Hip-hop babies are ready to stop, collaborate and listen

by Jordan Green

“Have you heard of Endless Mic?” the opening track on the group’s album Baby Geniuses queries. Zano answers Johnny-on-the-spot in a voice that is raw and emotive and self-lampooning at the same time: “Yeah, them cats run it. My girl’s got an EM tat right above her buttocks.”

Then his emcee partner of equal measure, Stu!, answers the same question in staccato counterpoint: “They must be cool; I saw their name carved into my desk at school.”

Another couplet on the recorded track ripostes with a disembodied voice: “Yeah, they’re dope, don’t play me; I heard their new album; it’s genius, baby.”

And so it goes with these cheeky lads from the Triangle hanging out in the basement lounge of the Greene Street club in their adopted hometown of Greensboro. They’re all wearing triangulated multi-colored bandannas under their chins – a stylistic affectation that is part mockery and part attempt to fit in with hardcore rap groups that reference colors as turf affiliation, not to mention emulation of Yo Mama’s Big Fat Booty Band, whose flashy stage presence has provided some lessons to the young men in Endless Mic.

“One of our big things is sarcasm,” says producer and beat-maker deez, whose real name is David Straughan. “I think it’s the only way to go about it. There’s a lot going well with hip hop, and a lot not going well with hip hop. We love hip hop. So many people are addressing the faults of hip hop….”

“… In a very annoying way,” says Zano, AKA Ryan Maiani, completing his sentence.

“Sarcasm allows us to enjoy and critique things that are really popular,” Straughan continues. “We can analyze things and still have fun.”

Another track, “Zip Zap Rap,” comprises a kind of ethos for the group.

“You see me in the center of the stage looking antsy with my hat down so low I can’t see,” the lyric declares. “Pshhh, of course I emcee, can’t you see how low my pants be?”

“Your pants can’t be around your belly button to be a rapper,” Maiani says.

Straughan picks up the thread: “As much as we can pick out these clichés, we love ’em. Hip hop is a way of life. Hip hop influences everything from the way we dress and talk to the way we approach each other.”

They learned how to do this through equal parts passion and pre-hip hop musical nurture.

“Most people start out freestyling,” Maiani says. “I came home and told my dad, who’s a jazz player, that I had something that people liked hearing, and he brought home an eight-track [recorder]. We had a mic up to a speaker because we didn’t know how to import beats into ProTools. We were stealing beats off the internet that we would find.”

Straughan’s parents also encouraged his interest in music, though they had little inkling of where it would lead.

“My dad was always pushing music on me,” the beatmaker says. “He’ll always credit my involvement in hip hop to the fact that he played “Rocket’ by Herbie Hancock when I was in the crib instead of Mozart, which what Dr. Spock was recommending.”

Stu!, whose real name is Stuart Bell, is the only member with experience playing in bands with traditional instruments. His conventional musical career began as a child in the mall. He regards the experience with a twinge of humiliation, which compounds the group’s sense of hilarity about it.

“The truth is that I played a small piano in a tuxedo in the middle of the mall near the fountain and Mrs. Field’s Big Cookies,” Bell says. “I was competing with the animatronics bear. I hated it. I was pulled by the skin of my teeth.”

Endless Mic is the first hip-hop group signed to Chapel Hill-based Trekky Records. So far, like the early Beastie Boys, their game is juvenile fun in lyrics and basic bombast on the track. But their contacts and roots in the more innovative Triangle hip-hop scene promise more innovative and collaborative efforts in the future.

Joining Endless Mic for this Sunday show sponsored by UNCG campus radio station WUAG is Triangle-based rapper Median – an avowed influence. Median’s backed tonight by a live hip-hop band called the Remix Project that includes Greensboro native the Apple Juice Kid on drums.

Reclining on the lounge’s worn-out sofas, Maiani and Bell make the Apple Juice Kid’s acquaintance. They start trading stories about bands and players they both know, especially a Raleigh experimental pop group called the Annuals.

“My dream as a producer would be to take an Annuals song and sample them and then make an Endless Mic song out of it,” says the Apple Juice Kid, who operates a studio in Chapel Hill. Before they ascend the stairs to get onstage, the Maiani and the Apple Juice Kid exchange phone numbers.

On the floor after Median and the Remix Project finish their set, DJ Section 8 spins records. Maiani makes the rounds like a pinball, dancing and playfully bumping into familiar dudes. Stu! sits on the edge of the stage flanked by collegiate females. Then Straughan steps onto the stage, plays a dance track, pays homage to Median and jumps the party off.

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