Best Hip-Hop Producer 2011 | Qknox | Best of Denver® | Best Restaurants, Bars, Clubs, Music and Stores in Denver | Westword

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.

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.

Mark Payler

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.

Molly Martin

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.

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.

Label compilation albums are tricky to pull off; they have to work on multiple levels, from bringing in new fans to appeasing established ones. But the tongue-in-cheek name of Experimental Dance Breaks 36 shows exactly how a label should be doing it. This is equal parts old material, new material and — here's the important part — material from other people in the same scene who aren't on the label. In the end, this compilation not only shows off what Plastic Sound Supply has to offer, but it shows off what the label's friends are up to, as well.

Most of the masters of Denver's current photo scene weren't even born when now-ninety-something Hal Gould opened his House of Photography in Cherry Creek in 1955. And he was an accomplished photographer long before that, having gotten his first camera in 1932. He went on to help establish the Colorado Photographic Arts Center in 1963, mounting shows as the exhibition director of the group, and then in 1979, he opened his Camera Obscura Gallery directly across from the Byers-Evans House, just west of the Denver Art Museum. In the intervening decades, Gould put together one impressive show after another, some highlighting the efforts of internationally known photography stars, others featuring works by top Colorado shutterbugs. And Gould would probably keep going for decades more, but with a weak art market as a result of the recession — not to mention that he's really earned a rest — he and partner Loretta Young-Gautier recently decided to close the gallery. The term "end of an era" is thrown around a lot, but this time that poignant phrase is the perfect description of what's going to happen when Gould finally locks up Camera Obscura at the end of April.

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