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.

Last summer, sketches of various members of the local hip-hop scene — they looked like expertly illustrated police composites — started cropping up as avatars on Facebook, on the pages of everyone from local DJs like Lazy Eyes to local rappers like A.V.I.U.S. The resemblance to these luminaries was uncanny, and everyone instantly wanted to know who was responsible for the drawings. The answer? They were done by Thomas Evans (Hip-Hop Congress) as part of the Colorado Stand Up project, an ambitious effort dedicated to highlighting individual members of the local hip-hop community — everyone from activists, supporters, educators and organizers to MCs, DJs, dancers and graf artists. And with this project, Evans has certainly earned his place among them.

Not every couple chooses to open a gallery in their own home, but leave it to design-savvy Tran and Josh Wills to do just that. No sooner had they finished fixing up and settling into their urban family dream home in RiNo, but they opened up Super Ordinary Gallery in hopes of promoting downtown style, artists and ideals to the public. These are people who get things done: Tran, a Westword MasterMind, is the brain behind the former Fabric Lab and a zillion other local fashion, art and design projects; Josh is a forward-thinking graphic designer. So despite its name, we're expecting big things from Super Ordinary.

The Denver Center Theatre Company introduced its New Play Summit five years ago, and it continues to give us hope for the future of theater in this town. This year's incarnation featured two premieres based on last year's staged readings: The Catch and Map of Heaven. Four fascinating — and entirely unique — new plays were read for possible full production this season, with their playwrights commenting afterward on how much they cherished the freedom and support of the New Play Summit. Denver's own Buntporters experimented with tech as they explored the work of Nikola Tesla; a panel discussed the mind-blowing possibilities that digitization brings to live theater; and actors, techies, directors and theater fans thronged the corridors, chatting enthusiastically about what they'd just seen and hoped to see again.

Ice Cube Gallery

Though it started up just over a year ago, the Ice Cube Gallery has already made its mark not just in RiNo, but in Denver's art world as well. This is partly because of the obvious talent of the co-op's members, who include Sophia Dixon Dillo, Theresa Anderson, Karen Roehl, Carol Browning, Katie Caron, Michael Gadlin, Ray Tomasso and Regina Benson. But it's also because of the swank and enormous exhibition space that Ice Cube occupies in a handsome red-brick building that was once a dry ice factory; this impressive facility puts every other Denver co-op to shame.

Dazzle

For close to fifteen years, Dazzle has shown that it has what it takes to be a dazzling, world-class jazz venue. Downbeat magazine agrees: It's rated Dazzle as one of the top 100 jazz clubs in the world. This is just about the only place in town where you can regularly catch jazz legends like Christian McBride, Curtis Fuller, Bobby Watson and Junior Mance, as well as such great local players as Ron Miles, Kenny Walker and Jeff Jenkins; over the past year, the venue has somewhat broadened its horizons by bringing in forward-thinking acts that include the Bad Plus and the Nels Cline Singers. And not only does Dazzle feature stellar talent seven days a week, but it also serves mouth-watering food and boasts an excellent $5.60 happy-hour menu.

Lion's Lair
Jon Solomon

Taped on the front of the Lion's Lair jukebox is a letter from Colorado congresswoman Diana DeGette, congratulating the bar on winning the award for Best Jukebox in the 2004 Best of Denver issue. There's a good chance that many of the CDs on that weathered box today were there seven years ago, too; hell, if ain't broke, why fix it? With one of the most eclectic collections in town, the Lair's jukebox is stocked with everything from the blues of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters to the Stones, Zeppelin and Hendrix and metal icons like Iron Maiden, Black Sabbath and AC/DC. Of course, punk is present and accounted for, too, with the likes of the Clash (Joe Strummer drank here), X (John Doe plays the Lair nearly every time he comes to town) and Iggy. And along with at least five discs by Bruce Springsteen and a few by soul singers such as Otis Redding and Curtis Mayfield, you'll even find Miles Davis's watershed recording, Kind of Blue. Take a letter, Diana.

Music Bar
Eric Gruneisen

For most people, karaoke is something done only in the privacy of the shower or when your friend drags you (with your fourth or fifth vodka tonic in hand) to the stage to giggle through an ensemble rendition of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun." But for the few and the proud, karaoke is an art form. And there's no better place to practice that art than at Music Bar, where the karaoke is on three nights a week (Thursday, Friday and Saturday) and where your chances of getting multiple turns at the microphone in a single night are better than at other karaoke mainstays — in between renditions of "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," of course.

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