When it comes to hip-hop, Denver has a rich and vibrant history that extends back to the '80s. From seminal b-boy crews like D&S Connection, Radio Active and Dancers Unique to latter day torch bearers like LOF (Lordz of Finesse), Our Scenario, GWT (Get With This). Can't forget the first wave graf artists like Zone, Jayzer, Rasta 68, Love, Zoom, Eye Six and Duser, who paved the way for the second wave kings like Voice, Jher, Chase, Tuke, Marz, Aztec and Shoop, the same one that the modern day Krylon warriors tread on today.
And long before anyone ever even acknowledged the Mile High City's musical contributions to hip-hop, early musical ambassadors like Mike D. Chill, Scratch G, Apostle (thanks for the memory jog, D) and nGoma, and DJs like Al Your Pal, Slick Rick, Hen G and Jam X blazed trails that scores and scores and scores of ridiculously talented individuals and artists (too many to even begin list here, frankly) followed -- all of whom subsequently helped elevate the game. Yes, sir, Denver's hip-hop roots run deep.
Much of that history is documented in MUSA's new documentary Soulz of the Rockies, premiering tonight at the Starz Film Center. And the celebration continues tomorrow afternoon in Skyline park from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. That's when the entire city will get a chance to experience and celebrate this rich culture at the Mighty 4 Denver b-boy summit, a free community event featuring DJs, music and b-boy battles.
We caught up with Fienz, co-founder of Lordz of Finesse, a long time champion of the culture, and the man responsible for bringing Mighty 4 to Denver, and asked him about his crew LOF, how Mighty 4 Denver came about and how the event's evolved since launching in 2008.
Westword (Dave Herrera): How old were you when you got into hip-hop?
Fienz (Delfino Rodriguez): I was about eleven, bro.
WW: How did you get into hip-hop?
F: This guy named Davey D. He's Ricky O's nephew. He used to make these mixtapes when I went to school, and I use to hear those, and just kind of got into the music. My sisters were a big influence to me, musically. They were hippin' me to all this stuff. I kind of got into breakin' and stuff from watching Beat Street. And I was hanging out with Davey D a lot, and he hipped me to a lot of music.
WW: So you started listening to the music first and then got into the culture?
F: Exactly. It was the music first. My parents were always listening to soul and '50s doo-wop, and then my sisters were older than me, so they were listening to disco. So I got a taste of the '50s, '60s, '70s and '80s from my parents and my sisters, and that's what kind of started it for me.
WW: So what made you gravitate toward hip-hop? Beat Street was real instrumental in that?
F: Beat Street was huge for me at that time.
WW: Lordz of Finesse is looked at as very influential now, but back then, when you were first coming up, crews like Dancers Unique, D&S Connection and Radio Active were holding things down. What do you remember about them?
F: You know what I remember? My pop's would let me go to the Pecos Center to a couple dances with Davey D and Ricky O, and I remember they used to have these community dances at the center, and that's where I would see some of those guys sometimes. I was just a little kid. I would just go dance by myself, really. I wasn't in a crew. We would dance after school in the cafeteria or whatever. But I always heard about Radioactive, Lil Stevie, Fame and all those cats.
WW: So when you came up, how did you immerse yourself in the culture? When did you really start becoming a b-boy?
F: I didn't really start becoming a hardcore b-boy until '92, really. You know, from like eighty... when breakin' died, dudes that were breakin' didn't really know what to do. So I kind of gravitated toward trying to DJ. I wanted to learn how to be a graf writer, but these dudes that I went to school with - there were these dudes called Ouch crew or something - these dudes didn't really want to show me. So I was kind of trying to teach myself little bits.
And then in the early '90s, the gang thing hit, and I was in that wave. About '92, I used to hang out at this art gallery called C.H.A.C., and Leo Tanguma, the artist, he was chillin with these young dudes -- well, they were older than me -- named Rafa and Zore. They were doing this tour, going around and doing graffiti.
Rafa and Zore really inspired me to get back into hip-hop. They told me that breakin' had never died in Chicago and that it went real underground. That's all they talked about, starting this Spray Brigade Nation -- because they were called the Spray Brigade. They really hyped me up. After they left Denver, we tried to start -- the dudes I was hanging out with, my brother Chonz, Milk, this dude Cisco -- a crew to mimic them called the Soul Patrol Crew. And that's kind of how I got into the graffiti game. And I started breakin' again.
What happened is the "Chief Rocka" [Lords of the Underground] video came out. That really, really inspired me when I saw Crazy Legs in it. And I saw this other really light-skinned dude, and I thought he was a Mexican dude. It turned out to be Kwikstep in that video. That really inspired me. And then meeting Rock Steady in '93 when they were in Denver. Those guys just kind of pushed me beyond the limit.
WW: So was that around the time that LOF started?
F: LOF started in 1993, but before in the late-spring/early-summer, towards the end of the school year, we did these murals at North. The NC crew and SWS, we were all together as one then. But we did the burners at North, and at the same time, Ghetto Originals was coming through. We were hanging out at Casa del Fonk at the time, and my boy Milk ran into all the Ghetto Originals at the Ashland. So I went out to Ashland, and I met all those dudes -- all the dudes that I was looking up to in Beat Street when I was, like, eleven: Crazy Legs, Ken Swift, Sable, Wiggles, Zulu Gremlin, who was Lil Stevie, the Soul Messiah.
I met all these dudes. I was so excited, I threw a big ass party at my crib. I went and picked up Ken Swift, Crazy Legs, Soul Messiah and Gremlin from Boulder and brought 'em back down to the North side. We had a party. And what happened at the party, we were trying to show them what we knew how to do. We were dancing, and Ken Swift kind of pulled me to the side and started talking to me about hip-hop and about being a b-boy and the importance of the moves. It felt like two hours, but it was probably like ten minutes. There was this big party going on, and then all of the sudden, my whole life made sense. And by then, that's what I figured I wanted to do.
WW: Why were Ken Swift and those cats in Denver?
F: They were on a tour. They were part of the Colorado Dance Festival, and they were doing workshops at the Ashland Theater.
WW: So that was kind of the turning point for you really embracing hip-hop?
F: That's when I started really focusing on it. We went to the show in Boulder, and we were the only inner city kids there, bro. It was me, Voice, Milk, Chonz, DJ Hen G. We were the only dudes there that were from the 'hood, in Boulder, checking out this show. We were wondering -- like Voice says in this documentary that's coming out -- how come they got [to see] that and we didn't? That really inspired us to be a crew, but we still weren't LOF yet. We were still NC Crew.
A week after they left, Milk went to the Ashland again, and Kwikstep ended up being at Ashland. I rushed over there from Casa del Fonk -- he called me over there -- to come down. So I came down, and what happened: Milk was telling him about me, that I was breakin' and that I was alright, this and that. And I was still just doing what I'd seen on TV from when I was a kid, from what I remembered. I must've been eighteen, nineteen at the time. And Kwik said, "Yo, let me see what you got, little brother."
So I went all crazy, and showed him everything I had, and he was like, "Yeah, man, you got some fire in you, homie. So I'm going to teach you, bro. I'm staying back." So he stood -- he actually stood in Denver for like a year. We ended up living together, and he and I really came up with the concept for LOF, when we were staying with my cousin Shanaenae in the Quigg Newtons.
The original LOF was just "loaf," like bread: Each dude in the crew was like a slice of bread. You never knew what you were going to get. You'd get a different slice every time a different dude came out. So that's what we came up with: You're going to get burnt like toast if you mess with us. So that was the original, original concept of LOF.
WW: When you came out with LOF, there weren't a lot of crews...
F: There were no crews, bro. Zero. Me and Marz, even before LOF started, when me and Marz were doing those pieces at North High School, we were breakin' when were doing the pieces, and the kids were laughing at us. Voice had found a spot at the old Gart Brothers way down south, and this other dude we used to hang out with, Juanito, found this other spot, Marshalls, way up north. We used to go to those places and cop sneakers that they didn't have anymore. At that time, they weren't making shell toes or Puma Baskets or Puma Clydes.
WW: So since there were no rival crews, how did you get things going?
F: We battled each other. We practiced at C.H.A.C., the art gallery. They let us practice at their art gallery. They let us have our own space there to keep us off the street. So we practiced there as much as we could, whenever they would let us. What happened was we started having these parties. We had a hip-hop Halloween party, and we set up a breakin' contest. And what we did was we just battled each other.
That's how the early '90s scene went. There were no other crews. And then people started catching on to what we were doing, and dudes started... like when Screamer first came out, we seen him at Rock Island, but he didn't really know anything. So me and Kwik kind of took him under our wing and showed him some stuff. He was originally going to be in LOF. The same thing with Al-Capone. Al-Capone was down with LOF for a while. A lot of those dudes. Like even Emillo from R-Sinareeo, I taught him a lot of stuff.
And then what happened, as far as expanding it, I got a job with the city. This lady named Delores Moreno hired me to teach kids how to break and do graffiti, which was dope. I worked after school at Horace Mann Middle School. Guys that were in my program were, like, Jolt and Marshall.
I can't remember all the kids, but the ones that stick out were Marshall and Jolt. Jolt, his first name was Earth. I remember him showing me his name, Earth, when he first came. Those dudes were in sixth grade when I started working there. I had another crew that was a break off of NC; it was called TKRS, and I had Jolt and Marshall down with that crew back then.
WW: So when did the scene really start to flourish?
F: I think '94-'95 is when it really started getting going, like GWT started coming out. But I think R-Sinareeo really picked up the game, because we were going back and forth with R-Sinareeo at that time. They were trying to get with us on all levels. We even combined for a while, and I taught Emilo a lot of stuff, and then I taught Rage and those dudes. We were teaching them a lot of our stuff. So those dudes kind of blew up a little bit, and they were getting all their history from us, like me, Marz, Voice, Chonz, Pheud.
And then little J-Rock and those dudes started coming up from the South side. Marz and all those dudes used to live in the neighborhood, so they knew those guys. So those guys started coming up and we knew those guys. They were part of LOF. They weren't part of the original core crew, but they were, like, the next wave to come in on LOF.
WW: So who was the original LOF?
F: Original LOF, I would say, was me, Kwik, Africa Sam, Chonz, Voice, Marz, Bus, Milk and then Pheud. And it took Pheud a while to get down in the first LOF.
WW: So by the mid-'90s when the Spot came around, the scene really started flourishing.
F: The Spot was really influential. What happened with the Spot, that dude Dave [DeForest-]Stalls was working with Milk and a bunch of dudes trying to get open. He had a spot on the East Side -- the Spot that was on Stout in the press building was the second Spot. There was a Spot on the Eastside that they couldn't get anyone to go to. So what happened was there was this lady that helped me that I used to talk to; her name was Reg.
She suggested that Dave meet with me, and Dave took me out to lunch and was like, "Yo, I have this place, and I want people to come." At that time, we needed a place to practice. So Kwik was coming back and forth from New York, and I told Kwik, "Yo, I got this place to practice. This guy's offering it to us." He's like, "So tell him we need this and this."
So I told Dave we needed linoleum and mirrors. I told him, "If you get us linoleum and mirrors and then buy a bunch of paint, I'll get the people to come and paint and we'll get the kids to come in here. And that's how the Spot got started. It was just our practice Spot, really, and everything flourished from there.
WW: I was around back then. I completely remember that. Bboying was king of dead before that. There was a time between the mid-'80s to the mid-'90s when no one was really breakin' and then all of the sudden it was back.
F: It brought us all together. What was crazy, bro, you know how Denver is so neighborhood separated? A lot of us were from the North side. But then Voice and them were from the South side and the West side. And it was crazy how we combined forces, because never normally would've hung out. You know what I'm saying?
As part of training, we used to go to Aurora clubs in the early '90s when they were doing the freestyle house dancing, and we'd go out there and get in their circles and start breakin'. We were the only Mexicans in the whole spot, so we'd be battling the entire club, but that made our skills on point.
WW: How big of an impact do you think hip-hop and b-boy culture had on Denver, in terms of keeping kids out of trouble and building community. Because back in '93, that was -- what did they call it, the summer of violence? That's right when this second wave of hip-hop kind of had a resurgence.
F: I think it was huge. That's crazy that you ask that. It was just Marshall's birthday, and he was one of the kids that came up. I send him a happy birthday note. I said, "Listen, man, you're my little brother. Happy birthday! You were my first student, and I appreciate you letting me teach you." And he hit back and was like, "Yo, if it wasn't for you, I don't even think I'd be alive right now." That blew my mind, bro. I couldn't believe he told me that.
WW: Being a pillar of hip-hop culture in this town, how does it feel to see it all come full circle now? Kids are down with b-boying and b-boy culture. It wasn't like this when we were kids. How does it feel to look back and know that you had a part in that?
F: I don't know how to take that sometimes, really. Kids are going all over to find out about history, to find out why do we do this about dance and this about hip-hop. But [they need to know] we have our own deep-rooted history here.
We have these ill graffiti writers, from Rasta to Zoom to all these cats. You know what I mean? From Malo to the Kid, all these kids that I was trying to mimic myself. You know, these dudes were ill. We had ill b-boys, dude, like Gremlin: He comes from Denver. Asia: She comes from Denver. She wasn't even a b-girl when she left Denver. We taught her her first footwork and her first foundation, her first uprocks. You know what I mean?
LOF was on hiatus for, like, ten years or more. It was Stretch, the DJ Stretch, who kept getting at me like, "Yo, come and practice. Come and practice!" I'm like, "Naw, bro, naw." But when I started practicing again, things just started falling into place. It was weird. And me, I just wanted to teach more. I knew what my path was from when I had that talk with Ken Swift, but what happened was I started teaching Lil Cee Los. He was like my second student.
I wanted to show my homie Cee Los what he had been missing while he was bangin' hard. I wanted to show him what he missed. So we went to the freestyle session, and I started seeing all these dudes that I had known. Because Lordz of Finesse, we were like gypsies: We would save all our loot and go to San Diego, go to L.A., go to New York, and then bring back everything we learned. But then everything came full circle for me when I met Trac, and then I started meeting all of the pioneers of the game.
To be honest, all the new dudes in the game don't really know why they're in the game, why they do what they do. I don't consider myself a pioneer. I just consider myself a teacher to the kids. I'm just like a book that nobody's tapped to open, bro. I was talking to Aby on the phone, I was like, "Yo, I have all this knowledge, bro, but no one to share it with." And when I tried to share it, the kids were dissing me when we were coming back out like, "Why is LOF coming back?"
I was coming back because I love it. I'm 37-years-old, bro, and the fire still hasn't burned out. So that's telling me something. And I have a wife now that supports fully. The Mighty 4 happened because Whuerok looked into it, but then it got thrown on my lap. I never expected to ... I'm not a promoter, bro. I'm just a b-boy, dude. I want to hang out with Trac 2. Like I'm hanging out with Trac 2 right now. I'm hanging out with Tony Tone from the Cold Crush Brothers. Never in a million years did I think that would happen.
I went to Miami, and Ken Swift knows who I am. If you went to a Pro-am and said, "Yo, Fienz says to tell you, 'What's up? He told me if I told you I know him, maybe you'll do a little interview with me." My friend Musa, who did the documentary, he went to interview Ken Swift in Vegas. And he was like, "Yo, I need to talk to you." And Ken Swift was about to blow him off. And he's like, "Yo, my boy Fienz told me to talk to you." And he was like, "Oh, oh, and he stopped." That kind of stuff, bro, if I talk to Ken Swift on the phone and he tells me, "You're a pioneer for your city, and I don't give a fuck," to me, that validated it for me.
Trac 2 validates that, "Yo, you're doing this for your community and we're coming out." He paid for his own ticket to come out here to hang out. He's a pioneer, dude. Mr. Freeze is coming out, and he bought his own ticket to come out to Denver. And I only met Mr. Freeze a couple of times. And the only reason for that is because Trac 2 validated me with all these people.
The only thing that I wanted to do was to make Denver respected in that scene. And I wanted the kids in this city to experience what I had to travel to New York to experience or had to travel to L.A. to experience. I want them to experience it in their home. And I want other people to want to come to our city because we have a raw hip-hop scene. Trac 2 says our scene is the closest scene to what was happening in New York when he was growing up.
I'm humbled, dude. What else can I say? And he calls me his brother. He's like, "You're my family. You're my brother. I'll come here whether you're going to have the event or not. I got my ticket." I bug out all the time. I pretty much put my family in a bad position to even have this event the last two years. This shit came out of my own pocket, bro. And last year, I was really, really hurt, because people were complaining and talking shit, like, "Why are you charging for this and charging for that?"
It was like, "Yo, dude, I flew all these people out for you to meet: Paulskee, Yknot, Jojo, Trac, Aby, Troll -- pioneers of cities, dude, from all over. It was like, "You guys would never get to meet them without this." So I just didn't understand. I paid for the venue. I paid for all these legendary DJs to come, and you guys were still dissing me. I don't get it, bro. I just don't understand.
And now that Aby restarted TBB -- which is called the Bronx Boys -- Trac put me down with StarChild La Rock, after we hung out for a while. TBB is one of the five original b-boy crews and was one of the second largest. These dudes put me down. So I'm reppin' LOF/TBB Denver. TBB's worldwide right now. And now people are trying to call me and want to get with me because they want to be a part of TBB. But they only want to be a part of that to make their status up.
That's not what I got in the game for. I didn't ask to be in TBB. They asked me. And that's why I think the kids misinterpret. They want fame right away. It took me, what -- '93 to now ... that's almost seventeen years. It took me that long, and that's not even counting when I started dancing in '83-'84 and danced until '86. And then people start laughing at you. So you've got people laughing at you in '86, and then I got laughed at again in '92.
WW: So tell me how Mighty 4 Denver came about.
F: I knew about it, but I didn't know that you could bring it places. So a younger dude -- I was trying to rebuild Lordz of Finesse at the time, bro, so I was putting dudes down that I thought were going to be on the same plain and stuff like that. Anyway, I came across MikeWird, Whuerok. He's like, "Yo, you should bring Mighty 4" -- we wanted to have LOF fifteen-year anniversary -- so, he's like, "You should do the Mighty 4 and make that the LOF anniversary." I was like, "Alright, bro, whatever; look into it." So he looked into it. Paulskee sent him these conditions to do the Mighty 4, so he sent them to me, and it kind of just fell into my lap.
So me and Paulskee started talking to each other, and I was like, "I don't think I can do this. I don't really have the money." And he's like, "Naw, dude. This is what I do. I do community jams in little places." So after the first year, Trac 2 came. All he told me when I met him in LA was, "Yo, you guys get me a ticket, and I'll come to the jam. That's all I need." So I got him a ticket and place, and he came. Same thing with Jojo. Same thing. Got him a ticket, he came.
So it just came about from Whuerock, really, just pitching the idea and it fell in my lap and kind of went from there. My brother has really helped me a lot. And to be honest, if my wife wasn't here supporting me, bro, this probably wouldn't happen. She supports me like three-thousand percent. She has my back for the whole event. Without her, this probably wouldn't happen. She helps me do the schedules and write stuff up. No one wants to give money to a hip-hop event. Everybody's scared of it. But we're going to them now, so the community will see what we have to offer.
WW: So what do can we expect from this year's Mighty 4 event.
F: It's about the culture and the community. This year, we're combining with Brother Jeff and the cultural center to bring the East side in. We've got dudes from Boulder, the Springs, and Fort Collins says they're coming. We've got dudes coming in from Virgina; we've got people coming from all over.
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It's not just an event to have an event. It's an event that we want the community to come an enjoy. It's not just b-boy music. We've got Ricky O from KDKO; he's going to DJ. We've got this dude named Saberfex that's going to spin old school. I want my parents to be able to come and kick back and be like, "Yo, I remember that song!" but still, at the same time, to see what's going on with the kids. It took my parents a long time to figure out what me and Chonz were doing. They hated it. But now, they're with it, and they're proud of us, and they understand what we're trying to do.
The highlight for me last year was watching the little kids come, bro. To me it's important for the little kids. I don't charge the little kids nothing to get into the contest. The only thing that cost any money is to get into the contest to help pay for the awards and prize money. Other than that, everything's free.
We're doing awards this year. Every year, we give out $1500 prize money. But this year, I've got original generation b-boys here -- not b-boys in the sense they're breakers, but b-boys period, hip-hop b-boys. We've got Tony Tone, Aby, Trac, Mr. Freeze, and we're going to give an award out this year that represents the five original b-boy crews: The Zulu Kings, StarChild La Rock, TBB, the CC Crew and the Sal Soul crew.
Everything that we do in b-boying came from these five original crews, and this award represents them. It's called the Original Generations Award, and it's stamped by the New York B-Boy Authority. It's the first time this award has ever been given out anywhere in the entire world -- and you know how many b-boy events there are now.