Alaska hip-hop flourishes in summer spotlight

Despite being Alaska’s largest city, Anchorage is not well known for its hip-hop scene. Some disc jockeys have risen to local club prominence and emcees have been getting some recognition in newsprint.

For the most part, though, the Alaska hip-hop scene has been invisible to those that didn’t seek it out. But the past three summers a competition called Juice gives the public a taste of what local DJs, emcees and B-boys are capable of.

Juice 3, along with the second annual Drive Car Show, squeezed into the Tesoro Sports Centre parking lot June 11 and brought enough flavor to make the Kool-Aid Man say “Oh, yeah!”

Merriam-Webster Online defines hip-hop as “a subculture” that includes “rap music, graffiti, and break dancing.” The Alaska “subculture” was well represented with competition winners hailing from Juneau, Sitka and Anchorage.

UAA journalism student Jim Powers, clad in a button-up shirt and khaki pants, nodded his head along to the beat of the DJ battle. The 20 year old spins records as a hobby and hoped to put together a routine, but didn’t find out about the Juice date until a short time beforehand. Powers still showed up to support friends and was happy with what he saw.

“It forms a community when there wasn’t one in Alaska,” he said.

The DJ battle came down a hotly contested finish between defending champ Astronomar of Juneau and Anchorage’s own Victamone. Both DJs cued up records right and left and had verbal taunts, some explicit, coming out of the speakers. The two showed enough finger dexterity that local DJ Ike Cuttz, one of the judges, was trying to get a closer look.

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After the final round, the three judges decided the two needed had to have a final scratch-off using the same record. In a decision the judges seemed to hate having to make, Astronomar became a back-to-back champ.

The Juneau DJ’s name is Marlon Lumba, who got into hip-hop as a teenager. He built up his record collection by ordering online or skipping class to dig at the Salvation Army.

“It’s vulturous,” he said. “You gotta find what you can.”

Now the 21 year old hosts a radio show and hip-hop night in the capital city, which he said has a slowly progressing scene.

Clad in a patchwork cabbie hat, a Misfits tee and unbuttoned flannel shirt, Lumba worked his way through the crowd and handed out mix compact discs following his victory. But the win didn’t matter as much to him as the opportunity to be around so many hip-hop peers.

“I’m just happy to be here,” Lumba said.

Most emcees weren’t happy to be paired up against Sitka’s Phonetic on the back of a tow truck for the freestyle battle. In the first round, Phonetic dispatched of his FUBU-jersey-wearing rival by closing his rhyme with the line: “I never sell myself short/This guy dresses like an athlete but he can’t even spell sport.”

Phonetic and fellow emcee Chris Fields breezed to the finals. But Fields, who got laughs by comparing one young rapper to Dave Chappelle, ran out of steam. Phonetic, on the other hand, controlled the mic and the crowd. The battle was based on crowd response and Juice host Akream of Artic Flow Records didn’t have a hard time deciding who got more cheers.

Phonetic, whose name is Sydney Eubanks, is hoping to use the attention to help promote his new album, “The Notebook,” which comes out in August. He also took home $100 and exacted some revenge for a loss last year that he felt wasn’t deserved.

“I lost last year but I really didn’t,” the 26 year old said. “I wanted to win this time.”

If Victamone, aka Victor Mangrobang, was upset about the turntable loss, he didn’t show it—probably because he said he is “more b-boy than DJ.” He started breaking in 1993. A friend visited from California and showed him some moves. At age 8, he was hooked. The 20 year old purchased his first turntables in 1999 but that was motivated by the fact that he and his friends could make their own dance mixes.

“We just wanted to get well-rounded in hip-hop,” he said. “I love it. Now Anchorage is finally building a little scene.”

Mangrobang and his crew, the Fantastic Force, competed against crews with names such as the DOA Funk Y’alls, the Powerplant Monkees, Broomstick and Mad Force. But the trio known as Free Patrol took home top honors from visiting judges Jermz, Jesseffecks and Thomas Origami, all whom compete for crews in the Northwest. DJ/B-boy Bles One of Seattle’s Massive Monkees crew provided the necessary beats for the competition. Bles said he liked the dancer’s skills and also the crowd’s support for the dancers.

“There are a lot talented b-boys and there is a good sense of unity,” he said while loading his gear into a pickup truck. “They’ve really got it together. And the community seems to be behind them. It’s really dope.”

It wasn’t just b-boys that competed. Three b-girls showed their skills including Krissy Sanchez of the Funk Y’alls crew. The undeniably cute West High student resembles Natalie Portman and isn’t much over 5 feet tall. But when she or a member of her crew busted a big move, Sanchez was quick to take a b-boy stance and stare down the competition.

Afterwards, Sanchez was all smiles because she had advanced past the first round for the first time in her short stint as a b-girl. The 16 year old has been dancing her whole life but only started breaking two-and-a-half years ago. She said she enjoys everything about being a b-girl, especially the energy and the community.

“The b-girl scene has really stepped up,” Sanchez said. “And Juice has grown a lot, too.”

 


Summer, summer, summertime… time to sit back and unwind

With the temperatures rising outside, the Northern Light recommends rolling the windows down in your car and jamming at a stoplight to these hip-hop tracks.

 

“Soul Food” by Goodie Mob (Soul Food, 1995)

Nothing says summer like barbecue and this Atlanta foursome still sounds fresh even after a decade has passed. Over a dark and steady bass line the Mob welcomes us into their ‘hood with Southern hospitality tempered by militant hostility. Cee-Lo’s second verbal serving starts happily with “A heaping helping of fried chicken, macaroni and cheese and collard greens/Too big for my jeans” and finishes with a warning about corporate cuisine: “Fast food got me feeling sick/Them crackers think they slick/By tryin’ to make this bullshit affordable/I thank the Lord that my voice was recordable.” Skip the McRib and get some ribs at Roscoe’s!

 

“The Inkwell” by Blue Scholars (Blue Scholars, 2004)

The duo of MC Geologic and DJ Sabzi go together like a PB&J. Geo’s often political flow sticks to your brain and Sabzi’s beats are sweeter than what the mainstream is putting out. But while the guys have a lot to say, let’s stick to the fun stuff for the summer. The song “Freewheelin’” is joyful but “The Inkwell” is even better. With a Latin guitar lick and a booming drum on loop, the Seattle-based Scholars take a journey through the city’s hip-hop past, present and future. Geo boasts that Sea-town is “a city that’s been waiting to blow/Since big butts and teen spirit/Many make music/You hear it.” Are you listening?

 

“Diamonds From Sierra Leone” by Kanye West (Late Registration August 2005)

The Grammy Golden Boy is back with the first single, which already has a Hype Williams-directed video and a remix with some Def Jam record exec named Jay-Z, from his still in-production sophomore effort. While the remix has a socially conscious Kanye and a Dame Dash-dissing Jay-Z, the OG version still has enough gusto to stand on its own. With Jay-Z in retirement, West takes it upon himself to cleverly rep Roc-a-Fella Records with a sample of the James Bond theme “Diamonds are Forever” sung by Shirley Bassey. Post-Grammy Kanye still rhymes with a chip on his shoulder and no one is better right now with clever word play.

 

“Breakfast Club” by Z-Trip feat. Murs & Supernatural (Shifting Gears, 2005)

With this unabashedly ridiculous song, Z-Trip and Murs remind us not to take ourselves (or them) so seriously by rapping about sugary cereal and Saturday morning cartoons. Sample chorus: “I love Fruity Pebbles when I’m watching my cartoons.” So after a tough night of barhopping, work over your hangover with a tupperware bowl full of Count Chocula and tune into the Ninja Turtles. In Murs’ cartoon world, the GI Joes are searching for WMDs, the Care Bears are cowards, Hong Kong Phooey has the strongest pimp hand and She-ra is ho despite some help from the Rescue Rangers. He concludes with a lesson: “Let a ho, be a ho/And that’s one to grow on.” It turns out we can all learn a thing or two.