Monday, May 31, 2010

Rhyme Cal 9 - Interview - J. Armstead Brown

Rhyme Cal 9 was chock full of both exciting and frustrating moments. On the high side, competitors Black Sun and Jon Quest each respectively impressed throughout. The low had to be the 20-minute delay leading into the final round. Rhyme Cal founder J. Armstead Brown took the time to clear the air on the controversy and give his interpretation on some of the MC's that have developed as participants in the competition.

AB: What up Rory? Before we jump into your questions I wanted to start off with a few words. First I want to once again thank all the MC’s that competed in Rhyme Cal 9. This shit ain’t easy and we appreciate the fearlessness and commitment to creativity that the MC’s demonstrate. At the same time I know some MC’s came away frustrated for different reasons. We as the Rhyme Cal creators hold our selves accountable for making sure the game is both exciting for the crowd and fair to the competitors. Most of the time we succeed but sometimes we fall short. I want to remind everyone that Rhyme Calisthenics is an ongoing experiment—we have no blueprint to follow—we’re creating this thing as we go—Rhyme Calisthenics is one long three year freestyle! We’re coming up on three years and in that the three years we haven’t made a single dime. We don’t do this for the money we do it because we believe that Rhyme Calisthenics is a needed part of a larger movement. We do it because we believe Rhyme Cal is part of the tipping point to put the Pittsburgh hip-hop movement in motion. We do it to bring MC’s and hip-hop heads together. We do it because hip-hop is and always should be unpredictable, spontaneous, and most of all fun. We hope the MC’s play this game for the same reasons.

RW: Can you talk about what you saw from the champion, and first-time competitor, Black Sun, and what he did in his performance that gave him an edge over the competition?

AB: Well, in an MC competition where tensions were high and expectations were great, Black Sun was like a Buddhist throughout the whole competition. I think his edge was that he had no expectations, he came for the experience, he came to experiment, to exercise, he came for all the right reasons. Beyond that I think Black Sun is just a really dope MC down to the definition of what an MC is. If you were paying attention he not only had really great lyrics but he MCed each challenge from the moment the wheel stopped spinning to the moment judges raised their score cards. When “Storytelling” dropped he told the crowd to “gather ‘round the campfire,” and in the last round he recaptured the audience with “The Message” after several confusing distractions. He was poised and in control the whole night.

RW: In the championship Sun defeated Rhyme Cal vet Jonny Quest. This was Quest’s fifth Rhyme Cal appearance and his first time making it to the finals. In the first round his spin of the wheel landed on “Crowd Topics,” a category he has struggled with in the past. How can his perseverance and progression be related to the idea and goals this competition has for its competitors?

AB: It’s funny because I know Jonny Quest was ready for a lot of the written challenges, but the wheel has a funny way of landing on your weaknesses when you get a little too confident. I didn’t see his “Crowd Topic” verse, I’ll see it when I review the tape, but his performance overall captured his improvement. He’s just a grinder and the Wheel of Skillz has helped him craft his lyrics, he’s not just writing verses without purpose. Although he’s putting in work at the studio, he’s learned to write his verses for the stage which is something I think is really important. Sometimes studio verses don’t come across on stage, but if you write your verses like you’re about to spitting them to a crowd of 500 people you’ll have an intensity and urgency in your flow that you can’t get standing in the booth. Much respect to Jon Quest.

RW: There was some confusion leading into the final round with the bracket that was distributed a few days prior. Granted, this was the first competition in the new format. Will there be any type of rule book implemented to keep this from being a distraction again?

AB: Yes, we are going to publish our official rule book before the next Rhyme Cal Competition. And by the way, we do have an official rule book that we abide by. It’s too complicated to explain the confusion regarding the final-four round, but I’ll say this… Boka had a legitimate complaint and I’m glad he voiced his opinion. The same way that we encourage our MC’s to get better, Stretch and I are always trying to make the competition better, more exciting, but also more fair. That’s why we listened to Boka’s complaint, and huddled up right there in the middle of the competition to review his complaint. But at the same time we stick to our decision. Our decision was to stick to the rules we created, even though the bracket we posted on Facebook was misleading. If the NCAA tournament has a misprint in the way they post their brackets, they don’t change the rules to accommodate the misprint. They stick to their original rules and let the public know that they made an error in the way they presented the brackets. So that’s what we did. The fact is that the brackets we posted on Facebook were really meant to allow the MC’s to see who they will be up against in the first round. They were also meant to create a little bit of hype. But after reflecting on Boka’s complaint, we’ve decided to change the rules for the next one. So the final-four round will be a little different in the future.

RW: This is the ninth installment of Rhyme Cal, without counting the All-Star competition and the 4x4. Why do you think some competitors still come to the show unprepared?

AB: Well, I think there are different types of competitors, and there are different ways for an MC to prepare. One of the best ways to prepare is to actually write verses to the written challenges. “Storytelling,” “Last Word,” “Acapella,” and “The Message” are all categories that cater to pre-prepared verses. Another way to prepare is to do some homework on the other competitors and develop a few punchlines for them. This will help you in “Comp Killer” and you could also put a few jabs into other challenges like “Mackin’” or “Here and Now.” Another way to prepare is to practice the freestyle challenges at the crib. You can practice “Word Bank,” “Grab Bag,” “Scenario,” and “Crowd Topics” by rapping about different item or things in your crib. Even if you never compete in Rhyme Calisthenics, theses are exercises guaranteed to make you a better MC. Having said that I first want to acknowledge the MC’s that did come prepared. Black Sun, Jon Quest, 3PFD, Kid A, and Boka all came with a few writtens and few ideas about how to flip some of the challenges. Then there are some cats who can go up against the wheel with no preparation at all – like A-Jaxx. He’s an MC who can develop dope phrases on the fly. As far as I know he’s never really prepared for a Rhyme Cal and yet he regularly makes it to the final four. I know A-Jaxx didn’t do as well as he usually does this time around, but he’s dope and he’s supported us by competing in almost every single Rhyme Calisthenics competition we’ve ever done. The reason he does so well is because he’s a true wordsmith, not just an MC. He’s got a real mastery and love of words. For some it’s all about preparation and for others it’s all about riding the moment—the key is knowing which type of MC you are. If you’re not fresh spitting in the moment then take your ass home and write something dope!

And that’s the real difference – it’s not about those who prepare and those who don’t – it’s about those who really love words and ideas, and then those who just like to brag about themselves and talk shit over beats. Cats like Zone, 3PFD, A-Jaxx, and Boka consistently do well because they’re prepared, but also because they have a real love of words and a real message to deliver.

RW: There were times when the judges - I Majestic of RXC/Classic 1824, Luqmon aka B-Tree, and DJ Chevy - would be speaking, or constructively criticizing the MC’s, and I would look around the crowd and see numerous participants talking amongst the crowd, hanging outside, or leaving after their own elimination. Personally, I see this as disrespect to the honorable judges, all of which have more than 15 years experience in hip-hop. Granted, for every two or three careless MC’s, there is one attentively listening. What is your opinion? Is it a difference within generations?

AB: It’s partly a generation thing, but more than that it’s the difference between those who genuinely want to get better and those who have managed to convince themselves that they’re already the shit. It’s the difference between those who mainly want to have fun and those who only want to win the $500. Rhyme Calisthenics is no different than the rest of the rap game – those who are only in it for the money generally don’t get as far as those who do it for the love. I think this time around even some of the most passionate MC’s were more focused on winning the prize than on working on their craft. They cracked under the weight of their own expectations – that happens to all of us sometimes. And then there’s the fact that people enter Rhyme Calisthenics for different reasons, some find it fun, some use it as motivation to get better, some use it for visibility and promotion, and some see an opportunity to win some money. The judges constructive criticism is only valuable if you’re working on your craft in some way.

RW: A couple first round competitors, R-Sin and Zone, spun the wheel twice. Any comment?

AB: One of the re-spins was because of a weak spin. The official rules state the wheel must complete one full rotation to be considered a fair spin. The other re-spin was because Shade missed the cue to play the “spinning” theme music. This re-spin was actually an error because the official rules state that “the wheel is not to be spun a second time for any reason except due to an incomplete rotation.”

RW: There was some animosity between competing MC’s Ayatollah Jaxx and Mista Scrap. What is your opinion of the situation? And in a situation that could have quickly gotten worse, is there anything that can be done to prevent something like this from happening?

AB: Well basically, Scrap threw Jaxx’s hat into the crowd. I’m not gonna speak for Scrap but it seemed like a heat of the moment decision during a really tense “Comp Killer” playoff heat. Whatever Scrap’s intentions were, the fact of the matter is that Rhyme Calisthenics is a no-contact sport. You can get up in someone’s face, you can diss them, intimidate them, you can verbally assault them; but you can’t touch them or their property. It’s kind of like basketball where you might get away with a light tap here and there, but you can’t grab your opponents’ jersey. I’ve mentioned the official rule book a few times and that’s something were going to have to put in there. Even though I know Scrap didn’t mean anything by it, I hope he can see how that situation could have gone bad if it were two different people.

RW: Is there anything else you would like to add?

AB: Yeah, RhymeCal X is gonna be the shit! MC’s get your bars together…

Follow-up interviews for each Rhyme Calisthenics MC Competition can be seen right here at

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

"Respect the Architect" with DJ Selecta

The admirable DJ Selecta is a vet on the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene. Aside from past work with some of the cities most renowned groups, Strict Flow and Pensoulz In a Cup, Selecta has been a mainstay in local clubs and lounges. He is the creator of the beloved Classic Material events, which showcases both local and national DJ's, recent participants of the event include Large Professor, Lord Finesse, and Rob Swift. Selecta hosted his own radio show for years dating back to the '90s and going into the 2000's. He recently began a new show titled Grand Groove on 91.3 WYEP, which features music from a varitey of genres including Nu-Soul, Neo-Soul, Funk, Nu-Jazz, Hip-Hop, and more.

This month, Selecta premiered "Respect the Architect," a set of classic Pittsburgh hip-hop, dates ranging from 1986 to 1998. He will be featuring similar sets once a month, chronicling the city's old school scene.

Butta - For the Ladies
G-Man - Music Production
J-Flint - Hump Day
Hi-Low (Chenits aka Chen Lo & DJ Big Phil) - Rap World
Geo - Here I Come
Afro Cinema (C.I. aka I Majestic & Born Shamir of RXC/Classic 1824) - Rap Zodiac
Cool Vibes (feat. Stretch, Sire, & Impulse) - Unstoppable
N. Harmonyx - Talks the Griot
Supa C - Hardcore Heads
Supa C - Freestyle
Strict Flow - Fall Of '95
TaQuest - It's About Time
Hardcore Crew (Mel-Man) - The Crew Got Paid
Mel-Man - Aftermath Freestyle
Domestic Brothers - Gridiron
Jazzi Love - The Real Queen
Bonus: Davu - Follow Suite (Prod. by BusCrates) (2010)


You can listen to Selecta's radio show live:
Sunday nights/mornings from Midnight - 4a EST at

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Black Sun - Donut Holes (2006)

Black Sun stole the show at Rhyme Calisthenics 9.

Judges called out artist after artist for generic rhymes. In that sense, Sun was a breathe of fresh air. His humility reigned supreme.

We'll dig into the happenings of Rhyme Cal 9 soon, an interview with co-founder J. Armstead Brown coming very soon.

This post is about the dope MC that is Black Sun.

Aside from a few sporadic features and tracks, I have only one album from Sun. Rapping to J. Dilla's classic Donuts, the album is appropriately titled Donut Holes. I got the album from Sun's Myspace back in '06, and vaguely remember Sun telling a story of a neighbor complimenting the album after hearing it pump from Sun's house while waiting at the bus stop in the morning!

Watching things transpire at last night's event, I couldn't help but think about how much a release from an experienced, talented, and professional MC such as Black Sun could help this new generation of artists. That is, if they're willing to listen.

01 - Intro
02 - Workinonit
03 - Waves

04 - Light My Fire
05 - The New
06 - Stop
07 - People
08 - The Diff'rence

09 - Mash
10 - Time
11 - Glazed
12 - Airworks

13 - Lightworks
14 - Stepson of the Clapper
15 - The Twister
16 - One Eleven
17 - Two Can Win
18 - Don't Cry
19 - Anti-American Graffiti
20 - Geek Down
21 - Thunder
22 - Gobstopper
23 - One For Ghost
24 - Dilla Says Go
25 - Walkinonit

26 - The Factory
27 - U-Love

28 - Hi.
29 - Bye.
30 - Last Donut of the Night
31 - Outro


New interview with Rhyme Cal co-founder J. Armstead Brown coming soon!!!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Rhyme Calisthenics 9: May 21 at Shadow Lounge

This Friday, May 21, at the Shadow Lounge in East Liberty (Pittsburgh), is the ninth installment of Rhyme Calisthenics - the Official MC Competition. Come out and watch 16 of Pittsburgh's best up-and-coming MC's shred mics accordingly to a variety of challenging topics. After four rounds of wheel-spinning action, the winning MC leaves with $800 cash.

The event will be hosted by Thelonious Stretch, with DJ Huggy on 1's & 2's and Shade Cobain on sound design. Special Guest performance by Living Proofe.

Doors at 9pm | Competition starts 10pm sharp
$10 | Just $7 before 10pm

Rhyme Cal 9 features a line-up of MC's that includes Rhyme Cal vets and newcomerers. Competitors are Ayatollah Jaxx, Mista Scrap, Black Sun, 3PFD, Kid A, Jon Quest, Basketcase, R-Sin, Ray Meez, V.I.S.I.O.N., Boka, Dy$e, Looney, Pap the General, Zone, and Green - you can vote on who you think will win at

These are the 20 Official Wheel of Skillz Challenges:
A Capella
Competitor gets 45 seconds to perform a verse, rap or spoken word piece without instrumental accompaniment. The object of this challenge is to deliver something to the judges and the crowd without the distraction of a beat. Judging is based on lyrical content, rhythm and expression.

Competitor gets 45 seconds to perform a written verse or freestyle to a beatbox accompaniment. The beatboxer will periodically change tempo and rhythm and the competitor is expected to follow these changes and compliment the beatbox.

Beats in 3
The competitor is given an instrumental beat in 3/4 (or 6/8) time and gets 45 seconds to perform a freestyle or written verse over the beat. The object of this challenge is to flow in way that compliments the beat. Some examples of industry beats that are in ¾ time include “My First Song” by Jay-Z and “Spaceship” by Kanye West.

The Competitor is given a familiar song with the hook in it but without the verse. After the hook the competitor must perform a “feature” verse that compliments the theme and tone of the original song. The verse must be 16 bars in length and followed by another hook. The competitor may perform the hooks or adlib over the hook to enhance the performance but these things are not required. This challenge is based on the song structure (hook – verse – hook) and so there is no set time limit.

Comp Killer
Competitor gets 45 seconds to battle and/or verbally attack any and all his opponents. Typically a competitor will attack the other competitors within his or her heat but they may attack any and all competitors in the competition. The object of this challenge is to showcase your battle skills and punchlines.

Crowd Topics
The host selects one word or phrase from the crowd and the competitor must construct a rhyme around that word, phrase or topic. The competitor gets 45 second

DJ’s Revenge
The DJ plays a 45 second “DJ set” that includes different beats, breaks and scratches and the MC must keep up with the DJ and compliment the beat and the transitions.

Fiction Fighter
The host picks the name of a fictional character out of “hat.” The MC gets 45 seconds to perform a freestyle that creatively incorporates the character into their rhyme. The object of this challenge is to “battle” the fictional character and stretch your imagination.

We bring up to the stage a Rhyme Calisthenics champion and the competitor and the champion each get 45 seconds to battle against one another. The Gladiator always goes first so the object of this challenge is for the competitor to deliver a comeback verse.

Grab Bag
A duffle bag full of random household items is placed in front of the competitor. The competitor gets 45 seconds to pick up 5 items and creatively rap about them or incorporate them into a seamless freestyle. Hint: Make sure you hold the items up high so the crowd and the judges can see what you’re rapping about.

Here and Now
The competitor gets 45 seconds to freestyle a verse that based on their interpretation of the “Here” (shadow lounge, East Liberty, Pittsburgh, etc.) and “Now” (the present, what’s going on right now).

Last Word
Competitor gets 45 seconds to perform a written verse or freestyle where all the ending syllables of each phrase must rhyme.

Mackin’The host selects a member of the opposite sex from the crowd. The host asks the participant several basic questions including their name and occupation. The competitor then gets 45 seconds to woo the participant by freestyling. The competitor is expected to incorporate some or all of the information derived from the series of questions.

MC’s Choice
Competitor may pick the challenge they perform. The competitor may ask for clarification of any challenges he or she does not understand. The competitor may not choose to perform 2 challenges simultaneously.

The Message
Competitor gets 45 seconds to perform a message-oriented freestyle or written verse. The term message-oriented means the lyrics should convey some type of positive message or social commentary.

Mirror Match
The competitor stand in front of a mirror and gets 45 seconds to freestyle battle himself (his reflection in the mirror).

Old School
The competitor gets 45 seconds to perform a written or freestyle verse that invokes the lyrical style, content and delivery of an old school rap performance. “Old School” is considered to be the first decade and a half of recorded rap music 1979-1994.

The host picks a scenario or “scene” out of a hat. The MC gets 45 seconds to freestyle a story or description as if they were in that situation or scene.

The competitor gets 45 seconds to perform a narrative verse. The verse must contain some type of narrative, storyline or succession of events to be considered a story. A description of something is NOT considered a story.

Word Bank
The host reveals a wordbank consisting of 10 – 12 words. The competitor gets 45 seconds to freestyle a verse that incorporates some or all of the words on the list. The competitor may ask for clarification, definition or pronunciation for 2 words before their performance starts. Judges will take into consideration the number of words the MC’s uses and the creative way in which the words were used.

Idasa Tariq performs "Storytelling"

3PFD performs "Comp Killer"

Real Deal performs "Comp Killer"

Ayatollah Jaxx performs "Grab Bag"

Yah Lioness performs "Cameo"

Boka performs "Outkast"

Mac Miller performs "Here & Now"

Billy Pilgrim performs "Mirror Match"

Zone performs "Mackin'"

Looney performs "The Message"

Jon Quest performs "Beat Box"

Zone performs in the Final Battle

Visit Rhyme Cal's website for more information.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Stilltown Vol. III

CD 1
01. Ayatollah Jaxx feat. Dominique Larue, Jon Quest, & Beedie - I Don't Wanna Know (Prod. by J-Fish)

02. Beedie - Dreaming Pt. 2 (Prod. by Straight-N-Narrow Productions)
03. Vintage Radio - That Music (Prod. by Big Jerm)
04. Jon Quest feat. YD - So Gone (Prod. by Big Jerm)
05. Sha-King & Living Proofe - 4Get Me Not
06. SikkWitIt feat. Shing - The Truth (Remix)
07. SPAED feat. Apostropheus, Jack Wilson, & BZE - Ya Fakin' (Prod. by SPAED)
08. A.P.E.X. - Bullet Proof Imposters (Prod. by Czientist)
09. YD - Zeen (Shade Cobain Remix)
10. Thelonious Stretch - Cheers (Prod. by Black Gold)
11. B-FreeDaMisfit - All That I (Prod. by B-FreeDaMisfit)
12. Gene Stovall - Lovers Or Friends

13. Dominique Larue - Let Em Know (Prod. by Idasa Tariq)
14. Vaig feat. Divine Seven - Journey
15. Snook - Like A Mobster (Prod. by Straight-N-Narrow Productions)
16. Beenafactors - My Brother
17. Ghosty - Killa Bee
18. Kid A - My Time (Prod. by Shade Cobain)

19. MC Futuristic feat. Hasan Salaam, Ayatollah Jaxx, & Jasiri X - Reel to Real
20. Ensilence - What's Real (Prod. by DJ Teknik)
21. Gneticz - Parcheesi
22. Divine Seven feat. Tabu Mahogany - Hold On (Prod. by PMC)

CD 2
01. Recollect - It Came From Above
02. Reverrb - 3 Planets From the Sun
03. Rel!g!on feat. Planet Asia & Jasiri X - Pyramids (Prod. by Rel!g!on)

04. Antagonist & Bobby Blunt - Supergrit (Prod. by Black Gold)
05. DruMagus - CIA Drug $ (Prod. by DruMagus)
06. Shindiggaz - Contraband (Prod. by DJ Thermos)
07. Nova - Hell 'Muthaphukin' Yeah
08. Melodiq - Just Like That (Prod. by Melodiq)
09. Notorious BIG - Suicidal Thoughts (BusCrates 16-Bit Ensemble Remix)
10. Kese Soprano feat. Ensilence - Take Control
11. Gene Stovall - I Feel Fine
12. Kid A - They Don't Know (Prod. by Ulliversal)
13. Akzionz feat. G5 Clive - Louder High (Prod. by Fundamental)
14. SikkWitIt - Chilling
15. Ayatollah Jaxx - Sucka For Love Part Duex
16. Beedie - Grown Shit (Prod. by James Moore)
17. Divine Seven - Listen!!! (Prod. by Shade Cobain)
18. SMI - Price 4 Peace (Prod. by E. Dan)
19. Sonji feat. DJ Huggy & Daru Jones - War (Prod. by Emmai Alaquiva)
20. Jack Wilson - Sombre Reptiles
21. People In the Red Balloon - The Pied Piper
22. Kid A - God Grew Tired (Prod. by Ulliversal)
23. Ensilence - Artificial Intelligence (Prod. by Wilde)

24. Beenafactors - Same Route


This installment of the Stilltown compilation mix series features more than 50 artists from Pittsburgh, PA, as well as contributions by artists out of Toronto, Columbus, Virginia, New Jerz, Fresno, LA, Germany, British Columbia, Atl, and NYC

Thursday, May 6, 2010

VIDEO: "Shadow Loungin'" by Divine Seven feat. Jon Quest & Beedie

New video from a soon-to-be released album by Divine Seven. The song features fellow Pittsburgh MC's Jon Quest and Beedie, and was produced by Shade Cobain. "Shadow Loungin'" also appears on Stilltown Vol. II.