Arts Desk

Head-Roc’s Mouth: No Great DMV MCs? Really??

An occasional feature in which esteemed D.C. rapper Head-Roc shares what’s on his mind.

OK, so I'm looking at the front cover of this past week’s Washington City Paper “2010 Music in Review” edition. Wait, or is it “2010 in Music Review?” I honestly don’t know. It’s a little confusing to me. Still, I get that this is in some way the “tastemaker” issue on D.C. area music as compiled by the Washington City Paper staff.

What’s also confusing to me is how in the world it’s printed, right there on the front cover for the entire world to see, in what is to be taken as an authoritative assessment and conclusion on the state of the DC hip-hop scene this year:

Hip-Hop: We’ve got plenty of good MCs. But D.C. still lacks a great one

Pardon me, but of course I have to chuckle at that statement. Chuckle.

Reading the piece written by my colleague Andrew Noz, there are actually a few great D.C. MCs mentioned: Kokayi, Oddisee, yU—and I don’t know why the piece doesn’t focus on them more. It would be exponentially more helpful than this blanket declaration that D.C. lacks  a great M.C., because it’s the furthest thing from the truth.

What’s more accurate is that D.C. lacks a great commercial rap/pop star. I’ll give brother Noz that. I’m not into commercial pop rap, but maybe I can agree that D.C.’s representatives of American pop culture don't compare with their counterparts in other cities who are interested in pop-music success. I say maybe because I really don’t know. I’m not into pop rap music, personally.

In the article, Noz mentions how one of D.C.’s national offerings as an urban commercial artist, Wale, is on a track with the national pop-rap artist Waka Flocka Flame. Family, I've heard Waka Flocka before, and through word of mouth I know he is considered to be the reigning village idiot of pop-inspired commercial rap. Let me tell you, this association and collaboration is not complimentary to Wale, and I have a hard time even believing that Wale really thinks Wocka Flocka is a great MC—but he is a commercial pop rap success. I don’t know if Wale is out to be a commercial success, or a great MC. Only a few artists are able to merge both distinctions effectively. Kanye West comes to mind as the prime example in today’s times—a great MC who enjoys mega commercial success—and an argument can be made that he has paid a considerable price for it. “George Bush doesn’t care about black people” one year, and the next his mamma is suddenly dead at the hands of a plastic surgeon on an operating table. Hey, I'm into conspiracy theories.

No, D.C. does not have a Kanye West yet, but we do have great MCs, and with a more supportive gatekeeper and tastemaker community our great MCs would enjoy greater success on the national stage. Take the mighty Asheru for instance—my favorite example when talking about a great D.C. MC who I think should be enjoying mega success as a professional artist.

Asheru, not mentioned in Noz’s DMV piece, is a hip-hop legend here in D.C., throughout the region, country, and—yes—the world. Famous for penning the theme song for Aaron McGruder’s Boondocks cartoon show, Asheru has been an active musician producing hip-hop classics since the '90s. He’s spawned heavyweight digital/live music ensembles like the Black Lincolns and The Els that everyone in the scene knows are monster show-rocking outfits. Asheru is a leader on national progressive and community circles in arts-based education techniques with his H.E.L.P programming. He’s received numerous awards from prestigious institutions and orgs for his work in our D.C. communities as a foundation. All that, and more, plus some: Asheru is a great M.C.—and everyone knows it. In fact, as is the case with dozens of other great MCs in this town, that Asheru is a great M.C. is indisputable.

The question is: Why don’t more people in the region better know about our great MC’s? Well, it isn’t for the lack of effort on the part of the artists who have persevered through the years to establish careers for ourselves. We do our jobs. We create, publish, and perform music here and all over world. It’s nowhere near accurate to say D.C. hip-hop artists aren’t known beyond the city or region. D.C. hip-hop has been putting in work and has been on the move for 20 years now; it is well-seasoned and world-traveled. Dozens of D.C.'s great MCs and DJs have magnificent stories to tell of their journeys. Ideally, in the scheme of things, it’s the job of the gatekeepers and the tastemakers to gather these accounts for reporting and endorsement to the local entertainment community.

Who are the gatekeepers and tastemakers in ours and every music scene? They are the DJs, promoters, event planners, venue booking agents, and the press. These are the elements within our community who are responsible for popularizing to the entertainment public who’s who and what’s what locally to look out for and patronize. I agree with Noz that oversaturation—everyone and their mamma wanting to be rapper—is a huge problem. But it would be much less of a problem if our “qualified” gatekeepers and tastemakers did their jobs of weeding out the garbage from the gems in our area.

I put the qualifier “qualified” in there because too many of the current stock of gatekeepers and tastemakers, commercial and independent, know little to nothing about D.C. hip-hop and go-go music. Many of the people who actually sit in positions where they could make a difference in the scene are not actually from or “of” the scene. Oftentimes, from what is written and printed and espoused to be an authoritative word, a D.C. music-community participant can tell that the author actually has very little knowledge and understanding of the D.C. music scene and development. And yet, there seems to be no shortage of articles being published these days about both forms of D.C. funk music—giving the reading community an improper analysis of what’s really going in our DMV music scene.

The words “Hip-Hop: We've got plenty of good MCs. But D.C. still lacks a great one” requires at least a little response. I hope other vets chime in.

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  • Grumpy

    Because DC is a GoGo town, for one thing

    And define 'Great'? I mean, unless you're in that DC scene where you are actually going to their gigs, going where they spit, you never heard of these cats mentioned except Wale and Tabi and that's due to TV exposure.

    Then there is local radio support (mediocre at best) as well as no defined 'DC Hiphop sound' besides those Rich H. gogo laced joints.

    DC hiphop doesn't have an identity's just kinda 'there'. The 'machine' hasn't gotten behind anyone really except Wale so alot of talent isn't getting out to the masses.

    And that's sad...

  • steve kiviat

    Did Asheru release a new album or mixtape (of new material) in 2010? I can't tell from his myspace site.

  • Enoch 7th Prophet

    I read both articles ...and went to Google Andrew Noz. You know I’m doing my research on this dude.

    Does this cat have a journalist Degree? Or is he just going on what people are saying...

    I agree with Grumpy (Define "Great")

    When it comes to music we are known for go-go. This is a go-go town but also the commercial artist(s) has sample many go-go sounds that have been on the top billboards. DC Hiphop shouldn’t sound like NY hiphop. I for ONE have been on the front lines and behind the scene of this hiphop movement here. The problem comes in when CONTROL MEDIA focus on ONE person to SAVE DC HIPHOP...and actually pick i.e. WALE to save us totally unfair to others like myself that have been doing this for years.

    Maybe Mr. Noz dreams of Wale saving dc hiphop wasn’t told to Wale him...

    Mr. Noz report on this subject needs to be re-submitted.

    Question I have to ask is: Mr. Noz have you perform in front of 500 ppl or sold over 1,000 units and or recorded in a basement studio before with no HEAT....Try this question: Have you walk up and down U st. pass fliers and or cd's asking be to come to your next show and only a few show up, but you don’t give up because you are GREAT enough to keep pushing.

    oh yeah: ELECTRIKSOLFORCE came out 2/14/10 have you heard it. Doing GREAT!! overseas...

  • TheYang!

    In order to understand the impact of a movement, you have to be there when the ground starts begins to stir and shake! The ground has been shakin for years with "Dope" artists that want nothing more than to be heard in the DMV and beyond. Through our plights as starving and struggling artists, we quickly began to understand how big name producers, record companies, and labels waited in for the eager and willing, so they could suck dry anyone possessing the slightest bit of talent in the DMV. The movement and development of many DOPE MCs in the DMV started around the time that the Freestyle Union and the State of the Union became training catalysts for those who wanted to be heard while perfecting the art at the same time.

    What many artists in the DMV have learned over the years; is that versatility is the key. Many artists have been able to incorporate other elements of the Hip-hop art form into their portfolio be becoming: Dope MCs, Dope DJs, Dope Producers, Dope all around artists,
    Successful Record labels owners, etc. Without the versatility and knowledge of the music industry, these "Great" artists could suffer the fate of other artists who have tried and failed in their quest for "Greatness"!

    Infinite Loop and Freestyle Union forever!!!

  • Kells

    There is some talent in DC. You have to look and listen very hard. Try rapper SK: I love the song Rockstar.

  • Wisdom1

    The rap scene in DC is a clique to itself. If you don't fit in with a particular crowd you won't get noticed. I do believe there are a lot of good rappers here in the city. One great team is Black Sand composed of G-two and KPrime. I do hope some of the great artists will get noticed. Dagga is another great artist....

  • spirit equality

    every urban area of any significance has great mc's, as a matter of odds, whether you hear them or not is based on a variety of factors.

    my picks for great area mc's are dimensions and born i.

  • The Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest

    The Capital Hip Hop Soul Fest ( was started in 2008 as a way to bring attention to local artists from the Nation's Capital. The goal was three-pronged-- bring attention to local artistry in soul and hip-hop, provide a space for local businesses and nonprofits to reach their audience and also bring folks to Marvin Gaye Park in Ward 7, recognizing that the east of the river area is a viable programming space as well as NW and other parts of the city. Our festival has featured incredible hip-hop artists from the DC metro area-- everyone from Gods'illa, Ardamus, and Kokayi, to Substantial, Cool Cee Brown, Mello-D & the Rados, Enoch 7th Prophet and Head-Roc himself.

    Turn-out our first two years were great, this year suffered greatly from 110 degree weather on the day of the festival and low volunteer support. This effort is made each year to support local artistry but it comes with a price. On one hand you have artists who feel entitled to just show up, perform and leave, while on the other hand you have performers who mingle with their audience, make connections, market and sell items (in addition to CDs) and basically handle their business side of their art as well as crafting an engaging performance persona.

    Not to make excuses for Noz' perception of hip-hop in DC--for I believe there are GREAT artists in the area-- but, I can attest to my own perception that the marketing of hip-hop artists in DC ain't at the top of its game as it should be. Those who have found success (read: income) in the niche they've created for themselves aren't too interested in working any harder to widen their audience pull. And, that's fine. Staying in your clique, comfort zone or whatever you want to call it is understandable. But, when those outside of your clique or area of influence haven't heard of you, then it is not fair to blame that on anyone but your marketing team. The internet has made marketing cheap, accessible and easy-to-create, so opinions to the contrary fall on death ears.

    I am looking forward to the day when performance artists in the DC area begin to unify and create their own venues and media machines to promote their work, not allowing mainstream publications to set the tone for how their work is perceived. But, that will require FIRST letting go of ego, investing money in people who can help you build your brand to help YOU get money and a larger audience, and joining organizations already in existence to learn about resources, opportunities and trends in the industry.

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