The Coast Is Clear
To hear the group tell it, the Ground Zero Movement has already infiltrated far-flung corners of the globe.
"We're on five different continents right now," explains Sid Fly, one of the four charismatic MCs who share mike time in the Denver-based rap collective. "You can't really count Antarctica. They ain't too many CD players down there, but if you go to our Web site [groundzeromovement.com], we've got hits from France. We've got people from places in Africa. We've got South America. You already know we got North America. We've got Australia. So we all over."
Together for just a little over a year, Fly and his cohorts -- Ase One (William Flemons), D.O. the Fabulous Drifter (William Salter) and Dow Jones (Sam McGibbon) -- have also caused some seismic activity in their own back yard. The group members have no interest in emulating current trends in hip-hop or the sounds booming out of any particular region, be it the East or West coasts, the Dirty South or any urban haven in between. They're just striving to create a unique style that people can associate with their home city. In doing so, the group has adopted a grassroots approach to changing perceptions about local hip-hop.
"We'll represent Denver, because the thing is, so many people are scared to," says Jones. "There is an attitude here where individuals or groups, as far as hip-hop is concerned, have to be from somewhere else. They'll support the groups coming out of New York and the groups coming out of Los Angeles. They'll play the North Carolina joint. But they won't play anything local. They just have this idea that if it's from here, it must not be good."
To show that Colorado cats can rock the mike as well as those who hail from coastal lands, the Ground Zero Movement is slowly reclaiming live hip-hop's place in Denver. Despite the genre's widespread popularity, local artists have few opportunities to play at venues in town. While Denverites need only cast a stone in any direction to find a karaoke bar or cover band, opportunities to see rappers in the flesh have dwindled to a few sporadic theme nights and the occasional party. Live hip-hop showcases at clubs like the Baja Beach Club and Jimmy's Boathouse often sprout up, only to fail or shut down soon after. Most local rappers must glom on to a national act if they hope to appear before area audiences. The Ground Zero Movement hopes to turn that around. The group currently hosts a monthly hip-hop night at Sportsfield Roxxx on East Colfax Avenue, where local acts can get their shine on.
"I remember the days when hip-hop in Denver was good," says D.O. "You could do shows at spots like the Mercury Cafe, or at Soapy Smith's. All of a sudden it stopped -- but we're bringing it back."
"If we don't all help each other, we can't have a scene," adds Fly. "So we bring down new acts, a family of acts, put 'em on and let them do their thing. You can see underground hip-hop showcased without worrying about paying forty dollars to see acts like Eminem every weekend. You can come and see the homegrown, where we can say what we want to say."
The night's popularity has grown through word-of-mouth exposure as hip-hop heads have begun buzzing about its showcase-style feel: O2P, Raw Foundation, Don Blas, Dutchmaster Click and Kingdom (a two-time winner of a Westword Best of Denver award for Best Rapper) are among the performers who've thrown down on the Sportsfield stage. As the event's promoter, Ground Zero Movement will give any act a chance. (Aspiring MCs and DJs may contact the group through its Web site.) The only thing the crew members ask is that you do something to support the local scene -- and arrive prepared to deliver raw beats and rhymes. They also ask that you don't show up with an attitude or expect bottles of Cristal backstage.
"Don't come out there and think just because you're performing, you're supposed to have bottled water in the back," says One. "We don't make any money about this. You've got to be prepared to come and bring the fans."
Lately, finding fans is something the Ground Zero Movement has had no problem with. Despite its title, the act's seven-song EP, No Radio Play, has garnered some airplay on KS/107.5 FM and on specialty shows like Radio 1190's Basementalism and KGNU's Eclipse. (According to One, at five bucks, the disc is a bargain: "You can't spend that on a latte," he says.) The streets have felt the Ground Zero Movement's vibe, with its mixture of infectious party joints ("555-Ripple") and more introspective lyrical salvos ("Future I.D.").
Based on its incendiary live performances, including a recent opening gig for the Beatnuts in Boulder, the Movement has also commanded respect from those who like their hip-hop underground and rough, rugged and raw. An old-school feel emanates from the crew's tag-team-like rapid-fire rhyme flows, which recall the teamwork ethic of such legends as the Treacherous Three, EPMD and the Wu-Tang Clan. The members refined their skills in local groups like Voodoo Economics, which claimed Jones and Fly as members, and Shades of Dialect, where One and D.O. started; the Ground Zero Movement gives hints of where Mile High hip-hop is headed.
"One thing that's missing today is the rawness," Jones says. "Everyone just wants to have this pretty sound. We're bringing it back to the raw, basement, underground hip-hop. We're bringing the energy back, because a lot of people just get on stage and they're too cool or smooth to really hype the crowd. We get up there and give them everything."
"Dow Jones is like the Grizzly Bear; he will just rip it to pieces, New York style," says One, explaining the chemistry behind this brotherhood of rappers. "Then you got D.O., the fabulous. We call him the hardest-working man in the show-biz industry. Sid Fly, he is the minister. This cat is instant energy. When you put Sid Fly on top of a show, it's over. And when you get with the Ase, it's the foundation, trying to keep everybody sane, trying to keep everybody real."
Fly describes the group's essence in more intoxicating terms: "Dow brings the coke, D.O. brings the liquor, Ase brings the blunts and I bring the weed -- and we just rotate jobs every week."
Each member of the group also performs a specific role in getting the word out about the Ground Zero Movement. One handles the administrative day-to-day business, which, according to Jones, involves "telling people you suck, or you ain't doing your job, or asking, 'Where's the money?'" He adds, "D.O. is more ripe with the street promotions, and Sid also works on that, which is selling the CDs every day out on the street and booking the shows."
The group's aggressive street-marketing approach has helped get its product to the public -- and led to some interesting run-ins with local law enforcement.
"We done got arrested on the 16th Street Mall for selling CDs," says One, laughing. "They done watched us, and they're like, 'Y'all are making too much money. We don't want y'all selling here no more.'"
The crew hopes to avoid incarceration when it releases its next disc, Future I.D., sometime after the first of the year. "This project is so hot, so potent, I can barely speak on it," says One. "The title is self-explanatory. In the future we're going ahead, to elevate [hip-hop] and move it up a couple of years. It's like chemical sex."
"You're going have to wait for the new album, before the whole bomb explodes," says Fly. "Right now we'll give you little parts, like some gasoline here, some nitrous here, and gunpowder, but we ain't lightin' it until the Future I.D."
Though the group says it is in negotiations with a California label it would rather not name, Ground Zero Movement will probably release the new record independently. Since no hip-hop artist from Denver has broken out on a nationwide level, the members know they're going to have to break down a number of doors before they can hope to rise in the rap realm. Even if that doesn't happen, it won't be for a lack of trying.
"In Denver, it's twice as hard to get over, but we're going to work as hard as anyone else out there," says Fly. "We've got the talent, but sometimes talent has nothing to do with it. It's about who's in the right place at the right time, so we stay out there. We stay ready, so we don't have to get ready, because when opportunity knocks, we want to be able to open the door and be like, 'Come on in and have a drink.'"
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