Notes from the underground: ‘real’ hip hop alive and well in the Gate City

by Ryan Snyder

It doesn’t matter whether a hip-hop show is large or small, but it’s highly likely that the term “Real hip hop” will be tossed about by anyone with a microphone to anyone listening. On the surface, it’s a term that appears to signify that what’s happening then and there is the essence of hip-hop culture. On the flipside, it tacitly dismisses outright poseurs along with anyone on the outside of that particular scene, while lending an elevated credibility to the artists and audience in attendance.

So what happens when the phrase is used virtually every time an MC puts words to a mic? According to Greensboro rapper Ed. E Ruger (, it becomes a useless and meaningless cliche, which he believes it has. What is “real hip hop” to one person, he argued, might be a trite bit of nonsense to another. The Urban Dictionary crudely defines the term as “Not fakeass pop music like 50 (Cent), Ja Rule, etc. Real music for your mind…. Real hip hop is something you can feel.” An overwhelming majority of the site’s users approve of this definition over a far more eloquent and nuanced version that takes into account commercial success as a counterpoint to integrity.

Regardless of the phrases interpretation, there was something undeniably “real” about a Tuesday night hip-hop show at Lyndon Street Artworks. In fact, it was more of a celebration. Three performers were observing birthdays, one was putting out a mixtape at the show and yet another was just released from lock-up, while “Official Blind Tiger Reunion Party” was heard more than once. The venue was a simple concrete and aluminum warehouse on the fringe of downtown Greensboro with only a few online invites and word of mouth to serve as promotion. But by midnight, the tiny space was packed with friends, family, artists and local hip-hop heads alike. With a refrigerator that was practically bricked-in with brown-bagged beverages, the venue resembled something out of the Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg video for “Dre Day” on a smaller scale.

One of those birthdays belonged to ethemadassassin (, whose partner-incrime Daily Planet ( provided the evening’s centerpiece with his 3rd Place mixtape.

He passed out the album freely, homemade on LightScribe CD-RWs with an inkjet insert. Among the names listed inside are L in Japanese, JJ the Jenius and inconic NC producer 9th Wonder. Many in attendance had contributed to it, including rapper Apostle (, who was relishing his penitentiary homecoming.

As the primary behind the Talented Tenth, a cohort of local artists that derives its name from a seminal WEB DuBois essay on African-American education, Daily Planet had a deep well from which to fill out the evening’s performance itinerary. Performances by acclaimed local duo Illpo (www. and dancehall/hip-hop trio UpRite Lions (, whose B-Star and Trice rounded out the celebration manifest.

Soundman Atiba Berkley shut down the house lights and posted a pair of garage lamps around the tiny stage to shift the vibe immediately from arthouse gathering to fullblown house party, as 102 JAMZ host Young Gee set the evening off. “This is real hip hop,” she said with a kind of baptismal authority. With DJ SK on the tables, Young Fella opened the evening as the Remy Martin and Grey Goose flowed freely. It’s a stretch to think any financial ends were made at all from this show. With that said, there was more than a faint possibility that some real hip hop took place, whatever that is supposed to mean.

Greensboro hip-hop duo Illpo play a celebratory gig at Lyndon Street Artworks.(photo by Bobby Hotshotz)