Finding Freestyle Community in North Carolina

see also Cypher on Planet Iznak

Finding Freestyle Community in North Carolina

Clyde Smith for BLU Magazine (Issue #13, 2001, p. 12)

Upon moving back to Greensboro, North Carolina after many years in more urban areas, I didn't expect to find inspiring up-to-date artistic projects. But attending a Lyrical Menace event at Fuzzy Ducks, one of a series of statewide freestyle competitions with their epicenter in Greensboro, radically shifted my perspective regarding the level of regional talent. Kevin Cheek, The Brown Recluse, organized the event which was judged by local folks knowledgeable about and involved with hip hop. Before the contest began Kevin circulated through the crowd gathering themes which contestants then addressed with beats supplied by local dj crew Kaos Mathematics. Though some participants totally lost focus others erupted with complex waves of lyrics that were clearly created on the spot.

While the talent was impressive, I was also moved by a supportive community vibe that pervaded the event. Often one mc would come off the stage to be embraced by his competitors and there was a sense of comraderie that I have rarely seen in any competitive situation. Another important aspect was a comfortable interracial feel which was later confirmed by repeated visits to local events and in a discussion I had with Case Logic, one of the few white rappers present. He said he found this particular scene to have the least amount of racial tension he'd experienced in hip hop. Attending that first Lyrical Menace inspired me artistically but more importantly it gave me the utopian feeling that maybe we can work things out, at least in specific settings where open communication occurs.

After attending more competitions and a cipher that happens periodically at Gate City Noise, another local venue, this community feeling remained even as I discovered more of the realities of people's differences. I recently spoke with Kevin Cheek to gain the organizers perspectives on my perceptions. We began with a discussion of the art of freestyle which Kevin terms the basic element of mcing. And though he understands the need to get paid, Kevin emphasizes communication and mutual support when talking about what he values in hip hop. He particularly enjoys the times when freestylers gather on the sidewalk communicating with each other and speaking what's on their mind in the moment.

Kevin and I concurred that one of the strongest participants in the contests is Cosmic Legaci whose encouragement of other performers in the midst of competition exemplifies such values. Kevin acknowledges that for some local rappers success is money, hos and clothes but he prefers figures like Cosmic Legaci who can battle without having to hate on each other. He also emphasizes the work of local herbalist Treasun who represents the realness of hip hop in that he speaks nothing but truth. I mentioned Case Logic who helped introduce me to the local scene and whose lyrics are complex and politically astute. Kevin regards him as possibly the most underrated mc in Greensboro because he doesn't get his props in local judging. But such are the realities of competitions in which we all have favorites and not everyone can win. For now, I'm extremely happy to be spending time in a setting where money has yet to change the situation though, with the level of talent and desire I've observed, that may not remain the case for long.

(c) copyright 2001-2008 clyde smith