By Isa Jones
By Mary Willson
By Brian Turk
By Drew AIles
By Taylor Boylston
By Bree Davies
By Emerald O'Brien
"I'm just Jeff from around the corner," he says with a laugh. "I ain't nobody special to Denver."
Many would beg to differ. Campbell's contribution to the local hip-hop scene has been invaluable. As an artist, he's released three well-received albums on his own -- 1994's The Chosen One, 1997's Dayz of Darkness and 2000's Last of a Dying Breed -- in addition to being a member of the Dub Champs, with whom he's released two discs. He co-founded the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition in 1997 and has used it to reach countless kids by creating programs at the Spot; implementing and overseeing an after-school program at Montbello High School; and authoring the curriculum for a semester-long course on hip-hop history and culture for the PS 1 charter school.
"I wanted to bring my thing to the table and say, 'Hey, DPS, all your kids are interested in this,'" Campbell explains. "You want to get their head in a dictionary? Hmm...let's get them in a rhyming dictionary. You want to get them doing something creative after school instead of fighting? Let's get them painting. Let's get them dancing. Let's get some physical education. Hip-hop taught me how to write a business plan. Hip-hop was my educator, period. I was so driven to do this stuff, it created its own path."
In 2000, the Coalition earned non-profit status and became a full-time endeavor for Campbell. The impact the program has had on him since then has been profound. "I could go on and on about kids whose personal lives were changed," he says. "A kid who I met -- when I met him, he was in juvenile diversion. Now he's in college studying psychology. Then there's a special-ed student who had cerebral palsy and used to get poked fun of walking to her locker. She got enough nerve and came to our class every day, practiced the dance routine and then got in front of 300 people and danced! When her special-ed teacher told me I changed her life, I almost just broke down in tears right there. I said to myself, 'I don't care if I ever perform again, if I can do that.'"
Although Campbell has accomplished a great deal in the past five years with the Hip-Hop Coalition, he believes that in order for the organization to realize its full vision, it's time for him to step aside and make room for a new leader. "With what little money we've been able to rub together, we've served almost 6,000 youth in five years," he notes. "I'm so proud of this organization. I can walk away tomorrow and be really proud of its accomplishments. But I'm not going to walk away and see these youth not get served the same way that we're serving them, because nobody else is doing what we're doing.
"I feel like what I have done is only build the template," Campbell goes on. "I've only built the outline, the infrastructure. It's for the hip-hop community, most importantly, to now step up. Look, the educators are behind it. The non-profit sector of foundations, they go bananas over this idea, because they know. The hip-hop community only sees this as a self-serving venture for Jeff Campbell. They see this as Jeff's program, Jeff's organization. But I never put this organization together for Jeff Campbell. This organization -- at the very beginning of it until right now -- has always been for the hip-hop community."
As hard as it is to imagine Denver without Campbell, the timing is right for him to move on. Heavyweight Dub Champion is starting to make some headway. This past September, the Heavies had a breakthrough performance at the Earthdance festival in Laytonville, California, which sparked label interest and generated a substantial buzz. Campbell and Stero have been commuting back and forth since the band's other members -- Patch, Resurrector and Totter -- relocated to San Francisco a year ago. Until now, Dub has mostly been a side project for Campbell, but things have changed considerably in the past few months. "We're getting these guarantees to do these club gigs and this touring and stuff," he says, "but most of my cut out of it from the band is going to my plane ticket. So I think I need to narrow the distance between me and the rest of the band. It makes much more sense for me to be out there and to put my full energy into that whole scenario."
Sadly, Heavyweight Dub is only the latest outfit to leave Colorado in search of greater acclaim. Although Denver has a vibrant hip-hop scene, homegrown acts don't really get the shine they deserve until they move. Both the Procussions and Deux Process, for example, didn't start turning heads nationally until they uprooted to Los Angeles.
"We couldn't get fifty people to come see us in Denver," Campbell says. "But then we move to San Francisco -- well, they moved to San Francisco -- and we got welcomed with open arms. Not only that, but, you know, you travel a couple hours, you're somewhere else; you travel a couple more hours and you're somewhere else. It's a big difference to be able to start off in Seattle and work your way down to San Francisco -- and everywhere in between, it's the same thing: There's a minimum of three to five hundred people showing up to see you. We were just completely and totally different. We don't look like MTV's version of what hip-hop is -- or MTV's version of anything. I think that people in Denver are not used to pioneers. They are used to settlers, you know? My mentor, Brother Jeff, always tells me that the pioneers get killed and the settlers get the land."
But Campbell, always known for being outspoken, believes that Denver's hip-hop scene will get its due when those involved in it learn to work together. "It's simple," he concludes. "It's all about cooperative economics: If you got a studio, I need to use your studio, but you need to give me the very best price. And that's just one example. If you're an artist, for instance, and you do graphic design, then you need to be doing the album covers out here, the posters and the fliers out here. There's a strong hip-hop scene, but it's very small and isolated. And as long as it remains divided -- as long as everybody's isolated from one another -- it will never show up on the radar screen."