Second Annual Boise Spring Hip-Hop Fest Brings It Big 

Breaking it down to the elements

The Cunninlynguists won't take Kno for an answer.

photo by Jens Nordstrom

The Cunninlynguists won't take Kno for an answer.

Last year, Boisean Anthony Noriega (no relation to Manuel) wanted to see some underground hip-hop. But with a job and three daughters, heading out of town wasn't really an option. So he brought the hip-hop to him: In April 2010, he organized the first Boise Spring Hip-Hop Show.

At the time, he told Boise Weekly that he wanted to "bring some solid underground hip-hop talent to Boise."

Noriega got a few sponsors on board and managed to turn his love of the genre into a show that included acts from California, Oregon and Idaho.

Not surprisingly, Noriega said his goal was to make the show an annual event. But what often happens with events like these is that organizers try to grow too big too fast and the whole thing blows up--and not in the good way. Noriega put his organizational skills to good use, however, and enlisted the help of local veteran hip-hop promoter Travis Powell (of Free Range Booking and Don't Sleep Boise). So while this year's fest on May 13-14 is definitely bigger, it doesn't seem in danger of exploding--in the bad way.

Powell echoed Noriega's sentiments from last year as their mutual inspiration: They want to bring underground hip-hop to Boise. For Powell, who started bringing hip-hop to Boise in 2002 with Josh Martinez and The Chicharones, it's all in the title of this year's event: Elemental Breakdown: Second Annual Boise Spring Hip-Hop Fest. The idea behind the name is all about getting back to the roots of hip-hop--including graffiti and hip-hop, which will be showcased in the Newt & Harold's parking lot on Saturday.

"We're trying to celebrate the true elements and origins of underground hip-hop, which have kind of been overshadowed by the modern interpretation of what the hip-hop movement is," Powell said. "It's definitely the most commercialized and exploited genre of music."

That's not to say that some of the acts on the bill haven't realized commercial success.

The fest's two headliners are Sweatshop Union on Friday, May 13, and Kentucky-based hip-hop trio Cunninlynguists on Saturday, May 14. For Cunninlynguists DJ/MC Kno (nee Ryan Wisler), a fest like this is a return to his own roots in a way.

Kno was born in Bend, Ore., and lived there as a child before moving to the South. He now calls Wilmington, N.C., home, and while the South has definitely informed Cunninlynguists' sound, those very early years still influence him.

For Cunninlynguists' most recent release, Oneirology, Kno said he wanted the album to be "big and dreamy and have a certain sonic quality," not unlike the wide open spaces of the Northwest. And as he talked about the new album, he referred to the track "Dreams" as the "first cornerstone" and "Enemies With Benefits" as the "last cornerstone," and all of the tracks working to "smooth it all out, kind of like building a house."

"My dad was a carpenter," Kno said with a laugh. "So all I have is carpenter metaphors. He still lives in the High Desert where I grew up. I'm familiar with the sagebrush and all of that kind of stuff. That's my place out there."

Along with Cunninlynguists and Sweatshop Union, the fest will also bring some cutting-edge acts like Tonedeff and Homeboy Sandman, an Ivy League law student who picked up a mic, set down the books and never looked back.

The event will also feature a slew of local talent. Though Boise isn't exactly a hotbed for this kind of music, some homegrown seeds of hip-hop have sprouted and flourished here. But rather than just open it up to anyone who thinks he or she can rap or create beats or rhyme, Noriega and Powell held official tryouts at the Knitting Factory in early March. Hundreds of people showed up--not only to try out but to watch and cheer.

A handful of local acts made it through the process--which included submitting a demo, using high-quality beats and letting a decibel reader determine how much audience support there really was. Acts that made the cut include a few that have been gaining some momentum: Oso Negro, Dedicated Servers, Pleasantville Killerz, Art Maddox and more.

In the end, Elemental Breakdown is not about national hip-hop acts, local hip-hop acts, graffiti or breakdancing--at least not individually. It's about all of those things, but more than that, it's about underground hip-hop and what Noriega and Powell believe that means. And even if it's only for two days, the two of them want to see hip-hop and all of its trappings wiped clean of the commercialism that now envelops it.

"We want to expose hip-hop for what it really is," Noriega said. "It's graffiti, it's breakdancing, it's music. It's a lifestyle and it allows people to make a connection."

Get the full lineup here.

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