What A Night
Chapter 7: Kalamazoo, MI
Between 2003 and 2005, Kalamazoo, Michigan became one of the most supportive cities of my music. It all started when Western Michigan University’s student-operated radio station, WIDR FM, began putting the Soul Position Unlimited EP and my production album The Weight Room in regular rotation. Unlike most college radio stations—whose programming is directed entirely at the student-body—WIDR’s show programming and events calendar garnered the support of the entire community and the surrounding area.
My first time playing in Kalamazoo was in 2003 when Illogic and I were invited to play on one of the station’s monthly artist showcases at a spot called Club Soda. Initially, I wasn’t too excited about the amount of money we were offered, but we decided to take a chance and do the gig anyway. It was a brand new market and only a four-hour drive from Columbus. So Illogic, DJ PRZM, and I hopped into my Mazda MPV and headed north. That turned out to be a good decision because the club was packed. We killed the show and sold a lot of merch, which made up for not getting paid that much of a guarantee.
Six months later, we were invited back. We got paid a little more and had another great show.
A similar pattern followed for the next year or so. We would make the drive up there every three or four months and play on one of WIDR’s events. Sometimes we were headlining, other times we were opening up for other groups like Scratch from the Roots or Medusa from Project Blowed. Kalamazoo was starting to become our spot. It was a city where we had everything in place: our shows were well-promoted and well attended, the radio station was playing our music, and we were making consistent money. It was great.
Around this same time, the national battle scene was starting to take off. What was once just something that local emcees did to sharpen their blade and make a name for themselves had now turned into something people actually paid money to see. Across the nation, venues and promoters, who never really messed with hip-hop before, started throwing local MC battles for cash prizes. This was back when releasing your album independently was still relatively new and battling was still seen as one of the most effective ways an artist could make a name for themselves. The emcees never got paid a lot of money back then, but the battles were always packed. I was known in the battle scene because I had done well in two Scribble Jam battles, finishing second place in one and reaching the final sixteen in another. Although I had stopped battling a couple years prior to focus on my recording career, I was still respected as a battler and often got asked to host or judge. This is what led to me getting offered one of the most bizarre shows I have ever participated in, performing at an emcee battle that WIDR threw in Kalamazoo.
Under normal circumstances, I would never perform at a battle. It wasn’t that I lacked confidence as a performer—I just understood the crowds and what they came to see. They were there for the insults, the punch lines, and the aggression. They weren’t really there for live performances or artistry. Sometimes the battle crowd would tolerate a performance or two, but only as long as it didn’t interrupt the flow of the battle itself. Yet, despite this risk, I still accepted the gig because we had so much momentum going for us in Kalamazoo. I had confidence I could overcome the unreceptive people in the crowd as long as enough of my fans came out. Plus, I was getting paid my normal fee for just a 20-minute set.
Since we weren’t scheduled to play until the intermission of the battle, DJ Rare Groove and I arrived at the venue shortly after the battle started. The 300-capacity club was almost filled to capacity. It was a real energetic and intense environment. I recognized a few kids from my previous shows there but, for the most part, it was a completely different crowd, as I expected. After we setup our turntables behind the stage, Groove and I chilled at the bar and had some drinks to knock the edge off and to get settled into the atmosphere. It wasn’t going to be as easy as usual, but our confidence was really high because we knew our set was razor sharp.
The battle started to get off schedule, so the organizers decided to move our performance from the midway point to right before the finals. We knew that the closer it got to the later rounds of the battle, the less receptive the crowd would be to performances, but it was out of our hands. We kept drinking to kill the time and tried not to let it phase us.
The time finally arrived for us to hit the stage. When DJ Rare Groove took the decks, I started seeing small packs of my fans moving toward the front of the stage. That was pretty encouraging. Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough people to make a real dent in the crowd. Out of close to 300 people there, about fifty to seventy-five were my fans. And they were all in the back, unable to get closer to the stage because it was so packed.
Right in front of the stage were two long 4×6 tables where the judges of the battle were sitting. All of the judges looked like they absolutely wanted to kill me. Not a single smile or positive look. It was as if they held me personally responsible for their decision to judge the battles and be stuck sitting there for four hours straight.
Once we were introduced, DJ Rare Groove threw on the intro and we started the set. I hadn’t said anything to the crowd or rhymed yet, I just stood back while he mixed from a classic break into our first song. While he was mixing and scratching, I started to hear a weird sound that I hadn’t ever heard before. I was a little confused by it, but we kept going. The sound got louder and louder, until I realized that the sound I didn’t recognize at first was people booing us. I looked out into the crowd and tried to figure out where it was coming from and realized it was coming from right in front of the stage. There was a small pack of dudes, one fat dude in particular, who was booing the shit out of us.
“So we get up there and the tension was thick. People are rocking with us but these MC’s in the front are like real angry. So ‘Print throws it to me to do my DJ routine where I play a bunch of breaks, and these dudes start to boo the hell out of me.” – DJ Rare Groove
On one hand, I can understand booing somebody if they suck and deserve it. But this was different. We hadn’t even performed a full song, and I hadn’t even rhymed yet. It was intimidating as fuck. I had never been boo’d before, so I hesitated for a second, hoping it would die down on its own. It didn’t. The fat dude in front was hyping all the other guys around him to boo DJ Rare Groove and me even more. I knew that if they were booing DJ Rare Groove already then it was only going to get worse once I started rhyming. And as soon as I went into my first verse, it did. We didn’t know what to do; we just knew it was getting louder and more hostile by the second.
Then something inside of me snapped. After my initial shock, I got pissed off. I got on the mic and said, “Hold up! Are ya’ll really booing my DJ like that? Fuck that! Groove, turn the fucking music off!”
Groove turned the music off.
Once it was silent in there, I pointed to the fat kid and said, “Hey! What the fuck are you booing at? If you got a problem, fat boy, and think you can rap better than me then bring your fat ass up here right now and get served!”
Everybody in the club was stunned and you could hear them all say, “Oh shit!”
The fat dude gave me the middle finger and said, “Fuck you.” I could see he was still trying to clown with his dudes, so I stepped to the front of the stage and said, “I don’t know what you muthafuckas think this is, but I’m gonna tell you right now, I will serve anybody in this entire club right now! ANYBODY! So if any of y’all booing think y’all can rap and wanna battle, get on stage right now and we can settle this shit!” As soon as I said that, pandemonium broke out. The next thing I knew, ten or fifteen dudes jumped over the barrier and rushed the stage, coming directly towards me. It was the entire first two rows of dudes who were booing me. The hosts of the battle rushed the stage next, trying to restore order, but it was chaos.
When I sized up the situation and realized how big those dudes were, I started to get a little scared because me and DJ Rare Groove were by ourselves. But instead of acting scared, I decided to start acting crazy. I still had the mic, so I started talking even more and more shit. I paced back and forth asking “who want it?” over and over, and saying crazy shit under my breath. I figured it was safer to let people think I was crazy so that they wouldn’t kick my ass than to act perfectly sane and get my ass kicked. That’s just basic shit I learned growing up in the hood. While this entire thing is going on, the entire crowd is flipping out because nobody had ever seen anything like that before.
Eventually, a little bit of order was restored when the hosts got all the dudes who rushed the stage to stand together on the opposite side. I was still on my side, pacing back and forth acting crazy. The hosts took me to the side and told me those were all the dudes who had lost in the battle already, and the reason they had boo’d me was because they were still upset about their loses. Finding that out pissed me off even more. The hosts asked me if I was sure I wanted to battle them and I said, “Hell yeah.” All of them wanted to battle me, so I told them to pick their best man. They huddled up for a couple of seconds and picked their best guy to battle me. After more chaos and arguing about who would go first, it was decided that their guy would go first.
I looked back at Rare Groove and gave him the nod. I wanted him to pick out the nastiest beat for me and hopefully something weak for them.
“They look at me for the instrumentals. Now all I had, minus our set, was some DJ Premier instrumentals. There was no way in hell I was gonna play the best joints for this clown ruining our show. Idiot.” – DJ Rare Groove
Groove dropped an average beat and this guy spit some really forgettable shit that nobody in the crowd was into. I went next and spit the most perfect 16-bar freestyle verse of my entire career. I broke down everything about dude: his hair, his clothes, how wack his rhyme was, and even finished it with a line about the mean judges that I didn’t like. The place exploded. It felt a scene from a movie. After I served that dude, I looked at the rest of them and yelled, “Who’s next?! Who else want some?!” I was prepared to battle all of them one by one, but as soon as they saw what I did to their best guy they all scurried off the stage. They didn’t want anymore.
Once order was restored, I looked at Rare Groove and realized that we probably shouldn’t press our luck in there. I knew that even though the crowd was behind me now, pressing it too far would wear out my welcome. So I performed one song and said peace. The crowd gave us a huge ovation. Groove and I got off stage as fast as we could and went straight to the bar. We didn’t even get to perform the majority of our set. I thought the promoters and my fans were going to be mad at me for not doing my whole set, but they were all cool about it and completely understood. In fact, they applauded me and said what I did was the most memorable part of the entire event.
What a night.
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