11.18.10 | Metro, Chicago
First there were eighteen. Then there was one. Last night at the Metro in Chicago where the 2010 Red Bull Big Tune finals took place, aspiring producers from around the country competed against each other in the hopes of receiving the opportunity to record in the Red Bull Studio in Los Angeles with an A list MC of their choice. Through a process of elimination consisting of four rounds over the course of more than three hours, one producer emerged victorious.
A flip of the coin determined which beat maker went first. With no judges present, the audience was given the responsibility of picking the preferred backing track for what could be a potential hit song. Kicking off the competition with a demonstration round was Jake One and Big Tune co-founder Vitamin D, who took turns showing off their skills before announcing, "After this it's the real deal."
Each producer made their way to the stage armed with multiple beats, grasping their homemade beats as if they were the Holy Grail. Each producer was allotted one minute to showcase the first of their original beats and another minute for the second and final track. Producers were drawn randomly by the evening's hosts Jonathan Moore and Vitamin D, making it impossible to predict who would be paired up with who and when the chosen duo would battle for the best beat.
Boonie Mayfield, winner of the Mile High City's qualifying Big Tune battle, took the stage with St. Louis native Mike "Em80" DuPree for the first round. The Colorado representative completely dominated the challenge choosing to lead off his two-track set with an insanely catchy beat. The crowd went nuts. "Boon Doc goes on, Boon Doc goes on," declared Vitamin D after listening to an overwhelming round of applause for the Denver YouTube sensation. Absolutely nobody cheered for first round loser Em80 -- well, almost nobody. Poor guy was greeted by the sound of silence.
Xperiment (aka Courtland Urbano), Big Tune Denver's runner-up, went beat-to-beat with Minneapolis Runner-Up Nicademus, building up his leading track with layer upon layer of synthesized sounds. Xperiment was declared the first round winner of his match-up after a deafening level of screams emanated from an ecstatic audience and had the producer banging his forearms together in the shape of the letter X.
By the end of this Big Tune finalist's performance, a routine was clearly in place: Xperiment presses play, walks away from his turntable setup, heads toward the front of the stage and proceeds to mimic the keyboards, drums, and programming that goes into his creations. Think: air keys instead of air guitar. Unlike Boon Doc, it's slightly more difficult to imagine an MC rapping and/or singing over one of his beats.
Wrapping up the first round of eliminations was a freestyle session where each remaining producer took a shot at putting their own city's spin on a track by Chicago's own Curtis Mayfield. Kicking things off, Xperiment flipping the Mayfield beat and advanced to the next round. "Be different and take risks," DJ Premier urged. "They're all using the same sample and none of it sounds the same."
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Xperiment was second in line for round two, up against Big Pops from Detroit. Running all ten fingers up and down an invisible synthesizer with some additional hand-waving and arm-pumping scored Xperiment a spot in the semi final round of the night. Of course, his beat helped, too.A live MPC exhibition featuring two impressive yet obsessive drum programmers broke up the second round and the semi finals.
Big Tune's third round led off with Xperiment. As expected by now, the beat maker pressed play and then stepped away from the booth and launched into an animated display, miming scales and arpeggios. Unfortunately, the beat wasn't quite compelling enough to help Xperiment pull off a win against Austin's 14KT. Boon Doc also made it to the semis, but he was ultimately bested by crowd favorite No Speakerz from Detroit, who garnered bigger cheers. No Speakerz and 14KT later ended up facing off against each other in the finals, where the latter went on to win the crown.