Dec 12 Feature – What You Need to Know About the Denver Hip-Hop Scene

What You Don’t Know About theColoradoHip Hop Scene. by DJ Cavem


Peace and collard greens, this is DJ Cavem. I was given the task to write about the Colorado Hip-Hop Scene of today. I thought it would be fresh to break it down by the 9 elements of Hip Hop: Bboying, Djing, Emceeing, Graffiti, Beat Boxing, Street Fashion, Street Language, Street Knowledge, and Entrepreneurship; plus one of my own, Health.  You got the juice now.

  1. Much respect to Universal Zulu Nation, and Zulu Gremlin of the Rock Steady Crew, who did some training in Colorado and helped the jump off of the element of Bboying for Colorado in 1978. A thank you to him and those who taught me, Feinz, AsiaOne, DeAndre Caroll and Kwikstep. Without their dedication to hip-hop, the bboys of today would not have roots. Not every bboy goes to Cleo Parker Dance Studio to learn or practice their moves. Some styles are concealed in the underground to maintain originality until they hit the battle floor. Like two locally based, but internationally known breakers, Ray Ray of Vibe Crew, and Pop Master Jared Peters aka “Finesse The Mad Hatter” of Lords of Finesse Crew. They have not only been featured in numerous videos for artists such as B.O.B. and played overseas in Asia, but have given private lessons and taught at professional dance studios even though their styles did not come from academics. Bboying will always originate on the street.   Nowadays, young breakers are still getting served on the concrete on 16th street, but you can still get professional instruction at venues such as The Bboy Factory, The School of Breaking or Street Side. And show up to the annual Rockers Rumble inBoulder,Colorado, where bboys from across the nation come show their skills.
  1. I must say, the most incredible and historic happening in Coloradowas on my 20th birthday, when DJ Kool Herc, father of all DJs, came to Denver to spin at my party. What an awesome event. I remember listening to DJ Dr. Daddy-O on KDKO as a young child. I wasn’t the kid who only grew up on tapes and CDs. My grandmother had a record player, and a great collection of soul classics because they lived in Motown when my mother was growing up. To help keep the soul alive, the first turntables I ever got were out of a pawnshop when I was 10 years old.  DJ Knee came over to tell me what I needed to do to get my belt-driven turntables off the ground; I could say, he is the person who taught me what I know about mixing. I watched him warm up the crowd at Cafe Nuba over the years. This introduced me to my deejay, Scooby Doo, also known as DJ SD. There were always deejays I was checking for who kept me on my toes, like DJ Mu$a, DJ Chonz, DJ Vajra, DJ Quote, DJ Bella Scratch, and my turf DJs: KDJ Above, DJ Ktone, DJ Chiefrocka, DJ Big Spade, DJ Top Shelf. Some people argue over the authenticity of performance. Conversations arise when people who rock cdjs are called DJs. I, personally, call them selectors; they select the songs. A DJ has the capability to scratch vinyl. Then you got the hybrid DJs, who produce the music they spin for people, such as, The Girlgrabbers and DJ Check One. I wanna give a big shout out to Brother Jeff, who has helped me continue the craft by passing down his turntables to me. Two Technics, mint condition that hadn’t been used since the late ‘80s. One of the major challenges of being a DJ is finding consistent venues to spin abstract, multi-dimensional music. Aside from Brother Jeff aka DJ Mr. Magic, no other DJs own a venue, but there are always special occasions when these cyphers are created, and you can catch great DJs giving you good music on the radio. Check out The Eclipse radio show, Basementalism, and Mahogany Soul Child. Shout out to the producers, like Mo Heat, Mass Prod, Q Knox, Eddie Flores, AL, Elijah Moore, Gyp Da Hip, CJ, Shae Moneybags and my man SP Double, and not to forget Yonnas of Pirate Signal, Black Hearts baby.


3. As a youth growing up on the East Side, I used to get my local mix tapes from Spin Records on Downing Street.  I was really into gangsta rap; one of my favorite rappers was from Curtis Park, his name was Mac-V. I remember him, Don Blas, Apostle, and Ground Zero Movement out of the Five Points. Also from the East Side is the group Tag Team that produced the “Whoop There It Is” track. I have also heard rumors of Common and Too Short spending some of their time here in the CO, as well as one of the members of Hieroglyphics, A Plus. At first, it felt like a media block out for mainstream artists who originate from Colorado. Then I started seeing 3OH!3 and the Flobots, and some new inspiration from Pretty Lights and the Foodchain, who are now playing headlining shows. Other artists I look out for are Interstate Ike, Catch Lungs, 2MX2, Spoken Word, Pries, Mr. Midas, FJP, Top Flight, Distrakt, and the ReMinders, who released their latest album Born Champion in September, and just got off a national tour with Brother Ali. Shout outs to Lady Wu, Rie Rie, and Basheba Earth for being the women’s voice of hip-hop in Colorado. You never have to go too far from home to hear fresh beats and rhymes, like the 900 LB Gorilla Cypher, based on the Zulu Nation principles, started by the brothers of the High Tops and Mike Wird, who bring a fresh emcee cypher and open mic full of locally grown hip hop.  Colorado has always been blessed with lyrical skills, being the home of world and national Poetry Slam champions who got to practice their skills on the Cafe Nuba stage since 1999. Cafe Nuba has now branched out as a radio show, giving lyricists a platform to reach international listeners. It airs on KGNU every second Friday at 3:00pm. Another great place to vibe out with local hip hop, or if you’re an emcee who wants a place to test your skills, check ILL Se7en’s event Live Bait on Thursdays at Funky Buddha, with Big Wheel at Appaloosa on Tuesdays, both at 10 pm. Or, if you like to flow a capella and compete, come out to Slam Nuba every first and last Monday at Crossroads Theater.

4. People have been writing on the walls since the pyramids. Nowadays, people don’t know what’s good for them. I think businesses should work with local artists and allow space for Urban Calligraphy. There are artists who have taken it to the next level, and no longer have to go to extremes like busting hang-overs on highways, climbing the chimneys of factories, and getting chased out of train yards by guards and dogs; cause man, it sucks to try and get etch bath off your hands, and paint out of your clothes. Now, local graff artists, like Jolt, are getting paid for their art, and are being displayed on some of the dopest walls, like at the Denver International Airport, the Botanic Gardens, and Elitch Gardens, where thousands of people can see their work. There are underground graffiti lairs, like The Guerilla Garden, where one of my favorite artists, who I have been working with over the past couple of years, Bimmer T, is a resident artist. This artist has not only designed the Going Green, Living Bling logo, but also the gangsta low-riding broccoli of the Brown Suga Youth Festival. He, like Jolt, is a muralist, whose art has not only touched people visually, but also inspired many and created a space for the younger generations to come together to piece on walls. When I met Bimmer T, we were both teaching a summer workshop at Youthbiz. He was working under the business name 2Kool at the time; a graffiti crew turned legal, focusing on individual careers, such as showing youth the graffiti element of hip hop, and how to make a living out of it, with his business partner Ratha. The crew created a great brand and then branched off to focus on individual careers. But graffiti in Denver has come a long way from tag battles. I remember talking to Feinz from Lords of Finesse Crew, the brother of DJ Chonz, about his black book and how he has been writing graffiti since the early ’90s. He would tell me about crews like, SWS, TCA, SK, and RTD, and old-school taggers like Gue and Voice; artists who were making such a name for themselves that my parents were starting to catch on to who they were. A lot of artists stole their paint from local hardware supply stores, until places like Art N Sol, a graffiti supply shop that was next door to Twisted Soul tattoo shop opened. It no longer exists because they got busted selling cans to underage kids. At the time, it was the only place to get a fat, silver marker. There were other shops, like Rapid Fire Records, but today, they make cans designed for graffiti artists that you can pick up at an artistic supply store, like Guiry’s or Meininger. I’m also a big fan of visual artist Dunn the Signtologist, who pieces up signs and got his break in XXL doing portraits of emcees; one of my favorite being the shot up stop sign of the Notorious B.I.G.

5. As a youth, beat boxing was one of my main ways of entertaining myself while walking back and forth to school.  The beat boxing scene is really in the cypher; it happens organically, improvisation-style in the hallways and lunchrooms of schools, and outside of clubs. Most emcees, aren’t snapping their fingers in a free-style cypher, somebody is going to kick a beat, clap or stomp. The beat box represents the heart of hip-hop, the pulse of the people, creating something out of nothing, the reason why people bob their head. A lot of times, the beat boxer comes out of nowhere, it might even be you.

6. I was always an emcee that dressed to impress. Even if I had that beaded, bohemian look, I still had that fresh incense smell. Back in the early ’90s, AsiaOne had a dope hip-hop clothing shop off of 20th and Larimer. It is no longer there, now it’s parking lot, but during its time you could cop a fuzzy kangol and fat laces. It was more than just a clothing shop, it was a community space where young people hung out after school. I was your everyday FUBU rocking, Phat Farm clothing, Timberlands and Chucks, goosed-downed-in-the-wintertime kinda brother from the East side, wearing Dickies. Then I went to Africa. I remember trading out my gold chain for ivory beads, not knowing I’d be back in a silver chain years later. From Afros to braids, from dreadlocks to fades, with the dope design from the best barber in Denver, the 7 Sayeed at Supreme Styles on Colfax. (I could have mentioned him in the graffiti element as one of the freshest head graffiti artists I know, always giving me that finishing touch.) There are also fresh barbershops up and down Welton Street if your trying to get a cut, cause you’re not about to be holding up my line. For that fly dashiki, Africa medallion, Rasta tam, and dope earrings and bracelets for the ladies, I like Akente Express. I wouldn’t have that local fresh hip-hop dress if it weren’t for some of our local designers, like Jiberish, Urban Arkanum, Rawh Expression, and The Gro Project, who is premiering some new fashion at Family Affair on 20th and Larimer, December 7 at7:00 pm.

7. As far as the way I spit, the way I talk, broken English has always been called ignorant, and associated with a lack of education. My English professor would always mark up my graffiti insignia as gang related, lower my grade, and sometimes call home. I can hardly get anywhere without noticing burners and toss-ups. I have trained my eyes to recognize the code of internationally known graffiti. It’s almost become a part of who I am, being aware of these hidden messages in plain site. It is a part of my “swag,” my “fresh.” People who don’t innovate, imitate. I like to be creative with the way I talk and the way I write rhymes. I introduce myself as the OG, not your original gangster but the organic gardener. I also have a track called “G’s Up, Hoes Down” on my new album The Produce Section – The Harvest, speaking on gardeners and the gardening tool, not what is usually assumed.    This is a whole album that transforms the urban streets to urban gardens, inspiring gangstas to go green.

8. I was that kid who attended the Colorado Hip Hop Coalition and Represent Represent after-school programs when I attended Cole Middle School. I gotta say, I never thought that I would be lecturing at universities around the nation on hip hop, due to the vast lack of academic experience in the culture. Most emcees I know are educators today. Like my girl Bianca Mikahn who works with the utilizing music to teach youth in public schools throughout Denver. My brother Molina Speaks who runs the Build 2020, a conversation around the future of culture and humanism, and works with There is also ILL Se7en who works with Divine America, an interactive youth writing workshop to encourage young people in literary skills, and my uncle Panama Soweto, a social worker for Denver Housing Authority, and Babah Fly who is a professional Yogi and Massage Therapist. I, with my beautiful wife, Neambe LeadonVita, wrote a curriculum five years ago that we have taught to many groups of young people with various schools and organizations from Youthbiz to Manual High School and Peace Jam. This curriculum is entitled “Going Green, Living Bling: Redefining the Image of Wealth in Hip Hop Culture,” and focuses on the empowerment of our youth and communities through health, food justice awareness, and hip hop with live juicing, cooking demonstrations, film and lecture.

9. Hip-hop has always been about the hustle. I think it’s the time for people to realize that art is not for free. It takes a lot to be a self-motivated artist; from printing flyers, to promoting shows, investing in studio time, and touring costs. From the marketing and managing, the endorsements, the album planning–if you’re not a smart, compassionate DJ, mix-tape drops can get very expensive. Creating a name for yourself is the only way to get paid, like my man DJ Vajra, touring as the world’s best DJ; Big John, managing and marketing major record label artists. Selling CDs outside of Independent Records like Mr. Verbal, or up and down 16th Street Mall like Lil Therapy, an OG hustler who might have more albums than any other person in Colorado. On another note, my brother Mike Wird, is trained in Earthship Biotecture and can build a home out of mud and tires. He has used his emcee skills on his album Afronaut Funk Volume 1, to teach on this, and is now completing a business plan around this work, merging the culture with sustainable infrastructure.

10. Due to the lack of intergenerational support, the one element that people forget to focus on is the health and the cause and effect of hip-hop. No matter how much of a hustler hip-hop says you have to be, you can’t smoke blunts and drink liquor forever. The health rates of most hip-hop tribal members seem to be heavily influenced by the mass media that displays commercials for corporations, using low-bass frequencies and hip-hop music to sell their products. If I did a song, “Blame it on the Wheatgrass,” would people buy more wheatgrass shots? Will my album The Produce Section inspire people to spend more time in the produce section? Buy from local farmers’ markets, or just think harder about what they eat and read the labels on the food they cook? Maybe. Ten years ago, I looked in the freezer of a friend of mine and was shocked by the food selection. If he goes down, I go down, and that’s what he had to offer a brother while I was at his house. This was my senior year of high school, so I decided to start a conversation between hip-hop and Wholistic Health, for my senior project. I wanted to bring together the power of art and activism for social change to my peers, introducing motivational lecturers, bboys and DJs, yogis, acupuncturists and agriculturalists, to talk about the future of young people. This project has become an annual festival, The Brown Suga Youth Festival. April 2013 will mark its 10-year anniversary. It was born out of my mind as a youth, and is now and always has been, about empowering young people, focusing on our health, and creating inter-generational connections to reach a healthier future for us all. That real Higher Inner Peace Helping Other People…H.I.P.H.O.P.

Overall,Coloradohip-hop has a deep history and is Alive and Well.

Shout out to my crews Moetavation, Lords of Finesse, Guerilla Garden and the Raw Foods Rockas! Peace to the Universal Zulu Nation

Ietef “DJ Cavem Moetavation” Vita

O.G. Organic Gardener

Educator, Going Green Living Bling

Founder – Brown Suga Youth Festival

Minister of Health -GuerillaGarden

Green For All & Bold Food Fellow


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