Sunday, August 10, 2003

Hip-hop meets Woodstock at Scribble Jam

By Larry Nager
The Cincinnati Enquirer

"It's a modern-age Woodstock," said New York-based graffiti artist "Grind," as he painted a wall Saturday at Annie's.

But Scribble Jam 2003 looked more like hip-hop day camp, as a couple thousand rap fans wandered from activity to activity at the sprawling entertainment complex in Columbia Tusculum.

They came from all over the U.S. and several foreign countries for an 11-hour-plus marathon of competitions in breakdancing, rapping, DJ-ing and, for the first time, in human beat boxes.

The last, new this year, was won by Adrian "A Train" Frost, 27, of Kansas City. He easily took the $500 prize for highly original improvisations that included a police chase and kung fu battle, all created entirely with mouth sounds.

In its eighth year, Scribble Jam drew a young, mellow crowd that milled around the 35 merchandise booths, buying T-shirts, CDs and vinyl records.

Friday was concert night at Annie's as underground rap acts performed a six-and-a-half hour marathon in front of a crowd of around 1,800.

The headliner was Atmosphere, a Minneapolis-based rap act that played the 'Warped Tour" and featured former Cincinnatian Mr. Dibbs on the turntables.

But Saturday was the main event, and with sunny skies, the show drew around 2,200.

Graffiti artists worked on every perpendicular surface throughout the day. As the crowd left at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, one diehard "tagger" was still spray-painting a few last-minute details on a dumpster.

As the name implies, Scribble Jam started as a graffiti festival and, even as it has been overshadowed by the MCs and DJs, it keeps to its visual art roots.

"This is the only one where they have painting, breakdancing, DJ-ing and MC battles, the four elements (of hip hop)," said graffiti artist Nico Berry, 27, of New York.

The action moved in and out of Annie's, but the main stage is where the big events were held.

Lengthy breakdancing battles and a tight and exciting DJ battle (decisively won by Canadian DJ Scratch Bastard) warmed the crowd up for the "Main Event," the MC battle featuring almost three dozen rappers.

There were also regular sets by two very different rap acts, the Danish duo Statik & Nat Ill and a showcase of a dozen rappers from the QN5 label. The Danish group rapped in English, but with an odd accent that mixed ghetto American (learned from records) with a Scandinavian lilt.

The MC battle featured rappers from all over, and the freestyle, unrehearsed insult rhymes flew faster than automatic weapons fire. One rapper just gave up in mid-flow, jumping off the stage into the crowd. Another pair of verbal duelists had to separated by security when rhyming gave way to pushing.

There was heavy competition this year, including Juice, the man who beat Eminem at the 1997 Scribble Jam. But when the smoke cleared, the last MC standing was a fluid rapper from Chicago, Rhymefest. He took home $2,000 for his trouble.

For DJ Stil, 26, of Indianapolis, it was his third Scribble Jam. He left his turntables at home and was there just to enjoy the day. "Indianapolis ain't got nothing like this," he said. "There's a lot of potential for real hip hop here, more so even than in Chicago."

Plans for Scribble Jam 2004 are already being made, with talk of a film festival and a skateboard park being added to the activities. Organizer Tony Heitz, 31, said a national tour of Scribble Jam competition winners is also a possibility.

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