Gil Scott-Heron once said that the revolution would not be televised. And from the looks of this scene, I'm fairly certain that this particular episode will be in the history books before most people realize that it even happened.
At close to 10:30 p.m. on the last Thursday in March, a handful of people assemble at the Soiled Dove to celebrate the release of Low Budget Soul. Dent is behind the turntables, nodding his head and miming along with some deep, old-school cuts, completely oblivious to the fact that the joint is nearly empty. Meanwhile, just a few blocks away, a steady stream of people are filing in to Rise, eagerly anticipating a midnight performance by the Pharcyde.
Although the Dove will eventually fill up -- largely with the artists, who comprise Denver's hottest acts, and their friends -- the sparse turnout at the start is symbolic of the constant struggle that the local hip-hop community has faced over the years. Even though hip-hop continues to be the most popular and lucrative genre nationally, most Denverites couldn't find indigenous hip-hop if they typed in the coordinates on MapQuest. As a result, these artists have been relegated to serving as token entries on national bills and entertaining one another on off-nights at continuously revolving locales. Moreover, with the notable exception of the Procussions, who relocated to L.A. a few years ago, no Denver acts have broken through on a national level. Attempting to assess why is as frustrating as it is perplexing, like trying to explain why NyQuil is green and DayQuil is orange. It's certainly not because of any lack of talent: Even a cursory listen to Low Budget Soul proves that this scene has more than enough star power to really shine.
"What we're trying to do initially with this tool, more than anything, is to try and create opportunities," Dent says of the free compilation. "I really want to get this into the right people's hands. I want to try and get this into distributors' hands and get introduced to the industry. I think maybe that's what a lot of people lack in some ways. You know, it's hard; you got to pay a lot of dues in this game. I think it's all about being persistent and being constant with the music. So with the scene, once people start creating game plans and marketing strategies of how to attack the market in a certain way, then maybe they might get a fan base. If we do good music and we're throwing good shows like we do, I think people will catch on sooner or later. I think that the music and the quality are there."
No doubt: Low Budget Soul is the most compelling, well-rounded collection I've heard. Aided by the precision production of Solpowa, CAI and Status, the disc offers an ideal snapshot of the Denver underground. Bombastic contributions from the unheralded Rraahh Foundashun -- and King Mississippi, whose silky baritone on "The Revolushun" and "Rock the Party" makes Nate Dogg seem like an also-ran -- bookend the nimble beats and laid-back flow of the Fly and Dent on "the Zigga Zig (that Party Joint)." And there are plenty of other high points, from the hook-laden hip-pop stylings of the Brown Bombers ("Messin' Around") to a riotous sendup from Azma ("Hell Yeah") to standout performances from such proven contenders as Apostle, Ground Zero Movement and the Life Crew -- an all-star ensemble that features producer Gunther B, DJ Thought, MC Griot and members of Ideal Ideologies, the Pirate Sygnl and Prana. There isn't a weak entry in the bunch, making this disc an absolute must-have for both hip-hop heads and those who've slept on the Denver scene.
But as good as the disc is, that's no guarantee it will register a blip on the national radar. Denver hip-hop -- like other scenes in our town -- doesn't have an identifiable, ubiquitous regional sound, like hip-hop in St. Louis or Atlanta. The aesthetic here is more sophisticated, with more links to the purist and reverent conventions of acts like De La Soul, Mos Def and the Roots. And that's why Dent promises to keep on grinding, even if he never achieves the level of success he feels the scene merits.
"The industry is no joke," he says. "If this rap game was easy, everyone would be doing it. A lot of cats, you know, they talk a lot. You can't build a reputation on talking about something, you know what I'm saying? I think there's a thin line between the fake and the real sometimes. But good music is good music, and it's timeless. I hope that the music will speak for itself. I want the music I push out to have everlasting feeling on you.
"It's all about paying dues," he adds. "Everything is about paying dues. You just can't show up and be like, 'Oh, I'm here.' To be a champion, you must fight one last round. I think some cats just give up way too quick. People just want to be on top of the world right away without trying to give their two cents back or even trying to really build the community or throw their own nights."
Word is bond.
Upbeats and beatdowns: This weekend, Rose Hill Drive headlines two nights at the Fox Theatre. On Friday, April 8, the act shares the stage with the Swayback and Hot Like (a) Robot, and on Saturday, April 9, Facing New York and Rana open a show that will also feature Cody Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars), who is slated to sit in with Rose Hill.
Also on Friday, April 8, Bright Channel, Mandarin and Fifth Utility drop off the hi-dive; Softwolf, Out on Bail, Bambi Lee Savage and Red Cloud hover at the 15th Street Tavern; the Autumn Effect joins Aubrey Collins at the Hard Rock Cafe; Mustangs and Madras, Cost of Living and Signal to Noise get dialed in at the Larimer Lounge; Greenfield, John Common and the Last Seen look up at the Bluebird Theater; Red Line Defiance, More Than Medium, Step Short and Rubber Planet bounce over to Herman's Hideaway; and Valio Mierda, Under the Drone and Ion electrify the Cherry Pit. Finally, on Saturday, April 9, Sideline, I-October, Pacify, Stich and Ransome take over the Ogden Theatre; Rexway and Diesel Man fill up at the Marquis Theater; and Scarlet Haze, 802, Silence the Satellites and Savage Henry stop by Herman's.