A View from the underground

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(Introduction from my photo journal – Shades of Hip Hop: Undaground Seen NY/NJ 2008)


In the depths of the premium grade underground market, there is supreme talent. There is more creativity and originality than you would ever find in the mainstream. The talent is always more raw and unique when it’s at its best, in the underground circuit. Here, the artists are hungry and eager to impress. Mainstream talent’s impact is diluted in packaging and promotion, while underground talent is overflowing with artistic symbolism and technique when it’s really good. Of course there are whack-ass underground cats too. Whack-ass rappers are part of every genre, mainly as fans of the true shit, who are simply poor imitators. The super-stars of the underground do exist though. They may go on to become popular icons everybody recognizes, or fade away into oblivion as part of some people’s collective memories.

Other times, they are immortalized and saved somehow for posterity and recirculated to new audience members so that they too, can observe such outstanding artistic ability. Isn’t that the point of experiencing good art anyway? The feeling of being transported into a moment created by a piece of art, is the ultimate experience. A piece of art; whether a song, or a performance, or a visual, or whatever, creates its own moment; where the observer feels what the artist felt about his subject and gains an insight. The observer may also just feel a moment of agreement, camaraderie or oneness, where subconsciously you’re like “I feel you, I understand that.” Those moments in the mainstream are usually fake, forced and prepackaged for appeal. They’re not authentic moments, like the in underground. Being at a concert with thousands of other people “feeling” the show is not the same as being in a small club with a stage less than 20 feet away. This is where those moments happen the best.


Personally, from having gone to hip-hop shows big and small, I would say, with much agreement, that small clubs are the best when they’re good, hands down. Even if it’s your favorite artist, a small club is where to see them perform. To give an example, I will tell you that one of my favorite all time artists growing up, was KRSONE. I’ve seen him perform at shows, at colleges, in arenas and clubs…and the best performances I’ve seen him do, were at small clubs. One club was on the east coast of the U.S. and one was on the west coast. Both were humble little establishments that don’t even compare aesthetically with upscale venues like the Hammerstein Ballroom or S.O.B’s. These were primarily bars, where people drank, that also had a stage, not the other way around. One venue was Blake’s on Telegraph in Berkeley California and the other was the Pyramid Club in New York City’s Lower East Side. If you were at either of these shows, you would have had the Hip Hop experience of your life. For most everyone in the room, this night was burned into their memory as a life-affirming moment that they will never forget. And as someone who worked with KRS at the time, I can say he will never forget those nights as well, although it may be for different reasons.


Moments like these, although inspiring and awesome at the time, do mostly get confined to the fate of myths, which always start out as fond memories. Sometimes only the people who were there, will be able to reflect on the occasion with a smile when they reminisce. Still, the best of these mythical occasions, are sometimes immortalized and retold by enough people that they can be felt, if only slightly, by those who weren’t there. Sure there’s video footage, especially nowadays, which saves the moments we love. But that’s only part of the story. The video doesn’t fully capture the feeling surrounding the event or what people were feeling in the room. Broken up camera angles or solo shots of the stage show, don’t give the full effect of a room. That’s why on one-camera shoots, good camera guys always pan the camera around to get the reaction of the crowd. A really good Hip Hop culture-moment is often a mix of great performance by an artist mixed with the mood and reaction of the crowd. The feeling an artist gives off is only part of it. The tension, anticipation, appreciation, and openness of the crowd, has a profound effect on how the moment develops.


Watching a show on video is not the same as being there. In fact, sometimes, the re-telling of the event is a better expression of the moment than a video could ever be. And oddly enough, pictures on rare occasions do have the effect of relaying a thousand words. Whether it’s the clothes, the expressions or the atmosphere, pictures can sometimes evoke feelings that even words and video can’t. This is the thought process behind the following images and reviews. This book is meant to transport you back in time, to moments which have passed. These are just a few moments from the Hip Hop Kulture underground of Newark, NJ and New York City circa 2008/2009. Although not the full scope of the underground scene in either place, these quick captures give a sampling of those Hiphoppas who frequented the scene. If you were a part of the underground at that time, you would have seen these people somewhere on your journey. If you were at the right place at the right time, you may have even witnessed a moment in your life that you would never forget. This photo journal is just a reminder of those days, a reminiscence if you will…




Kurt Nice

Kurt Nice aka Kurtiss Jackson is a behind the scenes pioneer in the Hip Hop Kulture, creating the first nationally distributed video mix tape series, Shades of Hip Hop, in the late 1990s. Since touring the country with the Stop the Violence Movement and the Temple of Hip Hop as KRS-ONE’s National Marketing Director, Kurt Nice has been a constant commentator on conscious Hip Hop and its relevance to the new rap music of today, through radio and cable appearances. contact Kurt at info@hiphoplives.net

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