Arts and Culture

Barbershop Uncut Spotlights Denver's Underrated Rap Scene

From left: Kenneth "Kay Dee" Holmes, DNA Picasso, Miguel Gonzalez and Armando Trevino at Onyx Barbershop in Westminster.
From left: Kenneth "Kay Dee" Holmes, DNA Picasso, Miguel Gonzalez and Armando Trevino at Onyx Barbershop in Westminster. Barbershop Uncut
What happens when a barbershop full of hip-hop fans starts a YouTube channel? For Armando Trevino, the owner of Onyx Barbershop in Westminster, it meant the beginning of an unexpected dive into the music industry.

Born in Commerce City and raised in California, Trevino moved back to Colorado six years ago and opened Onyx in March 2018. After about a year, he and his team decided to start showcasing the barbershop's big personalities and their playful banter in videos posted on a YouTube channel called Barbershop Uncut. Shortly after they launched the channel, in October 2019, the focus shifted to music. 

"The way that started is, two of the barbers that work there are really funny, and they argue all day," explains Trevino. "So we wanted to capture that in a little vlog series, but as we started to film more and do more stuff, I got in contact with a few of the artists from the Netflix show Rhythm & Flow and brought them by for interviews, and then we just got tapped into the music side of it."

After spending a sick day binge-watching the whole Rhythm & Flow series, Trevino was inspired to reach out to Old Man Saxon and Jakob Campbell, two of the show's contestants from Denver.

"I thought, 'Man, how cool would it be to bring them by the barbershop and just talk to them as they're getting their hair cut?,'" remembers Trevino. He and the rest of the Onyx crew, all passionate about music, saw an opportunity to spotlight some of Colorado's underrated artists.

"We're all music fans, and we started noticing a lot of talent in Colorado, and it just doesn't get exposed," Trevino continues. "We have pretty high standards, so we really only help promote artists that we feel have a real good chance of making it. And also anybody that's willing to work. The following doesn't matter, or social media or anything, as long as they're willing to work and do what it takes."

Trevino himself is more than willing to put forth the effort to keep growing Barbershop Uncut. His grit, determination and love of hip-hop fueled the project's success.

"I would just send emails and stuff, and I just network with a lot of people," he says. "I'm always talking to people, always on my phone trying to make the next move or make sure we're set up with the next project. It's really just a lot — a lot of hustle, networking and being in the right place at the right time. Going to artists' shows, too.

"A lot of the artists that we support we're actually fans of, so when they're willing to work, I'm willing to work," he adds. "It makes sense, because I can help create a platform, and they make good music, and that's the agreement we have. If you do something really dope, I can help put money behind it, but if it's not, I also have to be real with you and tell you I don't think it's good."

Trevino works full-time to fund his passion project.

"In Westminster, I have a business called Renovate; we do granite countertops, for the most part. We have a fabrication shop, and we do cabinets, as well. And that's really what funds our barbershop and Barbershop Uncut. So we have full-time jobs to support this."

So far, the team has been able to churn out content at an impressive rate, mostly filmed in a corner of the shop set up for listening parties. In July, Barbershop Uncut was commissioned to create a track to memorialize and mourn George Floyd and the countless other victims of police brutality. Titled "I Can't Breathe (Again)," the song features Chy Reco, Ramond, A Meazy and Wil Guice and was produced by Mic Coats. Filming the video, shot in front of Thomas "Detour" Evans's gorgeous murals of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor in downtown Denver, remains one of Trevino's favorite memories.

"The project that we put together, 'I Can't Breathe (Again),' that's something that regardless of how much success it gets or doesn't get, that's an experience that me and my kids will have forever, and that in itself is success to me," he says. "I want to keep having that feeling with my kids."

Inglewood IV, A Meazy, At'Eaze, R33v Khalil, and Jay Triiiple join together on Barbershop Uncut's latest cypher. - JOHN LJFRESH
Inglewood IV, A Meazy, At'Eaze, R33v Khalil, and Jay Triiiple join together on Barbershop Uncut's latest cypher.
John LJFresh

Even during quarantine, the producers of Barbershop Uncut have been busy. They publish a weekly video segment called Barbershop Barz, where barber Kenneth "Kay Dee" Holmes interviews local standout artists in an intimate setting before having them spit a freestyle verse. (Jay Triiiple's episode, especially her freestyle over Dreamville's "Down Bad" beat, is not to be missed.) They've also organized several cyphers featuring local and national talent, and recently held a rap-battle contest for a spot in the latest cypher. The first cypher video, released in April 2020, included TheyCallHimAP, Jakob Campbell, Jay Triiiple, A Meazy, DNA Picasso, and the second, released in September, starred Rhythm & Flow alums Inglewood IV, Nas B, Jakob Campbell and Old Man Saxon, as well as Jay Triiiple.

After gaining attention and subscribers for their dedication to highlighting Colorado hip-hop, Barbershop Uncut received an influx of requests from up-and-coming artists looking to get in on the action.

"We have a lot of inquiries that we get on social media or email from artists who either want us to hear their songs and help them promote them, or they want to come on and do a Barbershop Barz. And for us, that's hard to do, because once the standard has been set, we have to maintain the standard," says Trevino.

Instead, he came up with a way to showcase them all without having to commit to backing any of them financially.

"What I decided to do is put them all in a competition for a spot in our cypher that we were going to be doing in L.A.," he says. "I responded to all of the inquiries with a 'Hey, would you be interested in participating in a rap battle?' We came up with a whole system with different rounds. A submission round, a rap-battle round, and the Barbershop Barz round as the last one."

Twelve contestants performed in front of a panel of judges on stage, who narrowed the competition down each week until there were three finalists left. The winner, Denver spiritual rapper At'Eaze, received a trip to L.A. to participate in the third Barbershop Uncut cypher (The West Coast Edition), with Jay Triiiple, Inglewood IV, A Meazy, and R33v Khalil. The cypher video, which was filmed on the Venice Beach boardwalk, dropped on November 27. As the final participant to spit his verse, At'Eaze holds his own among the prestigious group, demonstrating why he beat eleven other hopefuls to claim the coveted spot.
Barbershop Uncut's rap battle contest winner, At'Eaze, holds his own in the latest cypher video. - JOHN LJFRESH
Barbershop Uncut's rap battle contest winner, At'Eaze, holds his own in the latest cypher video.
John LJFresh
More cyphers are on the way in the future, including a possible youth cypher to accommodate requests from underage artists who were not eligible to participate in the rap-battle competition. Trevino is also building a recording studio at Onyx Barbershop, for artists on Barbershop Uncut's new music label, Uncut Entertainment, which has already signed Jay Triiiple.

Once the studio is finished, Trevino also plans to offer classes for kids interested in making music, with the help of Jay Triiiple and JuiceBox of Paradise, a rap-battle finalist who works for an organization that produces music events for children. But Trevino tries not to get too ahead of himself, especially because Barbershop Uncut is funded entirely by his other business.

"It's hard for me to say what the goal is, because the way I describe this is like I'm really deep undercover in the music industry right now, so I'm finding out a lot of things," he explains. "I just know that everything we do, we try to do it right and be successful at it. My other company funds this, so we have to be able to show growth to keep it going. I give myself realistic goals, and if I meet them, we keep it going."

Hear more at the Barbershop Uncut Youtube channel.
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Cleo Mirza recently graduated from Kenyon College with a degree in English and anthropology. She enjoys good food, cheap wine and the company of her dog, Rudy.
Contact: Cleo Mirza