The Beatdown

The Rock In' Freak Fest was all that -- and more.

Music city got a fat lip early last Saturday, when Riff magazine's Rock In' Freak Festat Fat City ended with emcee Greg Stone (aka Uncle Nastyof KBPI) being charged with third-degree assault and Riff's marketing manager, Darrell Hughes, leaving with a splitting headache.

According to the summons filed by the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office, the incident occurred at 4:30 a.m. on November 1, in the bowling alley at Fat City. Witnesses reported that Stone and Hughes had been arguing and then started shoving each other -- at which point Stone allegedly assaulted Hughes.

In Hughes's statement to Jeffco officers, he said that he and Stone were walking to the main office from an upstairs green room, arguing over payment for Stone's services, when Stone pushed him from behind and said, "I oughtta pop you for this." After Hughes replied, "Do what you gotta do," Stone reportedly struck him in the back of the head with a closed fist, and continued to hit him until Fat City security intervened.

As might be expected, Stone's account to the officers differed from Hughes's. He was angered initially by the fact that a return trip in the limousine Riff had provided to bring him to the event had been canceled, leaving him without a ride home. He was also upset about not being paid the agreed-upon amount for his emcee duties: reportedly $850, plus a bonus for each ticket sale over 1,500. When he confronted Hughes about payment, Stone told officers, Hughes replied, "You're fucked." And when Stone pressed him, asking "Who's gonna pay me now?," Hughes responded, "That's not my problem. You're not going to get paid; I'm not going to pay you." At that point, Stone said, the two began shoving each other. But he denied striking Hughes.

Even so, Stone was cited for third-degree assault and is slated to appear in court on Wednesday, December 17. Hughes was not charged.

I couldn't reach Hughes for comment; Stone declined to comment specifically on the charge, but did confirm that the dispute was over payment. "I had a good time," he offered. "And I thought the people that were there had a good time." Stone said that he harbors no ill feelings toward Riff, adding that he hopes the magazine continues to produce the show and that it just gets bigger and better.

While I, too, would like to see Rock In' Freak Fest remain an annual event, this year's version definitely had a few rough edges that need to be smoothed over (and I'm not talking about the Hughes/Stone fracas). There were too many bands and too much going on. When I arrived at Fat City about 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Union Underground was performing on the main stage before a large, enthusiastic crowd. While the turnout for sets by ION, Drug Under and Misunderstood on the side stages was no less enthusiastic, it was considerably smaller. Next year I'd like to see all of the bands combined on one stage, giving the event a single focus.

Still, I had a great time, and left around 4 a.m. -- about thirty minutes too early, as it turns out. If I had been in Hughes's place, I would probably have just offered Stone cab fare and sorted the whole thing out in the sober light of morning -- he's one big motherfucker, and from the sound of it, they don't call him Uncle Nasty for nothing. At the very least, Riff should put the Stone/Hughes altercation center stage for the 2004 fest: It sounds like a real head-banging show too good to miss.

Fear of a black hat:Let's get one thing straight: Ballcaps do not kill people; people kill people. And when ballcaps are outlawed, only outlaws will rock ballcaps.

Last week, when I showed up at Club Purple for a taping of The Next Episode -- a reality-based series produced by Yo! MTV Raps veteran Moses Edinborough, presented by Interscope Records and scheduled to premiere on Showtime on Friday, November 14 -- I was told that while I was welcome, my San Francisco Giants hat would have to wait in the car. I was perplexed: Was the doorman a disgruntled Cubs fan? My bad, bro; there's always next season.

And then, before my bald head could actually enter the club, I underwent a DIA-level security check. I was frisked and then -- just in case the doorman missed anything -- surveyed by a $15, handheld magnetic wand. It's a good thing the beanie lurking in my breast pocket wasn't metallic; as it was, I felt like a two-bit hood.

For a club to use a metal detector is perfectly understandable -- if you live in Detroit, D.C., Compton or the South Bronx. But this is Cowtown, USA, on a Tuesday night. And this prohibition of hats? Ridiculous. Are dudes wearing ballcaps more likely to create chaos? Does wearing one automatically signal that you're gang-affiliated? Like I was rolling with bad boy Barry Bonds?

It's bullshit like this that perpetuates the stereotype of rap fans as dangerous, violent, gun-toting thugs and keeps sending hip-hop back to the minor league in this town. Clubs that implement such policies might as well simply say to their customers, "Look, we don't trust you, but we'll gladly take your money." So while it's encouraging to see Denver finally get some national recognition -- this filming of The Next Episode,the Hip-Hop Summit next spring -- we're still light-years behind many cities when it comes to live local hip-hop. As long as live hip-hop is regarded as a novelty, a liability or both, there will never be a breakout artist from this town.

And there are plenty of artists talented enough to break out. If you've slept on the stunning cast of characters in D-town -- Minezai, Ground Zero Movement, Kashmere, Playalitical, Develop.Mental, Derris, Chill, Roadside Prophets, Floss City, Crown City Rockers, Lil' Therapy, Loose Cannons, Dirty Tony and Master Fuol (a New Yorker turned Coloradan) -- blame it on the clubs that don't book such acts on the weekends. These cats are killing it out there every time they hit the stage, whether or not they're getting paid; they respect the game and they're hungry, pounding the streets and hustling their work. (I bought Playalitical's Americondisc outside of the Atmosphere show at the Fillmore.) They deserve to be respected, to play on Friday and Saturday nights to packed houses -- not shoved into the Monday ghetto, the slowest club night of the week for anybody.

It's time for clubs to stop being scared and to take hip-hop seriously.

But money talks and bullshit runs the marathon, right? So any club owners who question whether hip-hop can draw serious crowds should use October 28's Purple turnout as a litmus test. Once I finally made it inside, the club was packed asses to elbows with people waiting to watch the area's finest MCs battle for local supremacy, $200 and a chance to be featured on The Next Episode. Thanks to KS-107.5's DJ Sabotage, the show's producers scheduled a last-minute stop in Denver on their quest to find the nation's ten best undiscovered MCs.

The competition itself was no 8 Mile battle, but it was still riveting to watch -- for the unpredictable nature of freestyling, if nothing else. The priceless moment of the evening was when 7-40 -- one of the four guys randomly selected from the crowd to battle the four finalists -- got clowned by that night's winner, Park Hill's Q-Burst, got mad that he'd lost and was then barraged with boos. It was all good, though, and at the end they shook hands -- and surprisingly, no one was shot.

Still, not everyone was feeling the love. After the gig, I ran into a few fellas who didn't feel the best in Denver had been represented that night. "I got two cats, Ledo Briggs and Goon Conway, that will rip anybody in Denver, anytime, anyplace, anywhere," said Jay-Rich, a local R&B singer. "They were there, but they couldn't get on."

MC Kashmere, who also was unable to compete, expressed similar sentiments. "Yo, I thought it was garbage," he told me. "It wasn't organized properly. I just found out about it earlier today. I listen to the radio every day, so they can't front like they've been advertising this for weeks, you know what I'm saying? They hyped it up like Interscope was coming through and it was going to be live, but it wasn't."

I, too, had first heard about the event earlier that day -- although the lack of publicity didn't stop the crowds from coming. And since three of the best freestylers I've seen -- Neil McIntyre and Microphone Jones from Minezai, and Mane Roc from Ideal Ideologies --weren't included, it's debatable whether the lineup could really be billed as the best in Denver. While there were some skilled MCs in the house -- Dent Roc, Varsity and Q-Burst -- just as many wack MCs were competing.

Still, it was nice to finally see some Denver heads get their chance to shine.

Ballcaps or not.

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