Test Kitchen Dishes Up Helpful Criticism for Hip-Hop Musicians

Test Kitchen heats up at the Black Box this Wednesday night.
Test Kitchen heats up at the Black Box this Wednesday night. Courtesy of Roux Black
"With your last dollar, would you buy this record or a sandwich?"

That is the question that Motown Records founder Berry Gordy would ask producers and songwriters when deciding which new albums to release. It's also the question Ru Johnson and her guest judges will ask musicians and artists on Wednesday, February 8, at the Black Box, for the latest edition of her hip-hop event Test Kitchen.

Inspired by a food tasting she attended for a soon-to-open restaurant, Johnson saw the need for something similar in Denver's hip-hop community. Her consulting entity, Roux Black, created the bi-monthly Test Kitchen, a showcase that challenges MCs and producers from the Denver metro area to bring new tracks before an audience and a panel of judges.

Johnson evaluates music from her viewpoint as a fan,  a hip-hop journalist and a concert producer, and includes additional voices from other parts of the industry. The result is a new panel evaluating a fresh lineup of artists for each showcase. This week, Johnson will be joined by DJ 5280 and singer-songwriter J. Carey.  Sometimes venue owners and concert promoters join the panel, as well as local music fans who have a keen ear and a passion for what kind of performers make a great scene.

"I want [artists] to think about not only the industry person who might see them perform, but also the random fan at the show. What do they think? I wanted to include regular people who would have just as much of an impact on an artist's music and how far it goes as someone who's a talent buyer and makes those decisions," says Johnson of the rotating cast of judges.

To keep the showcase flowing, a guest host, often someone from the community, will usher in each performer. At this week's Test Kitchen, MC Mr. Midas will try his hand at introductions. Each producer and MC on the bill will preform two songs. Judges and the audience will weigh in before a final track is performed. Then the burning question will be asked: "With your last dollar, would you buy this record or a sandwich?"

"It's a real fun vibe. It's meant to feel like a showcase," says Johnson. "It's on a Wednesday, so people are obviously drinking at the bar and having a good time. But if they are coming out on a Wednesday, they're coming to see something they wouldn't see on a Friday night. The showcase is all about emerging artists."

This round of Test Kitchen will feature producers Big J. Beats and Sonx along with MCs Taurean, G-Slick, Ave Grim, Daego Gold, Lo-Pez and ASM. Post-show, Roux Black will release a monthly "Test Kitchen Report," sharing some positive feedback on each artist as well as links to their music. The free press release is designed to give artists an extra boost and garner additional exposure.

"A lot of these cats in the hip-hop scene, they want to play shows," says Johnson. "They want shows to go well for them and the crowd, and I don't think there is a lot of opportunity for the people who really run these things to give these new cats a chance. This is creating that opportunity."

Test Kitchen goes down this Wednesday, February 8, at 9 p.m. at the Black Box, 314 East 13th Avenue. Admission is free for those 21 and up, $5 for 18 and up. If you're an artist interested in participating in upcoming editions of Test Kitchen, send your performance name and two MP3s to [email protected] for consideration. For more information, visit the Roux Black website.  
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Bree Davies is a multimedia journalist, artist advocate and community organizer born and raised in Denver. Rooted in the world of Do-It-Yourself arts and music, Davies co-founded Titwrench experimental music festival, is host of the local music and comedy show Sounds on 29th on CPT12 Colorado Public Television and is creator and host of the civic and social issue-focused podcast, Hello? Denver? Are You Still There? Her work is centered on a passionate advocacy for all ages, accessible, inclusive, non-commercial and autonomous DIY art spaces and music venues in Denver.
Contact: Bree Davies