The Wisdom of the Saint

As himself and Apostle, Jeff Campbell embodies two personas. Both of them want to write Denver's hip-hop gospel.

"Legendary" is a standard rapper's boast made fresh, as Apostle tries to riff through every prominent Denver Bronco, then made genuinely amusing when he turns to Denver radio and TV personalities, promising to "Investigate you like Tom Martino/I know the score like Ron Zappolo/They hate to see niggers down on LoDo/You never hear me on the radio 'cause I don't sniff crank with Rick, Larry, Jennifer, Jamie, Frosty, Frank/5-0s and females on my trail by the hour/Fantasize in the shower/Of Adele Arakawa."

He goes a little reggae with "Wilderness Warrior," where he links the current struggle for survival of black America with Harriet Tubman and the trials of the Israelites. In "Don't Waste Your Time," he proclaims: "If I die tomorrow don't trip/I've already escaped hell once/I'm not afraid of this dimension/'Cause I'm a Highlander/Traveling the galaxy lookin' for some answers." The track is built on a super-smooth bassline that sounds like it came from a Marley song, and the tune vamps out with some jazz synthesizer noodling.

Apostle admires artists like Rakim and KRS-1, "people that when they came onto the scene, they changed the game. People like Prince. After they established themselves, people sought to duplicate them." He digs dance hall and plays with a dub-hop group, Heavyweight Dub Champion, a reggae-hip-hop marriage. Last August, the band opened up for the thirteenth annual Reggae on the Rocks festival, the biggest crowd Apostle had ever played for.

The man behind the mask: For Jeff Campbell, aka Apostle, life as an MC can be a real gas.
Brett Amole
The man behind the mask: For Jeff Campbell, aka Apostle, life as an MC can be a real gas.

He wants to get the music back to its deejaying roots, to a time when interplay between DJs and MCs was more prominent. "There are too many rappers, not enough MCs," he says. Rappers are an industry creation, "something the machine of pop culture created. These guys are just programming beats. It's basically just microphone masturbation. People aren't being true to the art form -- innovative and original." Relative terms, Apostle well knows. "People could say the same thing about me. If you think I'm not original, you must be tuned out."


While Apostle the artist dreams of making it, Apostle the coalition-builder stays busy. Campbell is also eager to discuss his plan for putting Denver hip-hop on the map. He calls it the Colorado Hip Hop Coalition, an idea he modeled after both the Bay Area Music Coalition and the New York-based National Rap Coalition. "I was impressed with that whole idea," he says. "I said, 'Why don't we just do it grassroots?' Here -- our own thing. Our concerns are a little different than the national scene." Like, will anybody buy local records? Like, can you hear a local artist on the radio? Like, can anybody get paid?

"Basically a hip-hop chamber of commerce," the coalition began in 1997 as an organization through which artists could network with each other and with local labels and promoters, record stores, radio stations and clubs; Campbell would like member artists to get health insurance, too. The coalition, he says, is an equal-opportunity assistance organization whose aim is to provide exposure for all the hip-hop heads struggling to get their name out in the Mile High City. But people are expecting the wrong thing out of the coalition if they expect it to guarantee success, he warns. The coalition is supposed to make rappers better entrepreneurs, not make them stars. Apostle is all about synergy, working together, but that requires giving up a piece of yourself. Can rappers do that?

"That remains to be seen," Campbell replies. "The concept of the coalition is 'Let's put the ego aside.'"

The coalition would "be nice in theory," Baptiste says. "But unless someone can devote their day job to it, I don't think it'll happen." And so far, things have been pretty quiet. A few meetings have been held, preliminary plans drawn up. But there are always reasons for the coalition's stalled progress: There's no dedicated radio support in this town, and clubs are leery of booking hip-hop acts because of the perception that the shows will turn violent.

"Everyone thinks it's easy," Campbell says. "There are so many rappers, so many labels, and not enough listeners. If you don't have radio support, club support, I don't care who you are."

But now the coalition may finally be building some steam. On April Fool's Day, Apostle will headline a coalition fundraiser at the Tivoli on the Auraria campus. And members of the coalition just voted to put together a local radio station on the Internet, where each member will have his music aired for 45 minutes each day alongside posted photos and bios. Of course, the coalition still needs to buy a computer, and there will be fees for purchasing a domain name and getting linked to the major search engines. But the impresario sounds confident that his group can get the station up and running, and he also talks about someday sponsoring a Colorado hip-hop awards night.

"We want to have enough going on, so that we've got more coverage than anyone else," he declares. "We want to create the avenues so if you want to be a part of the scene, you'll have to come to us. To create enough action and business so everyone can have a piece."

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