Nate Avis grew up in the hip-hop mecca of Chicago and moved to Denver in 2014. Once here, he had a hard time finding local rappers. But after making some connections, in 2017 he started a blog called Jiggy Hip-Hop and began writing about talent that other outlets were ignoring. Through the blog, Avis established himself as part of the local hip-hop community.
Now he's taking his work championing Denver's best to another level by launching a series of collectible rapper trading cards.
"I've collected sports cards — and when I was a kid, Pokémon cards and stuff — for pretty much two decades now," Avis says. "Being a huge fan of hip-hop, there was never a collectible product that was similar to a baseball card or a Pokémon card. So just as an art project, originally, I re-created old Topps baseball card designs, and instead of having the baseball players on there, I would put famous rappers like Tupac."
He started posting his designs on Reddit and Instagram, and received rave reviews.
"Over quarantine, I made new original designs of my own and put in local rappers that I had relationships with," he explains. "I reached out to them, and they were all just head over heels about it, which was really exciting. A few of them asked me if I was planning on actually printing them, so I decided that it was worth a shot to try and do this."
One of the first rappers Avis reached out to with the concept was Ramond, who was born and raised in Aurora.
"I loved the idea," says Ramond. "I honestly was wondering why it had never been done before. So when he approached me, I was all in the second I heard it. When he was telling me about the project, I was thinking how rare it would have been to have like a ’92 Tupac card or something like that. Like, really, how has this not been done? I think it's an amazing idea, so I had to get involved, for sure."
"Ramond was the very first artist that came to mind for me, for a variety of reasons," Avis explains. "Number one is, I've built a relationship with him ever since I started Jiggy Hip-Hop. But also, Ramond is just a great person, a great artist. I feel like he is absolutely a top-five Colorado rapper.
As for Reco, "I'd developed a relationship with him," says Avis. "I really enjoyed his music, and I realized he has irons in many fires. He has connections all over the city. His influence really goes beyond the music; he has an influence in the community, which is something that I value."
Reco encouraged Avis to check out Rachel Bailey, part of MPACT Records. He was drawn to her because she was a talented singer with a strong media presence, and he liked that she veered toward R&B.
Jay Triiiple was another natural choice. "When you think about Denver hip-hop, she's one of the first names to come up," says Avis. "She's been repping the city hard ever since I heard about her. It feels like she embodies the Denver scene and sound, so I definitely wanted her to be a part of it."
Finally, Avis chose Kent Washington, impressed by his recent growth.
"We've known each other since I started the blog, and he was one of the first artists to really reach out to me and want to work with me," Avis recalls. "In the past year, he's really started to do bigger things. He's put on events that he organized completely by himself; he's gotten sponsors from some bigger companies like Diego Pellicer, the dispensary. Just seeing the growth that he's shown, I really wanted him to be a part of it as well."
Although Avis came up with the initial trading card sketches, he wanted the artists to have a chance to customize their designs.
"This was something that I wanted to collaborate on with the artists themselves," he says. "I wanted it to be a piece of art that they were proud to share and show people. I came up with five different templates, and they were all inspired by sports card designs. So one of the main ones that a handful of artists ended up picking is like a remix on a vintage baseball card design. It takes inspiration from the ’50s and ’60s. [There's a] kind of old-school feel to the card. I liked the juxtaposition of that vintage, pastel-colored Americana with a very modern art form and artists. But there are some slight variations in each design based on what the artist indicated they wanted."
He also offered the artists some more flashy, modern designs, and let them customize things like colors, fonts, and the information on each card, which includes a short bio, the artist's social media handles and a list of their career accomplishments.
The process of condensing an entire career onto a 2.5-inch x 3.5-inch card was no small task, says Ramond. In sports, athletes are defined by their stats, while musicians are judged by the influential things they've done and their stories.
"That was kind of challenging, to try and narrow down everything you've done to seven bullet points, but it was cool at the same time," says Ramond. "Nate suggested some things, but for the most part, he gave us control over which ones we wanted to hit on."
How does Ramond feel about having his own trading card?
"It's almost surreal, honestly," he says. "It's like you start at the beginning of doing music just...doing music. Then you start accomplishing things, but you never really know how it will go, what's going to come of it or what kind of opportunities you'll get. So I would say it's surreal. It's amazing — even the idea that he had. But to be one of the first artists that he thought of, I think that's amazing."
Avis's rapper trading cards are available for purchase at micdropcreations.com.