Hip-hop has, unfairly, been oft-maligned in Columbia. It has existed — thrived, even — in pockets of the city, but traditionally it has been separated, held at a distance from local clubs, bars and, especially, festival stages.
Love, Peace and Hip Hop: Columbia Hip Hop Family Day seeks to be inclusive with the genre as the gathering’s foundation. Organized by Non Stop Hip Hop Live, the city’s long-running hip-hop catalysts, the festival is one of handful of music events related to The Indie Grits Festival.
Arrested Development’s performance at St. Pat’s in Five Points last month might have satiated some who have yearned for hip-hop to be added to the festival. But, for some, a bitter taste lingers from when Wet Willie’s jolted the Free Times Music Crawl in November 2011 by, two days before the event, canceling the scheduled sets citing the performers’ foul and violent language.
Love, Peace and Hip Hop is an opportunity to showcase hip-hop culture and hip-hop as a creative art form that includes visual art, fashion, dance and poetry.
The event is headlined by Kool Moe Dee, a rapper known as much for his wrap-around sunglasses as he is for his rhymes. His hits include “How Ya Like Me Now,” “Wild Wild West” and the burning ballad “Go See the Doctor.” His verse on “Self Destruction,” the hip-hop unity track, was a prescient invective against a community’s — and genre’s — agitated evolution.
“Back in the ’60s our brothers and sisters were hanged/ How could you gang bang?/ I never ever ran from the Ku Klux Klan/ And I shouldn’t have to run from a black man.”
Of course, Kool Moe Dee feuded with fellow rapper LL Cool J in the ’80s. The rappers lobbed subliminal disses at each other. On the cover of his 1987 album, “How Ya Like Me Now,” Moe Dee stood in front of a white jeep that had a crushed red Kangol under its left front tire. The significance: The Kangol, a type of hat, was to LL what the sunglasses were to Kool Moe Dee.
Moe Dee, a former member of the Treacherous Three, was the first rapper to perform at the Grammy Awards, so he brings history with his performance in Columbia. There is hope that this festival is historical in a similar manner.
Since we’re getting comfortable with hip-hop in the city, what type of columnist would I be if I didn’t suggest some South Carolina rappers you should listen to? MTV has released a “Hottest MC” list since 2007, and since 2008, XXL, a hip-hop magazine has released a top 10 freshmen list. This register somewhere in between.
I consulted knowledgeable people — rappers, writers, producers — for informal polling as a way to check against my thoughts. Not surprisingly, four rappers — Nard Dinero, Ben G, Benjamin Starr and Righchus — were near unanimous selections.
The following doesn’t portend to be a definitive list of the best lyrical rappers in the state, and it’s not just based on potential. The primary factor, rather simply, was buzz. Who makes it a point to keep their name above the fray by releasing music, booking shows and diversifying their brand? And who has the respect of their colleagues.
After reading this list, ask yourself, in the words of Kool Moe Dee, “How ya like me now?” In no particular order, here they are. Click the links on thestate.com to listen to music.
1. Collard Green: Say whaaat? A wise former local DJ told me that rap isn’t just about lyrics; it’s also about getting the crowd to feel you. Green might not be the most lyrically skilled, but the vibe he presents is infectious.
2. Nard Dinero: He can talk money, cars and clothes or he can rap with social awareness and wisdom. Usually rappers master one or the other. Nard is capable of both — sometimes in the same verse. That epitomizes the rap definition of “flow.” Nard’s proficiency is what makes him so dangerous because he makes rapping sound easy, like a hungry Phonte. I’ve been vibing to “ Come and Go” since I first heard it.
3. Mantiz : Mantiz merges tough talk — let’s say real talk — with the kind of soulful rhymes and beats that make listeners think of new beginnings, new possibilities. On “Get Away,” he raps, “I’m so ahead it’s like I left before I came/ But when Mike died/ I swear to God something changed.”
4. Ben G: This month the rapper, the head of the B-Familia music and social movement, is releasing “A League of Our Own,” a mixtape with former USC safety D.J. Swearinger, who raps as Jungle Boi. Another former Gamecock, Melvin Ingram, is featured on two tracks. Last month, the rapper Waka Flocka Flame posted a photo of Ben G’s crowded parking lot concert at an unofficial St. Pat’s stage. You can say the local boy is definitely going hard in the paint.
5. FatRat Da Czar: One word for this rapper: Respect. When all it’s all said and done, what else is there to earn in the game? It’s hard to do what he’s done — and continues to do. FatRat is still a player, but, with The Boom Room recording studio, he’s become a coach, too.
6. Blacc Zacc: He’s the Dirty Money Ent. C.E.O. and the self-proclaimed “Hottest in Da City,” the latter the title of a mixtape series. On the title track of the first volume of the series, Zacc boasts, “The club owners know me ’cause I rent the clubs out.” Any number of YouTube videos show him flossing appropriately. Winning, it seems, is his only option.
7. Danny!: The rapper who is on Questlove’s Okayplayer Records, performed with Quest’s band, The Roots, on “Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.” Yes, hip-hop is music.
8. Benjamin Starr: “Guns & Roses,” the October release that featured a song named after the outspoken New York radio host Charlamagne Tha God, was an introduction to Starr’s cleverly loaded wordplay. “I was into future / Back before Future was in Atlanta,” he raps over vintage horns on “Prophecy.”
9. Dirty Dave: Dirty Dave has lazy flow, but he won’t get impeached for dawdling on beats. Think Pimp C.’s syrup-drenched drawl, Rocko’s confidence and Gucci Mane’s leisurely approach to chasing money, and you have a sense of an MC who could be on the verge of, in hip-hop parlance, cleaning up.
10. Righchus: Showing vulnerability is seen as a weakness in hip-hop, not a virtue. But then you listen to songs like Righchus’ “ Stroker’s Row,” and you’ll feel that hip-hop’s rigidity will crumble under the weight of a rapper who can write such a hypnotic psalm. I’ve heard the words and now I’m awake. I won’t be caught sleeping on this rapper.
11. OxyMoron: The rap trio — Tony London, Pedro English and Ment Nelson — is like a modern-era A Tribe Called Quest. What is being expressed with the rappers isn’t bravado; it’s about sensations, however they might be stimulated.
13. Lil Brod: The best attribute of this rapper/producer is his resilience. A few years ago he had the radio smash “Do U Mind,” and it seems like every song he’s dropped since has had a golden hook. If I were ever in a club and “Rain on U” was played, I think I’d probably leave broke. More club music should come equipped with an R&B vibe.
14. Preach: Three words for this rapper: On his grind. You never know what the Cola-Con organizer is going to do next. He’s a writer, runs a record label, hosts weekly music sessions, works at the Columbia Museum of Art, posts memes on Instagram and more you’ll probably be hearing about it in weeks to come.
15. Country C : At the end of the month, Country is going to have a release party for “Welcome To The DopeHole 2.0” at Need More Studios, in Norcross, Ga., a city in the Atlanta metropolitan area. The release will be hosted by the writer Shaheem Reid. Might the world be ready for more Country grammar?