As Straight Outta Compton sparks a new interest in hip-hop around the country, plenty of artists have long been working to embody what N.W.A did in its time, creating independent, unapologetic art. Denver is full of such artists. You can routinely find hip-hop in venues across the city, including the Roxy and Cervantes' Masterpiece Ballroom.
Trev Rich, Pries and FL are a few of the artists who have been carrying the local scene, along with Cory Kendrix, Turner Jackson, Catch Lungz, Mulattic, A Meazy...the talent goes on and on. Mane Rock shows that there is a level of professionalism in hip-hop, as well.
Ru Johnson, founder of Roux Black and the creative mind behind the Black Summer show at the Bluebird August 27, weighs in on the importance of the independent scene. “This is the revitalization of hip-hop. It really gives an opportunity for Denver to see independent artistry at its finest," says Johnson. "And the Bluebird is giving us a chance to showcase it in a cool way, so people will say, 'I fuck with this.'"
Of the artists featured on tonight's lineup, she says, "There are people that have been preserving the culture. They're from the city, they're still in the city. It's not a downfall or an insult that you're living in the town you are from and killing it — not at all. These artists are proving you can actually do it here."
Black Summer will feature R&B singers, EDM artists and rappers, getting some people on stage who normally wouldn't have a chance to perform together. "This show is to prove that independent artists can do it on their own terms and knock it out of the park," says Johnson.
We've talked to five of the artists featured tonight, in order to give you an idea of what to expect.
"I must say that my music is truly not bound to any one specific type of audience or 'genre,'" says Sur Ellz, "because my style and personal taste in music is a mixture of a lot of different elements." Listen to a dose of Sur Ellz on Soundcloud, or hear some unreleased material he is debuting at Black Summer.
"Being able to be a part of this showcase will allow me to experience a level of performance ability that lives deep inside my soul," he says. "It feels so good to finally have my name out in the independent urban-music scene in Denver. I say urban-music scene because it's not just hip-hop. There is hip-hop, rap, R&B, soul, funk, electro, house, reggae and a few other 'genres,' all mixed into this one category. What makes it 'urban' is that its beauty comes from the streets."
Singer and songwriter Emma Mayes will make a solo debut at Black Summer. Working from Boulder and Denver for the past few years, she was formerly a member of the band Drop Switch. Mayes is currently in a nationally competing a cappella group, as well as a local disco/funk cover band called Wash Park. Mayes is another artist who is bridging the gap and breaking down walls between genres. "Although I do say I'm solo, I want to be defined as 'in an open relationship' with any fellow musicians looking to collaborate," she says. "I love so many forms of music, and I want to be free to be a part of them all. I love being 'that voice' on an EDM or hip-hop track. Maybe a permanent position in a group is waiting for me around the corner, but right now, I'm just finding my way to that." At the show tonight, she'll be playing with a full band made up of local musicians Cat Ackermann, Hunter Donnelly Renner, Max Manoles, Alex Newton, Alex Simpson and Chris Kimmel.
Denver-born Ray Reed is making moves. Collaborating with big names such as Dizzy Wright on his recent track "Blessed", Reed is one of the biggest names to grace the Black Summer roster. His latest album, Suicide II — a followup to his 2012 mixtape Suicide — features songs in collaboration with Sky Jones, J.Rich & Rena Camille and production by Jnyce, JNice, Mahxie, Treezy & VonthaProducer.
A Meazy is absolutely crushing the scene in Denver right now. Still riding on the release of his latest album, The Real Ned Flanders, which dropped in January of this year, he will be releasing the video for his song "For the Birds" this week. "It's an honor to be able to be a part of Black Summer. I love being a part of anything that can bring together hip-hop culture and introduce me to new talent," he says.
"The independent music scene out here is very deep full of unheard talent that needs to be heard but that also needs to put the proper work in to be heard. I feel there's far too much complaining instead of grinding, but I have faith it'll all come together," Meazy says of the showcase for independent hip-hop, "That's why events like Black Summer are so important for our culture."
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"I'm excited. I've never played the Bluebird before. It'll be a good night, " says Ross Pennock, who moved to Denver about a year ago. Pennock expressed his love for the collaborative energy of Black Summer as a whole. "It's going to be a sweet show. It's cool to kind of bring together a bunch of upcoming sounds in the city. There's a lot of inspiration to be gathered from a scenario like that. I think Roux Black's team has done a really good job inspiring this sort of collective culture. I've learned a lot about music; it's been a great opportunity to be exposed to different sounds and project my own as well.
"It's an exciting time to be producing music here. There are a lot of people going in a lot of different directions, there's a lot of room to collaborate, and I think it's a good philosophy, if we're fighting for hip-hop presence, to do it together."
Tickets for Black Summer are $10 in advance or $15 at the door.