Alive and well: Hip-hop contest brings 'em out
His clothes looked brand new: white sneakers with baby blue highlights, crisp blue jeans, and a wrinkle-free blue t-shirt proclaiming, "Hip-Hop Is Dead." He smiled as he and his group pranced around the stage (and the entire room) rapping about everything and nothing. Even though the name of the outfit was Solo4, there were actually five of them. Only two rapped, but they all seemed to be taking their great big rap joke very seriously. They had practiced hard for this event and didn't want to miss any steps.
In the first real-deal urban music industry showcase to touch down in Charlottesville, Git It Ryte Records and Strong Quality Music held auditions for a talent search competition in New Haven, Connecticut. Because reps of major music labels will attend the Connecticut competition, the opportunity to tryout brought hopeful rappers from all over Virginia, D.C., and Maryland.
About 20 artists showed up for the event. Local hip-hop landmark J-Gifted and C-ville newcomers VA DreamTeam performed sets. Newport News sent South City. Notable in a large contingent of MCs from Buckingham County was a young frail cat by the name of Danjerous.
For the most part, these were some hardcore rappers, with the gangster mentality in the forefront. (On the other side were anti-gangster cats who talked trash about the gangster types.) Either way, the topics were stern and serious. These days, passion for hip-hop seems to be washed with anguish, desperation, or disdain.
Solo4 came all the way from Maryland. The looks on the faces of the other acts waiting to get on stage telegraphed that even if hip-hop wasn't dead, there were going to be about five dead corny rappers from Maryland if that group didn't finish their set quick. But the truth is, hip-hop is far from dead. It has evolved into something serious, a life-or-death art form, a way of life far beyond the laugh-it-up golden age of MC's like the Fat Boys and The Pharcyde.
At the end of the night, Solo4 didn't make the cut, and I wasn't surprised. The way the rap music industry is these days, there just isn't any room for tongue-n-cheek silly rappers.
The night went smoothly, and the top five performers earned the right to perform for label bosses in Connecticut: J-Gifted, Phy-sick, Ananomys, South City, and R&B crooner Jodie.
All in all, I was most impressed by the guest performer, R.E.U.B from D.C., who has a killer style and delivery. He proved to be the best balance of all the rap styles present. Too bad he wasn't eligible to compete. Cats like him are proof that hip-hop is far from dead and folks who think it is are really the ones trying to kill it.
PHOTO BY DAMANI HARRISON