, whose real name is Mikel Thomas – MarsaQuaon’s brother. “We’ve both been so into music. We started from the projects and now we have a building. ”
Mikel said he focuses on “pain music,” calling the new studio a great place to vent and “let my problems out” in a productive way.
NFM Breeze, a Corcoran High School alumnus whose real name is Tayon Williams, said the studio has quickly become one of his favorite places to hang out.
“It means a lot,” Williams said. “It’s kind of like a home away from home.”
Artist development is an important part of Venom Nation’s mission, MarsaQuaon Thomas said.
“A lot of people, when it comes to music, either they can sing but they can’t write, or you got the people that want to rap or sing but they don’t have that voice to do it, but they can write , ”He explained. “So the goal is to teach them. Like, our artists Kelz Showout, like a long time ago when he started with us … He had trouble getting a flow with the beat so over time we helped him build that. ”
“Our new artist Egypt, she’s still learning how to control her voice,” Thomas added. “She could sing but she doesn’t know how to control her voice, so we’re teaching her how to do that and we’re also teaching her how to write as well.”
Thomas himself started out rapping in high school, but eventually found he was better suited for helping others find success on stage. He added there are opportunities for more people behind the scenes, including ghostwriters for lyrics, which have been used in the music industry for decades.
Some major labels try to mold artists to fit whatever’s the hot trend, such as trap or drill music, but Thomas wants artists to maintain creative control of their identity. He touted Pesso Banks as a versatile singer and rapper in multiple subgenres of hip-hop, while other musicians might be more comfortable with a specific sound.
For now, Thomas is most immediately focused on bringing more artists into the studio and to reach a new agreement allowing for performances and showcases in the building. A GoFundMe page is also seeking donations to help with the rent or to make a down payment to buy the building.
“We have created a safe space for our local artists to come and work on their crafts. From recording artists, to hosting showcases for their chances to have their music heard, ”Thomas said. “Our goal is to be able to continue this wonderful journey and to give back to our city and our youth.”
To contact Venom Nation Records or book studio time at 21 Studios, visit facebook.com/venomnationrecords or call 315-870-9988. VNR artists’ music can be heard on YouTube and at soundcloud.com/vnationvr.
Are you a Syracuse-area musician? Email firstname.lastname@example.org to share your songs, including where to listen / buy them, and a brief blurb about the artist; we’ll periodically publish a list of local music releases.
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