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Colorado Hip-Hop Asks – Where Is The Love?

In May of 2003, hip-hop icon and co-founder of the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network (HSAN), Russell Simmons, visited Denver to promote his new credit card service. Standing along side the mayor at that time, Wellington Webb, Simmons announced he was bringing his youth-oriented activism and educational tour to our city. People from the Denver government all the way to the grassroots supporters, artists and promoters were excited, but for what seems to be different reasons.

The Denver Metro Convention and Visitors Bureau saw dollars coming into the city, while people like Jeff Campbell, executive director of the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition (CHHC), saw this as an opportunity to make some strides in getting Colorado hip-hop on the musical map.

Colorado unto itself has struggled to get the recognition it deserves when it comes to music, having to overcome our reputation as being a white bread state, full of Republicans and rodeos. It was nice to get some props from Details magazine earlier this year as one of the hot spots in the country for music, but blips like that don’t necessarily make a long-term impact. Being a part of something like HSAN, which was launched to register young voters in cities throughout the country and spread political and community awareness, isn’t necessary to take hip-hop in Colorado to the next level. But it sure could have helped.


A year later, Denver is licking its wounds in the aftermath of what was to be the first Denver Hip-Hop Summit, which was planned for Saturday, May 15 at the Denver Coliseum. The earlier part of that Saturday belonged to the local hip-hop team who would assemble panelist to speak on violence and safety in Denver, how to break into the music business, and community activism in politics. At 1pm, HSAN would take over with their summit presentation and panel discussion. Later that night, a concert would be held featuring Big Tymers, Yin Yang Twins, YoungBloodz and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. There was also a Denver Idol contest, enabling local performers to compete for an opening slot at the concert.

Not a bad plan, if it would have happened that way.

The Thursday before the summit, HSAN sent a press release from their New York office stating, “The Hip-Hop Summit Action Network announced today that it is rescheduling the Denver Hip-Hop Summit to a later date…we look forward to coming to Denver at a time when all of the necessary elements are in place to produce a successful gathering.”

That Saturday the local Denver summit still look place, but the damage was done and the attendance was slim. The concert planned for that evening was also postponed due to poor ticket sales.

So it may be safe to say that just maybe, the summit in Denver just wasn’t going along as planned. Finding out who was responsible was like herding cats.

In an interview with Dr. Benjamin Chavis, the co-founder, president and CEO for HSAN, he explained that in other cities that hold summits, their organization works with both the city governments and the their local hip-hop community to assemble the planning committees. In unraveling this series of events, it seems for the Denver summit, it was the city that was really running the show, assigning officials that did not have adequate experience and knowledge of the local hip-hop community, concert production, event promotion, and urban music marketing.

So let’s go back to the beginning with SafeCity, a youth oriented foundation from the City of Denver that focuses on job placement, and their director Charlotte Stephens. She was asked to get involved and agreed to support their efforts, “as a mean for fundraising only. We set up committees to allow people to do the things that they would like to do. My main goal was to have a concert so that I could raise dollars for youth employment funds. As far as the direction and setting up the summit, things of that nature, I did not get involved. Those were the chairs and the people who wanted to be involved,” Stephens says, referring to Jeff Campbell.

Campbell feels that because he founded and runs the Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition, he was brought on board as merely a token organization made to add credibility to the list of committee members. But as a member, he wasn’t given any capacity for input. “I was only given orders to do stuff,” he says. “I was told that if I wanted to participate, that’s what I was going to do. So I said, ‘Hey, I want the opportunity to work with Russell Simmons, so I’m going to just bite my tongue and do it.’ Then I find out Russell Simmons is not coming.”

When Campbell’s statement was brought up with Stephens, she responded, “I’ll put it like this, he was chair of a committee. Each chair was responsible for all the event planning. I was using our dollars. We did get any support or dollars from anyone.” She stated that she was never granted any money from the city because her foundation is a separate entity and not connected with the City of Denver…although SafeCity appears on the City of Denver website ( and even their business cards have the government seal.

This mention of money was yet another contradiction to what has been stated in the past. In a Westword article for the week of May 6-12 of 2004, Dave Herrera, music editor for Westword, interviewed Stephens and brought up the lack of publicity and knowledge of the event. She admitted that it could have been done better, but that their budget of $260,000 didn’t allow for a centralized office with a full-time marketing person on the job.

“Right,” agrees Stephens. “Initially what we did is we took the budget and we went out to get the pricing. We figured out what we needed to be able to do the event and what costs were associated. Then we took the dollars from that standpoint and went to places to ask them to be a sponsor so that those costs would go down. I’ll be honest with you. All of those costs were associated with the artist’s costs. The total cost we came up with was $150,000.”

Considering she wasn’t involved in the promotion of the workshops, even $150,000 seems excessive for one concert.

The $15,000 from SafeCity was spent on flyers, advertising in three magazines, including Urban Spectrum and Image Magazine (the latter of which typically focuses on the dance and club market versus hip-hop, instead of the wider and larger Westword audience) and a few radio spots on Denver’s hip-hop station, KS107.5.

According to Campbell and Stephens, Penfield Tate, a former Senator and Mayoral candidate, lawyer and consultant to city governments, was the producer for the local summit workshops. The topics for those panels and discussions were dictated by his office, not by the hip-hop community chairs such as Campbell.

Although Campbell was frustrated with the situation, he didn’t feel he could back out at that point. “I had already put my name out there and made the commitment. So I continued to participate, but I was very critical of the process. That didn’t go over favorably with the rest of the organizers, but I feel it was my best move because they dissolved their idea of starting a Denver Hip-Hop Foundation.”

According to Campbell, this foundation had intentions that mimicked what he’s been doing for years with his coalition: mentoring and educating inner city youth in high school about the business of music and hip-hop. This is ironic, considering the city’s denial of a grant for CHHC in the last year. “I felt like that was a slap in my face. When I brought that to them, they said, ‘Well, we were going to hire you.’ Then I thought that was an additional slap in the face to hire me to do something that I’m already doing for my own organization.”

Instead, they would donate the proceeds of the concert to CHHC, giving the other half to SafeCity. Prior to the postponement of the concert, Campbell stated, “There’s a duality there. I think they know that they’re really not going to make any money. So I think that’s their way to back out. They’ve said, ‘Well Jeff, we’re going to donate all the net profits to you.’ But in reality they know they’re not going to make a dime.” This makes sense, since Stephens previous stated that her only involvement in the Denver summit was to raise funds for SafeCity, not another organization.

To add salt to the wound, Campbell heard that the committee was saying negative things about him on the radio. Referring to the KS107.5 DJ, Campbell explains, “So Cat Collins called me and said, ‘Man, don’t get involved with these people. They’re talking shit about you.’ And I said, ‘Really.’ So at that point I slammed them in the paper (Denver Post interview with Ricardo Baca). I see them as vultures with dollar signs in their eyes, trying to capitalize on the culture rather than cultivate within the community.”

Kyle Reese who runs a local hip-hop promotion company, Still Livin Entertainment, and produces a local cable access show, “5280: Real Hip-Hop” on channel 57 Denver, had this to say, “Working with SafeCity was an experience that I am actually grateful for because I saw a lot of peoples true colors. I can’t remember how many times I called Mr. David Satossky [executive committee/fundraising chair] offering the services of my company and he didn’t even call back to say, ‘Kiss my ass, you hip-hop thug.'”

That Saturday when I arrived at the Denver Coliseum, the lack of cars in the parking lot was my first indication that this was a bust. Sitting among 75 or so people in the crowd, the discussion went from wanting local radio support, dealing with the realities of what’s involved in creating your musical future, and contributing to the local music community through support and collaboration. All good stuff, made even better by one of the panelist: local boy done good, DJ “Big Jon” Platt, a former Montbello student and Virgin Records executive.

I ran into Celia Herrera, founder and editor of Ultrasound, a publication focused on Colorado hip-hop. We exchanged our disappointment with the series of events and discussed the upcoming Hip-Hop Appreciation Week, which was put together by the grassroots hip-hop community that included Campbell, Brandy Bertram, program director for YouthWorks!, Herrera and others.

The week included a candlelight vigil dedicated to the “Fallen Soldiers of Hip-Hop,” a gathering at Brother Jeff’s Cultural Center and Café to present the “History of Hip-Hop,” a workshop on “The Business of Hip-Hop” at The Spot, and rounding out the week, the Art N’ Sol Party put on every year by Twisted Sol.

Because of what transpired between the city’s committee and Campbell, he saw the grassroots hip-hop community beginning to have his back more than it ever has. One of these backers includes Rei Rei, a local hip-hop artist who also runs MobRuled Productionz, who picked up the tab for the entire Hip-Hop Appreciation Week that started that weekend of the Denver summit. “I think things are beginning to turn around,” Campbell expressed.


While Reese had negative experiences with SafeCity and the summit in general, he’s also critical of the person that stares back from the mirror. “Yeah it was a catastrophe, but as promoters, program directors, DJs, artists, journalists and all other so-called members of the hip-hop community, we only have ourselves to blame.”

He’s just as critical of the talent when booking his shows in general. “Really, how many local artists are actually saying something? I just worry that nobody raps because they love the music anymore,” Reese says, explaining why he taps into both national and local artists.

Hydra, a Colorado Springs trio (Joe Trujillio, Flint, and Petey) may be new to the game, forming in the last year, but hip-hop has been a part of their livelihood for some time. Trujillo states, “We’re trying to get shows and put in the hard work so we can get that respect later on.”

They’re also working to collaborate with others, both on a group level and a solo level, as many other hip-hop artists do, including the mainstream like D-12. “Whether it’s studio time, going out of town, or whatever. We’re just trying to spread the word that we’re just local MCs not really trying to make a name for ourselves, we’re just trying to spread a message…a message of being positive, creative, to avoid materialism and not let that get into your heart. Focus on what makes you happy, as far as your inner-self goes.”

Other artists that came before them, including Kevin Mitchell from Accumen1 and Black Pegasus (aka Rob Houston), provide motivation and inspiration. When Trujillo saw Kevin from Accumen1 out making the kind of music he wanted to, “That’s all I wanted to do. Follow in his footsteps basically, making something at a creative level instead of what you see out there. Not to make fun of MTV, but there’s a lot of that ‘Making the Band’ façade that you see.”

Accumen1 goes outside the MC/Turntable box, using live procession and a variety of singers. They also stray from the booking formula, networking other Colorado Springs bands like Laymen Terms, a rock band, to present the audience with a variety of music from their hometown.

These days, Mitchell from Accumen1 is constantly looking into the future, analyzing where they’ve been and where they’re going. “You have to see what levels you’re going to take [your music] to,” he says. “If you’re tired of playing the same songs, you know the crowd is tired of hearing them.”

Hydra is currently working on mastering their second demo, throwing their old lyrics over new beats and using the skills of Flint, they hope to continue honing their craft. Trujillo says of Flint’s lyric writing, “He’s added a third and fourth dimension to the group. He’s got some skills that are super original. It’s nothing that I’ve heard or experience before.” This allows the diversity of each of their writing skills to be even more faceted, but as a unit that’s in sync.

As De La Soul continues to tour, Beastie Boys release To The 5 Boroughs, which sounds like it could have easily come out in the late ’80s, or MTV plays something reminiscent of Wild Style or Double Trouble, Flint brings up the trend in music where hip-hop seems to be jumping onto the retro trend. He poses a question to Mitchell, “Things are going back to that format like Kayne West, where it’s more of a natural underground rhyme but it’s commercialized. If you can catch that niche and ride that wave, would you ride it?”

Mitchell smiles and answers, “Honestly man, when I write I want people to feel this way or that. But I’m never trying to write like Kayne.”

Flint explains, “No man, I don’t mean like that. I just see him bringing out a lot of underground style but bringing it into the mainstream. I don’t think he’s the only one. I think there’s going to be a lot more after him that are going to get played on the radio. I’m just asking, do you want to be one of those people where you are getting out to the masses but with an intelligent message?”

“Oh yea,” Mitchell answers, “I’d definitely like to be one of those cats. What kills me is when you do make a name they think you’re selling out. I mean, what the hell do they think you’re in it for? I don’t want to just play for my mom and shit. Putting out albums cost way too much for that.”

Trujillo laughs, adding, “That reminds me of an Atmosphere show. He had one of those breaks between songs and he was talking about almost accidentally going pop. He’s got that crowd sensibility, so much diversity, and it’s brought so much that people can almost see him going pop. He wants to keep that street credibility. But if he’s getting popular and people are buying his stuff, then what?”

“I know what he’s saying. I do understand,” comments Black P. “They have more of an intimate, ‘Listen to what we’re saying’ flavor instead of the ‘You heard it all week on the radio so you can lip synch to it yourself.’ But see, they target suburbia. When they go to New York they’re not selling out the Harlem hood. They’re selling out New Jersey. All you have to do is keep making music for those kids and it’s going to keep building. That’s also how it is with Immortal Technique.”

Joe looks back at his early days of writing where in his terms, he wrote “rhyme-y ass shit” where he was thinking more about how it would play out in a MC battle versus writing something from the heart. “But after a time you grow into your own style,” he explains, “whatever that may be.”

When you ask local artists whose style they respect from the local community, a number of names come up more than once: Break Mechanic, Mob Niggaz Livin’ Decent, Ground Zero Movement, Dre Payne, Black Pegasus, Accumen1, Julox, Apostle (Jeff Campbell), The Cool eMCees, Mob Style, StillCatchinWreck, Rei-Rei, Julox, and then there’s Chris Karnes, also known as DJ Vajra, a member of the Platter Pirates (a crew consisting of many other heavy-hitters on the battle scene, Spryte and Kico, to name a few).

Reclusive at times, you may have seen Vajra in the spotlight during this year’s Westword Music Showcase. But for most of you, he’s the well-known turntablist who has taken the regional DMC champion spot two years running. As one who has had experience with competition, he sees a number of artists moving upwards, only if there is a level of improvement when it comes to the MC battles themselves.

“It seems as though there’s been a very gradual improvement in that aspect: when it come to b-boying, the GWT crew is definitely coming up and making themselves noticed,” Vajra comments. “As far as the battle scene goes, there’s the Crunk Brothers as well as Cisco Rockwell, and they’re all doing really well at it.”

When it comes to the battle scene’s growth, he feels that improvements need to be made in the organization of the event, the judging process, and what type of talent the MC brings. “If you have battles where they have bad judges who think that body tricks are what wins battles, then you’re going to have kids who are going to make battles into a fiasco, trying to win with corny tricks instead of actually trying to do something creative,” he states.


Making music starts with the love of music. Then the choice between career and hobby comes. If it’s the former, the career element coincides with the ability to pay the bills…eventually. After thousands of mixed tape CDs passed out and countless hours spent pounding the pavement, Black Pegasus has built the reputation as one of the hardest workers in Colorado hip-hop.

“I see a lot of stuff going on locally, but people don’t have a plan. I was the same way. But now that I’m older and living off of it I have to have a plan and stay organized,” Black P says, “otherwise I’m gonna be broke as hell.”

This is what separates the pros from the wanna be’s – the work ethic and awareness of business basics. Those like Black P and Accumen1 who have been in it for a while learned that if they were going to continue doing what they do for the long haul, they needed to have that business mind. They and other artists also learned that relationships are key. And they pay off in more ways than one.

One example was a lead from Black P that led Accumen1 to a new clothing endorsement deal with LRD clothing out of Ft. Collins. Kevin has also learned that relationships need to extend outside our comfortable community. “I keep building with other cats from out of state to put Colorado on the map. It takes time, but you’ve to get out there to make them look. When they think of hip-hop here, they think we’re all in a bunch of overalls. But there’s a real scene here, especially in the Springs.”

Flint from Hydra brings up the other side of relationships, those that leave one hanging by the phone. “We’re not loving each other,” he says. “When you try to put a show together, you have to call this person a thousand times. And right before the show they’re not sure if they’re going to make it. It doesn’t seem to be important to everybody.” He feels that typically happens with those who just got into the game, and for the wrong reasons. “They don’t have a love for the art. When you spread the love it all comes back around to you.”

Jaime Crockett, a music buyer and manager at Independent Records (who is also a local musician) sees the ego being a problem as well. “I think the ‘Who’s the best MC’ thing, that’s part of the whole culture. It plays a part at times with battles, but when you’re trying to work and make shit happen, that’s not the place or the time.”

Francois Baptiste, House of Blues (HOB) promoter/producer and the co-host of the MixTape show Sundays on KS107.5, feels that another challenge is so many people have different visions of where they want the local scene to go. “Some want a local artist to blow up, or want hip-hop to be more community and politically active. Both are good directions for Colorado hip-hop, but it causes friction in the streets and in the end nothing really gets done, except by a few folks.”


Born in Denver, Rei-Rei spent some time in Texas before returning to her home state to continue her life and her career. “Texas is more advanced than Colorado,” she comments. “I just learned about a new environment. They come from country, and country’s all about family. It’s all about loyalty. Here it’s not like that.”

In Texas as a hip-hop artist, it was easy for her to make her way through the door because of the popular support of hip-hop in itself, as it was here in Denver in the ’80s. Moving into the ’90s, clubs were fearful of the thug factor and shut their doors to hip-hop nights. Combined with authorities looking down on urban themed events, she feels this led to a downfall of live hip-hop during that decade.

As suburban kids and the rest of the world made hip-hop a multi-billion dollar industry, Rei Rei believes this led to the resurgence of clubs to once again support hip-hop in order to get a piece of the monetary pie. No matter what the motivation, she’s happy that once again the doors are open to her and other hip-hop artists, and sees Boulder in particular as the local town full of kids that love their music and just wants to have a good time.

Black P vents, “To be honest, Denver’s frustrating for me. I’ve gone up there and done tons of shows like at Soiled Dove, Larimer Lounge, and Lions Lair.” But the only ones that really paid off were the opening gigs for national acts. “So I just wait and chill for someone like Eyedea and Abilities to come through town because I know I’m going to get paid and sell records.”

His experience and that of Accumen1 have proven that Colorado Springs fares better, “We’ve done it for years and now when we do a show at 32 Bleu we get 500 people there,” compared to a Denver show with Yo! Flaco where 20 to 50 people showed. “They’ve been doing it for five years. Why aren’t they packing out venues like the Ogden with 500 to 600 kids?’ It’s a way bigger market.”

Every month Black P. takes his Colorado tour through Boulder and Ft. Collins, playing the Fox Theatre, Boulder Theater, Aggie and the Starlight. He happened to be heading up to Denver the night of The Streets show in June, when Fox Theater called him for a last minute opening gig for the London hip-hop group. He rocked the full house, and in the middle of the show asked the enthusiastic kids if they knew who Black P was. Only a few raised their hands. That didn’t stop them from dancing and throwing their hands in the air, and by the end, they were left wanting more. In time Black Pegasus has seen, “The kids from Denver come to Boulder to see me instead,” because of the positive vibe.

Before HOB, Baptiste got his start as a promoter in Boulder in ’93 doing small hip-hop events at warehouses and Tulagi’s via 3 Deep Productions. “Then I started to work with Don Strasburg at the Fox Theater for the next couple of years. The Fox Theater is where I consider to be the birth of the hip-hop movement in Colorado.” At that time, Fox enabled them to dispel those rumors that hip-hop shows meant trouble, and because of the patrons, hip-hop was an economically viable market.

“Hip-hop prospered in the early 90’s at the Fox Theater,” Baptiste explains, “when at that time, gang violence throughout Colorado put a black eye on hip-hop. I also had the great opportunity to work for Bill Bass who was also instrumental in taking hip-hop to the Fox Theater and bigger arenas, such as Red Rocks,” like the Smoking Grooves Tour. From there he went to House of Blues Concerts with Jason Miller, who he believes to be, “the greatest fan of hip-hop in the concert business. Jason and I have made it a point to bring the best hip-hop to Colorado. And we have.”

For Reese and Still Livin Entertainment, he finds that Colorado’s listening audience has limited access to homegrown music, “primarily because of the local radio and its lack of support for our local artists. So it depends on which side of the fence you’re on. Are you trying to make money or are you in it for the love?”

He doesn’t put all the blame on the radio programmers, but feels that the artists AND the audience both need to step up to raise the bar. “When you go to other cities the people know their artists and their music. You go to Kansas City and they don’t wanna hear the top 40, they wanna hear Rich the Factor or Fat Tone or X-TAC (extasy). At the same time, there is a shortage of good local music out there. I heard David Banner say it the best, ‘A lot muthafuckas need to go back to school.'”


“From stereotypes of hip-hop, to power struggles, to lack of respect of the hip-hop culture. No one city is better than the other when it comes to building their hip-hop community,” says Baptiste, “But hey, isn’t that what hip-hop is about? Over coming the struggle, right?”

Let’s hope some lessons on the negative affects of power struggles were learned by this year’s attempt at a Denver Hip-Hop Summit. And next time around, we leave our egos at the door for the overall good. As the writer of one bumper sticker once said, “The power of love can only happen when we eliminate the love of power.”

During a phone interview this past July with Dr. Benjamin Chavis, he stated, “For 2005, Denver is not only on our radar, but we have plans to convene a hip-hop summit in Denver. We’re just trying to get an appropriate date and get the artists cleared,” he says. He also repeated the statement from May, “We want to make sure that whenever we convene in Denver, it will be successful.”

The timeframe they are kicking around is February of next year when the NBA All-Star Game comes to Denver. Chavis did say that he will be coming to Denver this Fall, but declined to say exactly who he will be meeting with because at the present time, they don’t have a local planning committee. “There are a number of people who have contacted us who want to be on the planning committee,” he states. Let’s also hope that when that committee is assembled, there is more of that balance between local government and hip-hop grassroots.

“Hip-hop is a growing phenomenon in Denver. So when we come to Denver, we’re going to celebrate the evolution of hip-hop in Denver, doing the same things we’ve done in other cities: encourage young people to be motivated to register to vote, to do positive things with the opportunities their society offers,” says Chavis.

And then there are those peeps that are celebrating Colorado right now, on their own.

As a way to bring Denver the “family” atmosphere Rei-Rei experienced in Texas, the MobRuled/Dankside 1st Annual Local Celebrity B-Ball Tournament took place during the 4th of July weekend in the Montbello neighborhood, with kids doing double-dutch while the adults played hard-nosed 3 on 3 for their respective record labels. “It was so much fun, we’re planning “Part II” for the middle of August,” Rei-Rei says.

The Colorado Hip-Hop Coalition holds hip-hop networking events the second Saturday of every month. On Saturday, August 14 they’ll host the “Unity Opportunity Action” training, an education program that utilizes the organizing model of “Unity, Opportunity, Action, as an exercise in the 3 laws of leadership,” where middle and high school students will be face to face with Colorado’s hip-hop community organizers, and professional hip-hop entrepreneurs.

“I think the scene is really good now,” says DJ Vajra, “There are definitely a lot of people who are trying to put in a lot of work and make the scene even better. I think that people are a lot more confident in what artists from Colorado can do and what they can accomplish. Even the radio stations are starting to come around, realizing that Colorado hip-hop has a very valid place in the local music scene. That Denver and Boulder aren’t just little cowtowns full of people who are just trying too hard, but that Colorado is becoming a successful artistic community.”

Referring to a book by Deepak Chopra, “The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success,” which Russell Simmons himself has been known to absorb, there are two laws that come to mind: The Law of Pure Potentiality and The Law of Karma.

There is so much potential here, but the attitudes, egos, apathy and “what’s in it for just me” attitude will leave Colorado hip-hop in a state of suspension if those negative energies aren’t snuffed out. We’ve highlighted just a few of the people who are living and breathing this art form, and they need our support and the belief that it can only get better.

We encourage the hip-hop community in general to contact us with whatever is going on: an MC Battle, a CD release show, or a cultural event. There are many artists that have done their part by sending us music, and now it’s our responsibility to bring them to you. But we believe that this is only the tip of the iceberg, so spread the word that Kaffeine Buzz wants to play a part in supporting music and the hip-hop community, and we’ll work hard to boomerang that karma back out.

Props out to Independent Records as they celebrate their anniversary this month and their support of local music of all kinds. We love you guys.


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