Wolf Wednesdays Amp Up the Denver Hip-Hop Scene | Westword
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Wolf Wednesdays Amp Up the Denver Hip-Hop Scene

"When it came to real hip-hop and R&B culture, there were no open mics that primarily cater to that in our city."
J Oso Boogie performing at Wolf Wednesdays.
J Oso Boogie performing at Wolf Wednesdays. Ana Marie
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Yasmine Holtz's music career was born of necessity — a need for connection and friendship during a period of burgeoning loneliness and social exclusion. It was 2013, and Holtz, who'd spent years bouncing between Colorado and California, had just moved to San Clemente from Aurora to live with her dad during her sophomore year of high school.

"It was really mostly richer, high-end white kids," Holtz recalls. "It was really different than the environment I'm used to...so I didn't have a lot of friends, and I started playing the guitar. That was a big thing for me, because that was the only thing I could do. I was bored all the time."

Her affinity for music had begun long before that: The young artist sang in choir in elementary school, and whenever she was asked what she wanted to be when she grew up, her answer was always sweet and simple: a musician. "I couldn't see anything other than music," Holtz says.

"I had some racist encounters [in California], but my one escape from all of that was being able to play my guitar," she reflects. "That's what saved me. That's what made me feel like I really loved music, too, because I was using it as an outlet, a release. The guitar was my friend. I was talking to my friend through the music.

"Man, I really did not like going to school out there," she adds wryly, noting that she moved back to Colorado in 2014 before returning to San Clemente the following year.
click to enlarge woman looking over her shoulder
Yasmine Holtz, creator of Wolf Wednesdays, performs as Jhazzy Wolf.
Nerdsfromdahood LLC

Then in 2016, Holtz moved to San Diego solo, which prompted the creation of her musical moniker, Jhazzy Wolf. Tired of dutifully teaching people how to pronounce her birth name, Holtz took the fresh start as an opportunity for reinvention. "I'd tell everybody my name was Jhazzy. I don't know why I didn't say Yazzy. Jhazzy just sounded better," she explains.

She changed her Instagram handle to JhazzyWolf (Jhazzy was taken), and the name stuck. "I would go places, and [my fans and peers] would be like, 'Oh, we got the Wolf in the building,' and I was like, 'Okay, we're on to something with that,'" she says with amusement.

Eventually, her music creation evolved from private guitar-strumming sessions in a secluded spot on her favorite beach to small gigs in San Diego coffee shops. She spent hours mixing hip-hop and R&B tracks in her bedroom with recording equipment borrowed from friends and started performing at open mics.

There was one open mic in particular that struck a chord with Holtz: Black Xpression, an event centered around the empowerment and unity of Black people. "I went to their open mic when they first started, and it was like their second or third one, but they already had this huge community," she remembers. "They would say things into the mic, and the crowd would say it back. And I went there, and everybody treated me like they knew me already. And I'm networking with people, I'm learning all these new things.

"When I went to these open mics, it was an experience, going in there and being around people that made similar music to me, looked similar to me, had a similar style. It was like a culture. I felt like I was walking into a community, a family," she adds. "And I always thought, 'We don't have anything like this in Denver.'"

So she networked, built connections and found kindred spirits in the same state that once made her high school self feel like an outsider. Holtz created her Jhazzy Wolf brand and absorbed as much of the music industry as she could before returning to Denver in 2021. But in the Mile High City, open mics "were more for people who play instruments or poetry or comedians," she remembers. "When it came to real hip-hop and R&B culture, there were no open mics that primarily cater to that in our city. When I finally came back, I was like, 'I want to build it, and I want to be consistent.'"

Holtz organized her first open mic, affectionately titled Wolf Wednesdays, in May 2021. The event jumped from venue to venue, lingering at the Monkey Barrel, the Fancy Penguin and the 778 before finding its current home at River Bar. At first, most nights were slow — five or six performers participated, performing lengthy sets and languishing in the extra stage time. But Holtz didn't let the low attendance discourage her.

"I knew the potential that it held," she reflects. "Finally, when I figured out some things on how to really boost the event, oh, my goodness, we just went to the next level."

The Denver hip-hop scene "is bigger than a lot of people think," she adds. "There are a lot of upcoming artists, and I really see that through Wolf Wednesdays. But coming from California to Colorado, the artists are not as exposed to as much within the music industry, so sometimes it feels like some artists are a bit behind."

click to enlarge people cheering at an open mic party
Wolf Wednesdays open-mic nights began in 2021.
Ana Marie
After all, music is a relationship business, and creative hot spots such as Los Angeles are home to a smorgasbord of revered producers like DJ Quik, Dr. Dre and Madlib, as well as such big-name labels as Warner Records and Delicious Vinyl. Denver hip-hop clubs also have a history of being shuttered: Cold Crush, Onyx Ultra Lounge and Roo-Bar Lounge are just three examples. But artists like Holtz are determined to create community and elevate Denver's hip-hop scene to national acclaim.

Cash prizes at Wolf Wednesdays, donated from a ghost sponsor, were partially responsible for the open mic's jump in popularity, Holtz says. She also expanded the incentives, reaching out to local studios, photographers and podcasters and awarding studio time, interviews, music videos and photo shoots — coveted prizes that could give a blossoming music career a quick boost. "But then I noticed things started to get a little competitive. It started to become more of a competition than an open mic, so I took the incentives away for a while," she says.

"I didn't want it to become a competition, because some people really be coming for the competition, and it would take away the networking and the getting inspired," Holtz explains. "People seemed to be there more just to win, which is okay...but it wasn't fitting the brand that I was trying to build, the community that I was trying to build."

She still offers the occasional incentive, such as the halftime headliner spot for a Colorado Spartans game that was up for grabs during the Wolf Wednesdays tournament back in January. Winner Only JD will be performing at Loveland's Blue Arena on March 23 to a crowd of around 3,000.

Meanwhile, Wolf Wednesdays at River Bar are thriving, and Holtz says attendance rates are high; around twenty to thirty artists show up for each event. The next open mic is on February 21.

"There's graffiti on the walls, there's art all over the place, and it's kind of dark. You walk in and there's a bar to the right of you, to the left of you there's seating, and then in front of that there's the stage," Holtz says of the hip-hop night. "And you feel like you're stepping into somewhere you've always been."

Wolf Wednesdays Open Mic, 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, February 21, River Bar and Gallery, 3759 Chestnut Place. Early admission tickets are $5-$10; door tickets are $15 after 8:30 p.m.
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