By Bree Davies
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By Jon Solomon
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By Courtney Harrell
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Hip-hop is everything that surrounds us," declares Selecta Roswell (aka Sean Ryerson), whose pseudonym references the infamous New Mexico town where a flying saucer allegedly crashed in 1947. "And if some gray aliens leak out of my head and onto my computer, they are just as hip-hop as Ol' Dirty Bastard's gold fronts."
Selecta Roswell is a core member of the Dojo, a transcendent local hip-hop collective that also includes MC, producer and sound engineer Analog Suspect (aka Marissa Knight) and Undefiable MC (aka Gypsy). Roswell's interest in paranormal phenomena translates into the otherworldly blips and beeps that appear on the outfit's two recordings, 2002's Subliminal Teachings and the just released trip-hop-flavored Everything Flows.
"When I started deejaying at raves down in New Mexico in the early '90s, I took four trips to what is called Area 51 and saw some pretty crazy shit in the skies," Roswell recalls. "And I even went on a UFO hunting trip in England a few years ago. But besides that, I'm just another freak with too many episodes of X-Files on beat-up VHS tapes."
Mixing an unusual hybrid of Far Eastern cosmology, alien conspiracy theories and a fixation with all things Godzilla, the members of the Dojo craft a unique sound that expands the possibilities of hip-hop. Is the Dojo hip-hop? This is a moot point when you consider the group's atmospheric musings on "Godzilla vs. Dojo" and "Bombing on the Great Wall," from Everything Flows. In fact, this is instrumental hip-hop of the highest order that exists in an alternate universe. Listening to the Dojo is like entering a twilight zone where all of rap's vapid materialism and talk of gunplay has been vaporized. Instead of gangster posturing, the Dojo creates tracks that would sound fitting in a kung-fu remake of the futuristic classic Blade Runner.
On the more straightforward hip-hop offering Subliminal Teachings-- the yin to Everything's yang -- the act drops some dystopian Ridley Scott-type science fiction on cuts like "Malfunction Disorder," which pairs Analog Suspect with local rapper Extra Kool in a song that deals with the plight of a dying alienated robot.
"Extra Kool came up with the concept," Roswell explains. "He did it about being a robot that's dying and not able to understand why -- kind of that whole A.I. thing, where he's talking about having feelings, and he doesn't quite understand why he's falling apart. He winds himself up with this chaos in his head, and in the end, he ends his life himself."
The collaborations with MCs like Extra Kool illustrate the philosophy behind the group's vision: When Roswell and Suspect first brainstormed the idea of starting a hip-hop crew -- the two had previously been part of a drum-and-bass outfit with Hugh Bowen called Sundog -- they envisioned forming a collective with like-minded artists who sought to pool their resources to create a vibrant, communal scene.
"We're just into people that are into putting Denver on the map," says Roswell, "as opposed to people just interested in putting their own band on the map."
With that in mind, the members of the Dojo have dedicated themselves to establishing a temple where hip-hop artists in the area can approach their art with a discipline worthy of the Shaolin masters of kung fu.
"Dojo is a Japanese word. The simplest derivative of it is a long path with a destination at the end of it, and it's also a term that is used in martial arts, to mean a place to practice, a place of learning," Suspect explains. "And that's how we envisioned it for ourselves: Our studio is our dojo, where we hone our skills and practice, and other people can come and get involved and learn different skills."
The studio is in the basement of Suspect's home. It is the place where the Dojo's first two records were made and where a number of aspiring MCs have come under the tutelage of this formidable outfit.
"We have a lot of younger MCs who are like nineteen, twenty years old that are amazing MCs, but they don't have the essence yet," says Roswell. "When we take them into the studio, it's like we're showing them how to record; we let them watch us while we're playing with the computer, and we explain to them about mike techniques in the studio."
With Zen Buddhist-like patience, this twosome has helped coach inexperienced acolytes into becoming skilled performers.
"A lot of the MCs that we originally used first were younger people," Roswell says. "And it went hand in hand with the Dojo essence: 'Come down here; let us put you on a track that is going to be on this album. You don't have to invest anything in it; we're going to put it out, but we need your voice. We need you to come down, and we need you to do it right. And if you're doing something wrong, we're going to tell you. Don't get mad -- we're going to show you how to do it right.'"
Roswell and Suspect's efforts have paid off on stand-out tracks like "Opposite Phase," from Subliminal Teachings, which features guest MCs Fly Jedi, Bugaboo and Satta. But one of the more interesting collaborations on that record is on "Human Mosaic," which finds Suspect and Extra Kool trading off raps with MC EE.S.T -- who is of Japanese descent and brings to the forefront much of the Dojo's cross-cultural inspiration.