Hiphop Battle turns to Summit

by Jordan Green

The ranks of the Greensboro hip-hop underground appear thin as Ed E. Ruger, who looks a bit like a happy gangster in the classic Edward G. Robbins mold, and Ty Bru, a hillbilly rhymer from Asheboro, display their wares in the alcove of Greene Street on March 16.

It might be because Boogie Down Bronx hip-hop pioneers Grand Master Caz and Melle Mel are across town at NC A&T University giving a seminar. Or it could have something to do with fans getting spooked by the shooting death last month of a Winston-Salem policeman who responded to a disturbance at a downtown club that had been rented out for a hip-hop party.

The undisputed king of Greensboro hip hop at the moment is 9th Floor crew member Ed E. Ruger, whose CD Shots From Tha Ruger dropped last year. According to Stitchy C, his sometime hype man and a collaborator with Tre’ Stylez before the MC’s tragic shooting death more than a year ago, Ruger was picked to open for West Coast rapper Coolio before the “Battle for Coolio” was held on Feb. 2. Since Ruger was the unanimous pick, Stitchy says, the powers that be decided to bring all contenders back for the big night.

Ruger tells it somewhat differently.

“We got a really good crowd in there,” he says. “It was [promoter Joe Ferguson]’s idea, and it was fine with me. Everybody got the crowd there so we figured everybody should be there. It was a team effort. It was going to be whoever sold the most tickets and got the best crowd response.”

A little after 10 p.m. Ty Bru summons the crowd to the lip of the stage and hypes the first of the evening’s 10 MCs: J. Timber.

Then comes One Kemist, AKA 20-year-old Keith Philpot of Charlotte.

“I believe that I’m a product, and yes the man of the hour,” Kemist raps a cappella, displaying both innocence and verbal dexterity. “Skin color coffee black but the cops don’t think we Starbucks.”

Ill-Use and Justin Atwell, who make up the duo Mr. Invisible, are also from Charlotte.

Rocking the lyric back and forth on a relentless course to the apocalypse they spit: “Get up, get down, wile out, wassup, with us, you dance, we think, too much, get live, you live, you die, so what, just an example of the people not giving a fuck.”

Next up is Celinski, whose album Celinski For Mayor is due out this spring. The first MC from the 9th Floor crew tonight, Celinski’s oeuvre is also perhaps the most populist. His lyrics are always raw and down-home, and unlike some MCs who position themselves more as entrepreneurs than artists, Celinski occasionally reveals vulnerability and chronicles some rough spots in his personal story.

“I need my city council up here,” Celinski says, summoning J. Bond and Boones from Illpo. “I need my people up here.” Hovering nearby like the chief of staff, his diminutive hype man Metaphor the Great purses his lips and spits the last word of each line to give emphasis as Celinski launches into “Run That (Remix).”

“Celinski is the truth, I ain’t gonna lie,” he raps. “It’s the New South, bitch and it’s gonna rise/ Similar to the mafia, strong ties”

J. Bond and Boones take it from there, getting the ladies bumping with “She Rollin'” and the whole room moving with the familiar and gratifying “Grind Harder.”

Constantine, who’s recently returned to his native Gate City after time in Wilmington and New York, brings some political raps to the stage with the help of rhyme partner Daily Planet.

“The Louisiana Purchase did nothing for black people,” the 31-year-old Constantine raps. “Especially Hasidic Jews hiding in church steeples from the earth’s worst evil.”

StitchyC takes the stage, his oversized red T-shirt hanging low over his khakis.

“It’s out of the ordinary to see me drunk and not high – if THC ain’t in my veins my cup is dry,” he declares as the opening shot of “Put Ya Cup Up.” And that pretty much sets the mood for his roughhouse club lyrics. The crowd is well down the road of heavy drinking and nasty grinding, so Stitchy’s act comes across as more a soundtrack to the party than a virtuoso performance.

The poor audience response prompts a profanity-laden outburst of solidarity from Ty Bru.

“Get the fuck up and give your proper respect to StitchyC,” he angrily insists. Stitchy waves both arms as if to draw the applause to him.

The Chosen One, AKA Chris Hinson from Charlotte, maintains the club vibe, albeit with a smoother, more commercial style.

“I’m drinking that juice, a little cranberry and grapefruit,” raps Hinson, wearing shades, chains and a brown T-shirt. Later he queries the crowd: “How many y’all gettin’ money? Guess what? Your boy here gettin’ money too. I shine real bright.”

Later, as he sells CDs from a card table in the alcove, he’ll boast: “I’m the head of my own company. I’ve already sold fifteen thousand albums and made fifteen thousand dollars – and I’m corporate. I’m independent, but I could have a deal tomorrow if I wanted to. My producer’s with Bad Boy.”

Ty Bru has displayed some annoyance with the Chosen One’s insistence on using a cordless mic. Delivering lyrics that display country-boy authenticity, the Asheboro MC provides a stark contrast to his fellow rapper’s polished cosmopolitanism.

“I could give a fuck where you live, fuck where you stay,” goes the chorus of “Carolina Way.”

“I’m a do this with my Carolina kids.”

The 26-year-old Ty Bru comes onstage dressed in a black skeleton sweatshirt with a skull facemask attached. Gradually stripping away the layers he reveals a mane of wavy brown hair and a bushy beard. He pays homage to his alma mater in Boone, nearby Greensboro and most certainly his native Asheboro, rapping:

“Ap State, A&T mommies, throwing my dough through they laundry before they throw it on me. If you ever saw me you know I never neglect my birthplace, that’s what got me here in the first place. So big ups to Randolph County, Southwest Class of ’99 all around me.”

When Ruger takes the stage he brings the 9th Floor crew with him. The audience is dazed from alcohol and lascivious flesh-rubbing, and in no position to put up resistance. The track for the new “Ruger’s On Top” brings a kind of boombastic, sledgehammer effect that combines Public Enemy with Anthrax, giving no sonic quarter.

“Ruger’s on top, you wanna know how I did it?” the lyric taunts. “I say what I want, fuck who get offended/ My position never sway, if I say it I meant it/ I got wicked word play, my dialogue’s demented/ I’m sick with the pen, call it a ‘pendemic’/ Every word is a curse, the verse is an epidemic/ These rappers-slash-actors need to find a better gimmick/ Or you gonna find a mass grave with your favorite rappers in it.”

Celinksi remarks after the show on how the 9th Floor crew sticks together, how they back each other up, how things are finally starting to gel. There might be a half dozen other MCs onstage hyping the crowd, but they fall back to let the lead rhyme-sayer have the limelight. In the past, rivalries undercut North Carolina’s potential, Celinski says, but now the homegrown scene is in a position to get some national notice. The mayor insists there are no egos involved in this clique.

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