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Although Denver doesn't have a reputation as a national hip-hop mecca, Jeffrey McWhorter, aka Kingdom, believes it's only a matter of time before the scene is acknowledged--as long as the artists and fans in the community support one another.
"You'll never see me talk down any rapper in Colorado," he vows. "I'll give them credit for anything that he's doing. He could be doing anything else, but he's out making his dream come true by becoming a hip-hop artist." He adds, "We need to unify. That's the only way we're going to make it. One rapper from the state is not going to put Colorado on the map; it's going to take a group of clout to put us out there. But if we keep stabbing each other in the back, we're never going to make it. You don't earn respect by disrespecting others."
Unfortunately, a certain percentage of locals don't subscribe to this theory--something that became painfully evident to Kingdom after he bested his competition in the hip-hop/funk category at the third annual Westword Music Awards Showcase last fall. Although he received plenty of congratulatory responses, a handful of his peers challenged the legitimacy of his title. "I was very disappointed," he concedes, "because as a Colorado artist, no matter who wins that award, you should respect that artist instead of talking about that artist and saying because he doesn't have an album out, he shouldn't be on the ballot. That's like blaming the public, who basically voted. And it was out of my hands then." Had another performer won the plaudit, he insists, "I would have congratulated them and kept on working on my album."
His efforts since then have paid off. I Reign Omnipotent, which reaches area CD stores this week, is a professional-sounding disc that should squash the protests of naysayers and playa haters who feel that Kingdom is not worthy of the crown he proudly wears on the album's cover (designed by Pen & Pixel Graphics, of Master P fame). It's too soon to know if he'll someday rule the Colorado hip-hop world, but it's not beyond the realm of possibility.
Born in Poughkeepsie, New York, and raised in the Los Angeles area, Kingdom became a rap fan at the tender age of eight; Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five and Afrika Baambaataa were among the old-schoolers who first caught his ears. When he was fifteen, he moved to Denver and began beat-boxing. He subsequently enrolled at the University of Northern Colorado in Greeley, and upon his return to the Mile High City, he polished his rapping skills. His first producer, Sla-T, was impressed by the results. "I auditioned for him by freestyling," Kingdom recalls. "And he liked it. So he started making beats for me, and I started writing rhymes--and we've evolved ever since."
In the years that followed, Kingdom steadily broadened his reach. He has the distinction of being the first Colorado artist to be included on an Urban National Network compilation, and he contributed a track to The Bizness, a CD companion to a movie assembled by producer Hakeem Abdul Khaaliq. (Kingdom also appears in the film, which chronicles the state's hip-hop community; it's scheduled for release this summer.) And he's established himself as an opening act for national hip-hop acts, having appeared on the bill at a recent Fox Theatre date starring Kool Keith ("Brother From Another Planet," January 22) and at a performance in Vail in advance of Common, the X-ecutioners and Roots member/human beat-box Rhazeel, with whom Kingdom hopes to collaborate in the future. But although he's honored to share stages with such esteemed acts, Kingdom admits to being frustrated by the failure of national promotion firms to provide even more opportunities for exposure. "I give props to Boulder; they give local hip-hop respect," he allows. "But the big promoters who bring in the Puff Daddys and who are bringing in everybody else, they don't give us any respect. Usually the promoters who bring in those kinds of artists are from other states, so they're not trying to hear anything from a local hip-hop scene."
A listen to I Reign Omnipotent might change their minds. Following a coronation theme, the disc blasts directly into "The Killing Spree," a track whose lyric Kingdom identifies as his favorite. The boastful rhymes play on Outbreak, a Dustin Hoffman flick about a deadly virus: "My lines will spread through your body like Outbreak/Bleed from your ears and eyes/Commit suicide of your mental state/I told you/Your insides will liquefy when I whisper in your ear/It's time for you to die." Clearly, Kingdom has no doubts about his skills. "For me to tell you that, I'm an ill motherfucker," he says. "My lyrics are not simple lyrics. You have to listen to them; you have to critique them. That's what I try to do on my album. I try to make it difficult--not a simplistic form."
If the album consisted solely of braggadocio and violent imagery, it would be easy to dismiss it as derivative gangsta rehash. However, Omnipotent contains several uplifting numbers, such as "Who's the Future," a song inspired by the death of Kingdom's friend Shaka Franklin, who committed suicide in 1990, and "Black Family," which Kingdom says is "about raising our family, and how we've got to stop all this gang violence and start becoming a family like we used to be." The tune also contains a couplet in which Kingdom confesses, "Some of the fruit I give/Is not the best fruit I give to my people"--and this point is underlined by "Murderous Midnight," which immediately precedes "Family." But Kingdom isn't concerned about sending contradictory messages. "This album--some of it is fact, some of it is fiction," he points out. "It's entertainment; you have to take it for what it is. If I talk about crime and violence on one song, then I'll talk about a positive message on another one. It's like a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde effect.