Parties showcase underground rap

Hip-hop buffs show another side to world of pop culture

Scene: clubs, bars, nightlife

January 22, 2004|By Sarah Schaffer | Sarah Schaffer,SUN STAFF

For those whose exposure to hip-hop comes only from listening to pop radio or watching MTV, the genre may seem to be all about scoring ladies and driving luxury cars equipped with shining new rims.

But an increasing number of today's underground hip-hop and rapartists have cast off obsessions with status and materialism. Instead, these unsigned and indie-label artists are writing and performing deeper, more socially conscious material -- about urban life, world politics and the effects of violence -- with hopes of rebuilding a more aware hip-hop community.

Two such local performers, who go by the monikers MC Timmy Grins and DJ P-Funk, say they're holding it down for the sake of education and enlightenment.

"People are only given one thing through the radio. And we're trying to [expose people to] the hip-hop that they never knew existed," said P-Funk.

About 18 months ago, the duo began their quest when they organized the first in a series of monthly performances, dubbed the Elements parties.

The events, Grins said, were initially intended to showcase only Baltimore residents -- both novice and established performers -- who had energy, passion and voice.

But as the popularity of the parties grew, so did the audience's demand for a broader spectrum of artists. Locals now drop rhymes on stage with performers who come from Pennsylvania, Virginia and New York.

P-Funk said the events, which recently moved to the Ottobar because of space limitations at Fletcher's, also attract large groups of break dancers and graffiti artists.

Their presence helps to introduce younger hip-hop fans to the other two original players, or elements, that were once integral to the decades-old genre.

"B-boys" (and girls) and "graf writers" were also present and prominent in the early stages of hip-hop's life cycle (which began in the 1970s in New York City's South Bronx), and they're another prime focus of the duo's Baltimore happenings.

Though the event is typically centered on the MCs, Grins and P-Funk encourage all of the artistic factions to converge for both structured and improvisational group performances.

As a result of these partnerships, the flow of each party is dependent on the mood of the players -- which keeps the monthly shows original and unlike anything else happening in the city, P-Funk said.

Grins agreed and said the nights also stand out from other shows because the duo foster a "give love, get love policy."

"Everyone's vibing off each other. It's not the mentality that you have to watch your back. We represent the culture the way it should be," said Grins.

But the parties are more than just a positive experience, he noted.

The events, Grins said, provide fans with a means to appreciate, perpetuate and even gain from hip-hop culture, a phenomenon that many critics of American music had passed off as ephemeral.

"You put into [hip-hop], it comes around, and you get something out of it."

The Elements Party will land tonight at the Ottobar.

The Ottobar is at 2549 N. Howard St. This is an all-ages event. Doors open at 9 p.m. Tickets are $10. For more information, call 410-662-0069 or visit www.arcanemusic.com.

For more club events, see Page 29.

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