I lived on the sixth floor of Lee Residence Hall for four years, less than 100 yards from the Bragaw Activity Room, a glass-walled lounge and meeting room in N.C. State's Bragaw Hall. There's an amphitheater between the two dorms, and the beginning of each school year usually brought some oversized temporary stage to its center, massive speakers aimed right at my dorm room window. That was bad news, considering the sound bounced off bricks surrounding the amphitheater like bullets in a lead box and that the bands were, as a tradition, dismal.
I remember boorish modern rock one year, terribly bland soul shaking the next. As a junior, I remember country megastars Lonestar (who are from Tennesee, something I find amusing) performing for Homecoming nearby, followed by Ludacris in 2004. This year, scraping the bottom of the barrel yielded a free performance by Crossfade. University officials should have considered paying people to go.
The point is, at a university notorious for its lack of a progressive worldview, good entertainment on a large scale is a bygone's fantasy. While Duke gets Kanye and Carolina gets Common, State gets the aforementioned Crossfade. But State does have students who get enthused easily, and they're pretty good at doing it themselves, with or without university sanction.
Friday night, that enthusiasm paid its dividends in Bragaw Activity Room, a space used primarily for hokey open mics and LAN video game competitions while I was a student. H2O--or, Hip-Hop Organization--held its Fall Semester Jumpoff, packing the room until people were happy to stand outside. By the end of the 16-person emcee battle, the air was so sticky that the glass walls were plastered with condensation. From the start, it was clear that the multi-colored crowd was here to listen to hip hop. They called every emcee out when he stumbled through a bar of a freestyle, and they erupted with glee every time a successful slam was tossed. Little Brother's 9th Wonder and 21st Records' Pauly Snubnoze judged the contest, DJ'd by H2O's Ill Digitz and hosted by the collective's honey-voiced, socially aware female emcee Rapsody. The contestants' jitters were apparent, as were the writers'. At one point, 9th Wonder informed the young contestants that he wasn't easily duped in this hip hop thing: "This ain't for y'all who learned hip hop yesterday."
But, above all, it was apparent that the character of N.C. State isn't what it was in 2001. It's a slow, tectonic process, but--given H2O's inclusion as the university's first endorsed hip-hop club--maybe N.C. State finally has a clue and a chance to escape its purely plowshare image. Maybe.
H2O releases its first mixtape at The Brewery Friday night at 10 p.m.