Skip to content Skip to sidebar Skip to footer

MarKaus: More brand than artist at Media Fresh Records

Media Fresh Records

One Des Moines musician is finding a niche in his hometown. And, as he sits inside the DSM Brew Coffee Co. at the 300 MLK complex in downtown Des Moines, the comparisons become more and more evident.

There’s the rooftop bar, one floor above Anytime Fitness. Fuzzy’s Taco Shop and Blaze Pizza are side by side on the main level. Twenty feet south is DSM Brew Coffee Co., the coffee shop that displays its “GET WOKE” slogan in neon lights and offers alcoholic beverages alongside espressos.

There’s a lot going on here, and there’s a lot going on with MarKaus Ashworth.

Ashworth—better known by the stage name MarKaus—has sat through more than a few meetings in the past 12 months. He’s a rapper born and bred in Des Moines, and the founder of Media Fresh Records. He’s also one of the busiest men in town, seeming to always have a new enterprise brewing.

“I love these meetings because it gives me the opportunity to drink in the middle of the day,” says Ashworth, laughing beneath the snapback he rarely takes off while holding the midday beer he just ordered from DSM Brew. “When I’m in meetings, I hate being the awkward guy not drinking coffee.”

Terms like “market research” and “capital firms” roll off the tongue as naturally as “dope” and “fly.”

Plans come easily for Ashworth, one big idea after another.

“It’s been daunting,” he says. “But for me, it’s never been scary.” 

MarKaus performing at 8035. Photo by Jeremy Kim Photography

Staying fresh

Media Fresh Records has several artists, MarKaus, Young Tripp, Emmett Phillips, Typ-O and King Wylde.

“We’ve compiled the best MCs in the state,” Ashworth says. “We are willing to bet any type of money on that. There is not an MC in the state, in the region, that is banging on Media Fresh MCs.”

But the music is only part of the story.

Ashworth considers his company a “creative firm,.” rather than a label. The vision for Media Fresh Records includes podcasts, apparel, visual arts and music.

Unlike a lot of other rappers, MarKaus isn’t looking to make his mark with rhymes alone. He wants to create worth in his name, to build a business inspired by his current lifestyle.

“Making dope songs doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re being a professional musician,” he says. “I wouldn’t feel comfortable moving around in music if I didn’t know how the business works if I didn’t know how simple consumerism works.”

And Ashworth is starting his own gluten-free, hemp-infused vodka line—Ziyad—that should be hitting stores’ top shelves in March. 

Media Fresh Records
MarKaus Ashworth, founder of Des Moines-based Media Fresh Records. Adam Rogan/Clay & Milk

Reaching the People

Ashworth says he has a love-hate relationship with streaming services.

On one hand, it’s really easy to reach listeners. With one click, “the whole world will get (my music). That’s beautiful,” he says. “My music is so attainable.”

But on the other hand, it’s nearly impossible to sustain a substantial income that way. “How many streams do you need to get on Spotify to make it matter?” he questions.

With the minuscule payout for streams on Spotify or YouTube, having a lot of views doesn’t directly translate into “success” for MarKaus. Music simply drives MarKaus’ brand, which he hopes will sustain his other ventures.

“For me, success would be if I could say ‘I’ve got 10 states where I am the dominant MC in those states. I set the tone, I set the culture, I’m the number one sold beverage, I’m the number one clothing line,’” he says. “You can gauge your music success by the success of the product you attach to it.” It’s more than just dollars and cents and streams.

MarKaus started producing music in college at Iowa State University.

“I was dope as hell,”  Ashworth says of his early raps.

Now 27, Ashworth considers himself “THE artist of Des Moines.” He graduated from Iowa State University in 2014 with degrees in marketing and sociology, both informing pretty much every business decision he makes now. He’s attracted investors and endorsements to fund his ventures and reduces costs by producing music from his home studio.

Gearing Up For 2018

Ashworth is planning on releasing two albums in 2018, which should be a technical leap from his full first release White Man’s Burden in 2015. 


“There are rappers in cities, you’ll see them pop and nothing benefits in the neighborhood. Not even like a street sign gets built, not a playground, nothing,” Ashworth says. “I could become a multi-millionaire if I make my music hot and I just market all of my music properly in Iowa. I don’t have to go anywhere.”

In fall 2016, Ashworth started Fresh Fest, branded as “Iowa’s first hip-hop festival.” It started out with a couple hundred attendees at the Des Moines Social Club. Year two saw it grow to an outdoor event downtown. It was sponsored by Monster Energy Drinks and Heineken, featured a fashion show, rap battles, and hosted more than 25 vendors, including a black business expo.

Ashworth says year three will make the last two festivals look like “practice runs.” He’s not allowed to reveal the headliner but is clearly itching to shout it in the quiet coffee shop on a Friday afternoon.

He’s excited about what (all) he’s doing.

Adam Rogan is a contributor to Clay & Milk 

MarKaus: More brand than artist at Media Fresh Records | Clay & Milk
A central Iowa ag-tech accelerator has secured more backers and finally has a name. The Greater Des Moines Partnership first announced the accelerator last year, naming four initial investors. On Monday, the Partnership said the program will be called the "Iowa AgriTech Accelerator" and named three new investors. The new investors include Grinnell Mutual, Kent Corp. and Sukup Manufacturing, all Iowa companies. They join investors Deere & Co., Peoples Co., Farmers Mutual Hail Insurance Co. and DuPont Pioneer. Each investor has agreed to put up $100,000 for the first year of the accelerator. Startups entering the program will receive $40,000 in seed funding in exchange for 6 percent equity. Tej Dhawan, an angel investor and local startup mentor, is serving as interim director until the AgriTech Accelerator names a permanent leader. Dhawan held a similar role with the GIA before Brian Hemesath was named as managing director. As interim director, Dhawan said his main job includes hiring the accelerator's executive director, establishing a business structure and initial recruiting for the first cohort. The accelerator will place few filters, such as location and product, on the applicant pool, Dhawan said. "When you’re seeking innovation, innovation can come from every corner of the world so why restrict ourselves," he said. One area the the AgriTech Accelerator won't recruit from is biotech. For its first cohort, the AgriTech Accelerator will work out of the GIA's space in Des Moines' East Village, Dhawan said. A future, permanent home is still to be decided. The accelerator's program will host startups from mid-July through mid-October, ending with an event connected to the annual World Food Prize. The GIA, which the AgriTech Accelerator is based on, also ends with presentations at an industry event. The accelerator has also started lining up a mentor pool. The Iowa Corn Growers Association, Iowa Soybean Association and the Iowa Pork Producers Association have agreed to provide mentors, as has Iowa State University. While the AgriTech Accelerator is loosely based off of the GIA, it will differ in its business structure, Dhawan said. The GIA runs through a for-profit model for both operations and its investment fund. The AgriTech Accelerator will have a nonprofit model for its operations and a for-profit setup for its fund. Dhawan said the nonprofit model is being used so the accelerator can better work with other nonprofit partners, such as trade associations. "These are all organizations that are nonprofits and can be amazing stakeholders without ever having to be investors in the accelerator," he said. "It becomes easier to work with trade associations in their nonprofit role when we are also a nonprofit." When it's up and running, the AgriTech Accelerator would be one of a handful of ag-focused startup development programs in Iowa. Others include the Ag Startup Engine out of Iowa State University and the Rural Ventures Alliance from Iowa MicroLoan. Matthew Patane is the managing editor and co-founder of Clay & Milk. Send him an email at
This Pop-up Is Included in the Theme
Best Choice for Creatives
Purchase Now