"Denver rap sucks."
That's a bold statement, especially when made before MCs like Dent and Black Pegasus, hosts of the April 18 DMC turntable competition at the Fox Theatre in Boulder, as well as such Mootown luminaries as Apostle and Kingdom (whose beef I wrote about in this space on March 18). But that's just what a ballsy MC named Time said during his heated freestyle joust with Neil McIntyre (Minezai, Yo, Flaco!) -- and in case anyone couldn't hear him, the words were printed on his T-shirt. Time is obviously a hotter MC on wax (www.dirtylaboratory.com) than as a freestyler, because McIntyre quickly showed him what time it really was.
Still, there was never any question about who would win the DJ battle this night. Walking into the Fox, I'd spotted DJ Vajra in the crowd, sporting a gray hoodie with the Shure logo. It might just as well have said "Sure Thing." This Boulder turntablist has earned the right to talk as much shit as he wants -- on his clothes or on the stage -- and yet after his victory, Vajra's humble thanks sent the aw-shucks meter off the charts. "I'm not really good on the mike," he said, then gestured toward the MCs assembled on stage. "I'll leave that to these guys."
Before the king could be crowned, however, a parade of hopefuls had to run through their limited bag of tricks. For the most part, these cats were like weekend rec-leaguers pitted against Michael Jordan; Vajra's game is on a whole other level. But amid the rudimentary scratching and beat-juggling techniques I endured, there were some intriguing moments.
DJ Tent's phased tones created a sonic flurry as his fingers sent out fragments of blurps, bleeps and squeals. DJ Shan opened his set with Blood Sweat and Tears' "Spinning Wheel," mangling the beats into submission until they hacked and sputtered like a Ford Pinto on its last legs. DJ Stretch put both thought and imagination into his set; rather than use the highly played-out "aw, yeahs" that several of his counterparts favored, he dropped a spoken-word intro shout-out to Boulder and then cut things up with a variation on Johnny Rivers's "Secret Agent Man."
DJ Notch was equally clever as he mouthed the words to his spoken intro -- "I'm not surprised you don't know me. But I'll make sure you don't forget me" -- and backed that up with great stage presence. From pointing at his decks and giving the crowd a look that said, "Yeah, I'm killin' it," to tossing a record onto the stage and singing along to "Greatest Love of All," Notch looked relaxed and confident. DJ Funktion's beat juggling was exceptional; his strobe-like technique simulated a nice stereo effect as he worked both tables with the look of a man trying to please two women simultaneously. DJ Shake, one of the Crunk Brothers, earned his third-place spot with some deft needle manipulation and a killer job cutting up "Damn," by the Youngbloodz.
The most stunning spectacle of the evening, though, was delivered by a hippie-hopper named DJ Oil Can Harry. Rocking a white Members Only jacket straight out of '84 and looking like a long-lost, tree-huggin' Fraggle, he quickly dropped his Sesame Street intro, and then, digging deep in the crates -- and I mean way deep, because I'm pretty sure no one else, anywhere, is spinning this cut -- he unearthed a forgotten track from John Hartford, a hilarious bluegrass-inflected gem called "Don't Leave Your Records in the Sun."
But that wasn't enough to beat the murderous Vajra. Even the judges -- DJ Chonz, Psycho, Dizzy D, Petey and Bedz from the Radio Bums, all seasoned jocks in their own rights -- stood slack-jawed as they watched his Midas touch perform triple-click flares and seamless transitions. And when Vajra ended his set with an NWA sample -- "As I leave, believe that I'm stompin'" -- the crowd went bananas.
Cysko Rokwel, another Crunk Brother, followed with an unreal, masterful deconstruction of "When Doves Cry," by Prince, full of maniacal beat shifts. If not for Vajra, Rokwel would be representing the region in the DMC finals this summer in Los Angeles. As it was, their clash was epic.
The freestyle battle wasn't nearly as impressive. Although McIntyre, Time, Teen Wolf (who looked like the hip-hop equivalent of Cat Stevens), Black Moses and Arab were entertaining, most of the talent was marginal. Arab summed things up pretty well during his duel with DBS. "The shit you spittin' wasn't even written for me," he said. "I had to wait all night to battle you?" Another worthy moment came when Logic, seeing that Time had a cast running all the way up to his elbow, suggested that he probably got it from "fisting your mom." One of the MCs, Mind One, moved to the next round by default -- the crowd cast its vote on his battle with Transfer with boos and silence -- only to get slaughtered by the Wolf.
The best standoff of the night came when Teen Wolf and McIntyre traded barbs in the final battle. "Your hair is so dirty you're growing little flowers in it," McIntyre fired off, following up with "This kid's shaking like he's got Tourette's/He spits psychedelic because he's got mushrooms growing in his armpits." Although McIntyre was the obvious winner, Wolf was no slouch.
At the end of the night came the Brawl for It All between Apostle and Kingdom, an event I'd been anticipating for a month. While Apostle bounced around like an anxious prizefighter, Kingdom looked indifferent -- almost as though he couldn't believe he was wasting his time on something like this. Apostle drew first blood with "Hey, Kool-Aid, you ain't never had to struggle"; Kingdom countered with "I got a weight problem, forget it/Your mom didn't have a problem with it."
"You ain't a kingdom/You ain't even a sand castle," Apostle ripped in round two. "I didn't know Jesus had a basshead Apostle," Kingdom responded. "This cat's a hypocrite talking about black power/He has a white chick/Talk about being local, but you sucking KRS-One's dick."
A few lines into his rhyme in round three, Apostle's flow sputtered. "I'm still hungry and you're obviously not" The crowd and Kingdom smelled blood in the water. "I told you you'd choke/That's all she wrote," said Kingdom, then administered the knockout blow. "Shake my hand, we're from the same city," he urged, reaching out his hand -- and then pulling it back just as Apostle tried to grasp it.
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But finally the two shook hands. "There's no winner and no loser tonight," Kingdom said, putting the beef to rest.
And I went home fat and happy.