Denver rapper Demario "Lil Bad" Gentry has been busy recently, releasing The Colfax District, Bad News and Shark Syndrome 2.0. He's also played shows all over the country, from Los Angeles to Miami, and he hasn't always found support for his home town during his travels. "This is my home, and I love Denver," he says. "And when I go to these other cities, the way they perceive us is disappointing, as far as the music goes," says Gentry.
So he decided to instigate a show of Denver's hip-hop strength, releasing a song called "Controversy." It's a bold statement, two and a half minutes of lines like "I'm the king 'round here." It ends with a message to his peers: "I challenge you. You have 24 hours to give me 32 bars. Okay? Okay. Controversy!"
The response has gone well beyond anything he imagined, bringing out some of the scene's biggest names and brightest talent. He posted "Controversy" twelve days ago -- one (presumably incomplete) playlist collecting the responses is 73 tracks long. Ru Johnson, writing for 303 Magazine, devoted her Rap Power Hour column this week to highlighting a few of the strongest entries, and she wasn't the only member of the local media to weigh in. For a while, #32BarChallenge was trending on Twitter in Denver.
Now, Gentry wants people to understand the true purpose of his challenge to the Colorado hip-hop scene as a whole. He says he was hoping to garner attention, but also to give fans and artists a reason to interact with each other. "I just want us as a whole to get on," he says. "It's going to take some time, but I watched this documentary about Atlanta and how they got on, and it inspired me. All this 'Controversy' thing is not about me or putting my name on. Its about all of us. A lot of artists are not on that put 'the town' on, because in a way, the town ain't with putting themselves on."
The music, Gentry says, it where it all starts: "It has to be good, and it has to be quality." The 32 bar challenge has certainly been that.
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"Everybody got the hunger in those verses -- you can hear it. You can really see the unity and the city itself, and even the consumer," says Gentry. "It literally went eleven to twelve days, through the Broncos game Sunday and everything, non-stop. That's kind of big to me, because we finally got a chance to get everyone in the city -- even the people who don't normally listen to local music -- we finally got a chance to get their ear. To let them know there is talent out here, and you can support it."
Gentry feels that the quality of the music here has been great, but he believes that it's up to the artists to put in more work if Denver is going to establish a national reputation as a hip-hop hub. "You got to attack the blacktop, really over-grind. You've got to be consistent making good music, creating a lot of visuals," he said, "You've really got to network with the promoters, got to get in the circles with the top people doing it here. Start going to the studios, meet the engineers. Be involved."
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Critically, Gentry doesn't mention anyone specifically in his original song; he even goes out of his way to note that he's not naming names. He felt that that would have made it feel like personal attacks rather than a general call to action.
For the most part, the responses have kept that spirit, though there have been some people called out specifically, and some of the jabs have led to verbal spats about unrelated things on social media. "It caused a bit of hatred from certain artists who feel that they should get a certain amount of recognition for their bars," says Gentry. "And a few real street dudes took it personal." But for Gentry, it's all just music in the end.
"This is the music industry. Hip-hop was built around controversy. Before me, before you, there was controversy in hip-hop. Ninety percent of the smart artists are doing music to get out of these mind frames from the hood.... We've got to keep that street shit in the street."
The goal, according to Gentry, is to get fans involved in the hip-hop music culture in Denver, "Everyone who dropped a 'Controversy' verse is getting heard," says Gentry. And the proof is in the numbers. There have been tens of thousands of hits on Denver artists' pages.
"This is bigger than one individual. It's about us -- not one man or one label or one clique -- it's about us a whole, to get people to pay attention to the scene," said Gentry.
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