Last week, I received a phone call from Scott Nolan, a.k.a. Dice One of the hip-hop collective, 208 Underground Northwest. He called to see if I would be interested in previewing or reviewing a show on June 11 at the Big Easy featuring him and some other hip-hop artists. "No," I said to myself. "I don't even understand hip-hop or rap. "So?" myself said back. "You can't just write about what you understand. As the Music Mama, you have to write about all types of music. You might even like it." Fine. I asked Nolan if he could drop off a CD of their music.
The next day, he and fellow hip-hop artist Chris Jameson, a.k.a. Arcturus, stopped by with some promotional material, including a poster, post cards and Jameson's (as Arcturus) newest release, Supa-Ida-Formulistik-Gudda-Spit-Ferocious (I couldn't make this stuff up). I put on my headphones, popped the CD in my Mac and hit play. Not only did I not hate the music, I liked it. So, I decided to go see the show, which the Big Easy had billed as the Second Annual Hip-Hop Fest.
When I arrived at the front gate, a man with a hand-held metal detector stopped me and politely asked me to take everything out of my pockets and raise my arms. Discovering I was clean (weaponless, anyway) he waved me forward, where I was promptly stopped a second time and asked, politely again, to raise my arms and hand-over my purse. One young girl went through my purse while another one frisked me. I've never even been frisked at the airport, and here I was getting a pat-down before going into a local show. While the girls went about their business, I read the list of rules posted outside the door. These are rules which I have never seen-and I have been to a lot of shows at the Big Easy. "No white tank tops, no plain white T-shirts, no T-shirts with profanity or offensive language" and so on. The staff was very polite, but it reinforced my preconceived notions about these kind of shows: They are scary and I don't belong.
I came in just in time to catch the second group, Double O Ryderz from Ontario, Oregon-two guys who could be doubles for Fat Joe and Big Pun. I enjoyed their melodic beats, intelligble rhymes and rapid-fire rapping. Then came Untouchable, a group out of Twin Falls. They were hype men, throwing tons of T-shirts, posters and CDs into the audience to get everyone excited. Their rap had a definite Latin influence and was interesting and tight and the audience seemed to love them. Apparently, they've enjoyed some radio play for a couple of their singles.
Next up was Mad-Ro, which included Jameson and Nolan as emcees. Having enjoyed sold-out shows and having opened for acts such as Ja Rule in the past, the group's professionalism and relationship with the audience showcased their experience and love for what they do. I wanted to learn a little more about these men behind the microphones. Nolan and Jameson agreed to meet with me the next day.
Clean-cut, nice, handsome guys, Nolan and Jameson were working the grind Sunday evening when I caught up with them. (The "grind" or "hustle"-endless self-promotion. Hip-hop artists go to radio stations, stores, newspaper office and out on the streets to hand out CDs, flyers, cards and posters; anything to get their names and faces in front of everyone.) This is a full-time job for these guys. Mad-Ro is signed to the Seattle record label, Noc-On-Wood, and are part of a big CD release party featuring several out of town acts planned for the Big Easy on July 22. They also have a college tour scheduled later this summer. It's a lot of work, but these guys have been at it for a long time. At 24-years old, Nolan has been into hip-hop since the age of 11. He started with graffiti, moved to breakdancing, DJ-ing and freestyling. 27-year old Jameson has been rapping since the third grade and says he can't imagine doing anything else. Ever. He calls his sound "abstract hip-hop" and defines it as "a creative, innovative, sometimes surprising old school sound that uses elements of turntablism, emceeing and freestyling." Jameson gets a great deal of support on each project from all of the other members of Mad-Ro and even his mother. He told me she scours garage sales and flea markets for records he can use for sampling. His gratitude to her is very clear in "Mama," a song from his new CD about how she helped him become the man he is today.
While rap and hip-hop trends have the music climbing in and out of the gutter with super poppy boy-band rap at one end and pop-a-cap-in-your-ass gangsta rap at the other, Mad-Ro and 208 Underground Northwest stay as true to their brand of hip-hop as they did when they first started in 1998. They show a real love for their music and their lifestyle and they definitely know how to hustle everyone (in a good way)-even me.
Mad-Ro and the 208 Underground Northwest CD release party, Big Easy, July 22, 7 p.m.