Photo Courtesy of Toon & The Real Laww
Professor Toon & The Real Laww
On most days, The Bullpen—a brightly lit co-working space in the basement of Durham’s American Underground
—is dotted with the city’s resident idea people: solo-entrepreneurs, start-up employees, ostensible creatives.
But on Saturday afternoon, the VIP ticket holders of the second DURM Hip-Hop Summit
commandeered the space to view an opening exhibition of tap- and breakdancing alongside preview sets from area emcees, Cayenne the Lion King
and Cesar Comanche
. It seemed to be the first time that many in attendance—including headliner Comanche—had been in the basement of the Main Street building.
That dissonance computes: Aside from being two of Durham rap’s most common names, summit co-founders, Professor Toon and The Real Laww, have often served as hyperactive liaisons—between the insulated startup community and the area’s artists, between area hip-hop and those new to it. That relationship has offered local hip-hop a remarkable makeover, evident throughout Saturday’s festivities.
During the last five months, for instance, Durham-based website Glass Reflex
has offered “City Sessions” videos, each episode featuring a different spoken word or hip-hop artist. These sessions usually take place inside Glass Reflex’s companion retail store in Chapel Hill, Thrill City. But as a last-minute addition to DHHS, store-and-site owners brought their operation to Mercury Studios.
Taking its notes from the infamous BET Hip-Hop Awards cyphers, Glass Reflex recorded three separate teams of emcees, each lauding themselves as the summit’s best attractions. Sacrificial Poets
alumnus Lord of the Fly led his team with a trained eruption of rhymes and attitude. Jozeemo
’s mischievous bars held the door open for Kaze’s militant attack after Mike Live, C. Shreve the Professor and Tuscon of Raleigh’s 1100 Hunters crew unloaded their ambition for the cameras.
In fact, it seemed like 1100 Hunters
made a collective decision to dominate DHHS. It became impossible to avoid them, but their overly noble “real lyricism” pitches from the stages of Intrepid Life and Motorco soon became a little...heavy-handed.
Still, the summit didn’t truly take off until the end of Woven Hatchets’ set at Motorco, when 1100 Hunters emcee Tuscon offered a sudden Big Daddy Kane tribute, earning him applause of amazement and respect. It was a stunt—and a good one, too.
Durham’s Bigg Brad, however, didn’t appear to care if Big Daddy Kane himself had just rocked the stage. He made sure to snarl at the crowd, to pace the stage, to represent for all “fat rappers” from North Carolina. While he abstained from his more country music-leaning rap songs, he supplied just enough of his rock verve to compel. Once Bigg Brad figures out that one special thing that he can do better than everyone, he’ll become a local star, maybe more.
Meanwhile, Chapel Hill emcee Lord of the Fly spent a majority of his time on stage rapping about how he spends the majority of his time in life smoking weed. That must work, as he’s currently on full-scholarship at University of Wisconsin-Madison as part of the university’s groundbreaking First Wave Hip Hop and Urban Arts Learning Community
. When he wasn’t drug-boasting, I couldn’t help but think of Your Old Droog, the Russian kid from Brooklyn once believed to be Nas’ alter ego. He is a versatile spoken-word poet who sounds like he has the potential to take his wordplay to places outside of weed rap…especially if he could just get rid of his lo-fi bounce tendencies.
Instead, leave the bounce to rappers like DHHS co-founder, Professor Toon. Wearing loud, green, 8-bit, graphic-designed pants, Toon lived up to his colorful wardrobe choices. At once point, he rapped over the beat of a mainstream hit—Bobby Shmurda’s “Hot Nigga”—and asked the crowd to the do the accompanying two-step, the Shmoney Dance. Toon was the only DHHS performer to make his show somewhat relatable to a crowd of varying tastes. That’s Showmanship 101, the start of something special.
Earlier in the day, back in the American Underground’s Bullpen, he alluded to that same feeling of upward momentum: “Last year we had three venues. This year we have four. In year five, we’re having a parade,”
Standing on a large makeshift breakdance mat, he paused before reiterating the wish: “I’m gettin’ my parade.”