Best Free Entertainment 2011 | Mighty 4 Denver | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

It's one thing to hear about the four elements of hip-hop or even to experience them peripherally. Driving around town, you might admire the elaborately scrawled graffiti while listening to someone on the radio rapping. And if you've been to a club, chances are you've danced to a DJ or maybe even watch somebody breakdance. It's another thing entirely to experience hip-hop culture in the flesh. And thanks to Delfino "Fienz" Rodriguez, a true-school dyed-in-the wool b-boy, the community has a chance to do just that at Mighty 4 Denver, the free annual b-boy jam that takes place every summer in the heart of downtown. This past July, b-boys and b-girls of all ages showcased their individual breakdance style in front of a captive audience of awestruck onlookers. We look forward to seeing them again this year.

Denver has an abundance of arts districts — there's the town's biggest, along Santa Fe Drive, one in LoDo and another in RiNo; there are arts districts in Cherry Creek North and along Tennyson Street, among other places. But for a true arts district, it's impossible to beat the Golden Triangle, the area circumscribed by Broadway, Colfax Avenue and Speer Boulevard — because that's where the Denver Art Museum is located. This neighborhood is also home to the art-collecting Denver Public Library and the soon-to-be-completed Clyfford Still Museum. But not only does the Golden Triangle boast important buildings filled with art, it also has some of the town's top commercial galleries, too, including the William Havu Gallery, Walker Fine Art and Z Art Department. And just across Broadway — technically a few yards outside the Golden Triangle — the new History Colorado museum is nearing completion. All of Denver's arts districts contribute to the cultural life of the Mile High City, but the Golden Triangle is the one to beat.

Metropolitan State College of Denver — perhaps soon to be known as Denver State University — has the largest set of art departments in Colorado, with something like a thousand art majors. That's surely one of the reasons that Merge, a group show devoted to the efforts of Metro's alums, was so damn strong: An amazing number of artists have graduated from the school over the years. Presented at Metro's own little museum, the Center for Visual Art, this was a juried event with founding art-department chair Barbara Houghton and current chair Greg Watts calling the shots; the show included the work of Phil Bender, Lauri Lynnxe Murphy, Sean Rozales, Merlin Madrid, Luzia Ornelas, Evan Colbert, Heidi Jung, Josiah Lopez, Mary Cay, Mark Friday, Dave Seiler, Jennifer Jeannelle and many others. No matter what name Metro goes by, its artistic impact on Denver is undeniable.

Courtesy RedLine Contemporary Art Center

The late Dale Chisman was a giant in Denver's art world. Not only was he one of the state's most significant abstractionists, he was also an advocate for the arts who championed the work of emerging artists and was among the founders of Museum of Contemporary Art Denver, where his memorial service was held shortly after he died in 2008. Soon afterward, plans were laid for a show saluting Chisman's own astounding contributions. The resulting exhibit, mounted at RedLine, was organized by Jennifer Doran, co-owner of Robischon Gallery, which represents the artist's estate. It was an over-the-top effort, not just because of the high quality of works in the show, but also because the organizers pulled out all the stops. Dale Chisman in Retrospect included not just the painter's creations since the '70s, but a high-quality catalogue, a panel discussion, and even a jazz concert featuring a suite of tunes penned by Chisman's composer/musician son-in-law, Matt Jorgensen, responding to his life and work. This past year, there wasn't another solo that even came close to this retrospective. It was a fitting send-off to a fine artist.

Throughout September, Turner Jackson roamed the city wearing a sandwich board proclaiming "Freestyles Are Still Free." His guerrilla rapping approach showcased his ability to rap his face off at will and proved that the art of freestyle is not only alive and well, but integral to your rapping persona. Using pretty much anything around him at the time, Turner — who even filmed a freestyle with Joe Thunder in front of the Westword offices — displayed a frenetic pace and zealous energy, and the campaign came across as both charming and innovative. The few times we ran up on him spitting hot fire on the 16th Street Mall, he was surrounded by a crowd begging for more.

While living in the Bay Area, Scott Banning, an associate of Crash Worship, was a member of the Extra Action Marching Band and the San Francisco Taiko Dojo. But it wasn't until he decided to try to turn Itchy-O from a sit-down musical endeavor into something more visceral — and on the move — that he managed to combine his passions and experience into the perfect project. Initially playing as a surprise guest at other shows, Itchy-O Marching Band has become an unexpected and frequent presence at a broad swath of public events, one that has brought smiles to many faces with its solid marching-band instrumentation and experimental electronic accompaniment.

Given how popular his city anthem has become, it's a bit surprising that Mr. Midas hasn't enlisted a chorus to walk behind him and chant the hook to his uber-catchy "Run My Town." The killer single released early from his full-length album Son of the Crack Era, "Run My Town" gave an immediate glimpse into the authentic material that Midas had planned for the record — and he more than delivered on that promise. His account of the struggle and his optimism throughout the disc set his account of 'hood politics apart from the typical crack tales. Plus, on the track "Tender Kisses," he shouted out the grandmother who raised him with such sincerity that it could almost have been Tupac's "Dear Mama" 2.0.

Denver has a rich and vibrant hip-hop history that extends back to the early '80s — from the days when seminal b-boy crews like D&S Connection, Radio Active and Dancers Unique first held it down to the years when hip-hop was kept alive by such latter-day torch-bearers as LOF (Lordz of Finesse), R-Sinareeo and GWT (Get With This). Likewise, the first and second wave of graf artists from the Reagan era paved the way for the kings of today — not to mention all the dope DJs and MCs who have helped elevate the game over the years. Much of that early history is documented in Musa's Soulz of the Rockies documentary, with interviews from many of those intimately involved in the early days of the scene. A must-see for fans of local hip-hop.

The rhymes on Sucks to Be You were originally supposed to appear solely on the oft-delayed Fuck Foe mixtape, which was scheduled for release last summer. But the process of putting out the mixtape proved far more tedious than originally planned, and FOE ended up collaborating with Qknox to produce and remix Sucks to Be You. And like Frankenstein, the two created a monster. FOE's rapping is taken to another level by Qknox's production, particularly on songs like "Fuck Boy," an anti-lame ditty that sounds almost classy in its dis. The immaculate sound quality makes Sucks to Be You an ideal remix that definitely does not suck.

If Frank Sinatra produced hip-hop songs, Qknox, one-third of the beat-making/production team GirlGrabbers, would be his direct offspring. Classy, charming, debonair and erudite, Qknox taps into his inherent love for music in order to deliver some of the most progressive and distinctive hip-hop translations to come out of Colorado. Displaying exceptional flair on several hit-making projects, including FOE's Sucks to Be You and Debriefing and Cocktails, by GirlGrabbers, Qknox has developed an individual production touch that is unmistakable. The brilliance of his production almost sneaks up on you — but once it takes hold, the Qknox imprint cannot be denied.

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