Hip Hop Thriving in Columbia
This is the scene every Monday night at the Sapphire Lounge in Columbia. Located at 1201 East Broadway Street, Sapphire Lounge plays host to the underground hip-hop community through an event coined Mad Real Mondays. Although the club celebrated the two-year anniversary of this weekly event on Monday, September 10, 2007, bringing the hip-hop culture to Columbia wasn't easy.
Hip hop developed in the streets of New York during the 1970s. At neighborhood block parties, DJs, or disc jockeys, would cut pieces of popular funk and disco songs, and soon emcees began to rap to these percussion-based beats.
In 1983, the four elements of hip hop were born when rappers Afrika Bambaataa and the Soulsonic Force released Planet Rock. The song used drum machines and synthesizers instead of recycled beats, and the accompanying music video introduced a unique culture of musicians, graffiti artists, and breakdancers. These elements- DJing, emceeing, graffiti, and breakdance- became the four main elements of hip-hop culture. The culture began to spread throughout the world and by 1985, hip hop had become a global phenomenon.
As the culture spread across the country, the hip-hop community in Columbia, was in desperate need of a place to gather and to celebrate all things related to hip hop. While other forums were started up, they eventually fizzled. Melissa Bushdiecker, known fondly as Mel B., started working at Sapphire Lounge in August of 2005, and immediately put plans in motion to set up a hip-hop show there.
"I knew exactly what I was going to do with it. I called my buddy Tivis and I was like, 'We've got this space, lets do something with it,'" Bushdiecker said.
In a few days, the two had lined up DJs and passed out over 200 flyers publicizing the September 12, 2005, opening night of Mad Real Mondays.
Mad Real Mondays celebrates the original four elements of hip hop. The weekly event brings in acts from across the country, as well as featuring local talent. Mad Real plays host to the underground, or alternative, hip-hop culture, straying from the traditional, popular stereotypes of rap music.
"There is nothing on [the radio] that even tweaks our mind or even raises a thought. I don't want my children listening to it, which makes me sad," Bushdiecker said. "We are all about conscious lyrics, individuality, and talent. Bring it. If you have it, this is the place for you."
Mad Real has made quite an impact on the hip-hop scene in Columbia, but even before it started, one group of young men were helping the phenomenon grow within the city. Steddy P., Bustrip, and Eddie English were all attending college in Columbia when they met.
"We used to stay in this apartment complex, Stadium Apartments, and all the sudden, I'm hearing, bum, bum, all the time upstairs and I'm like, 'I thought I was the only one doing that&' so I went to investigate," said Bustrip, who recently earned his doctorate in mechanical engineering from MU. "And directly above me was Steddy P. This was way before Mad Real, way before anything. The odds of something like that happening are pretty slim."
The aspiring young artists started collaborating, and even set up boom boxes at Brady Commons to bring their art to campus. In December 2004, they released their first album under the unofficial label, Indyground.
In March 2006, Steddy P. released The Progression, and the Indyground label became official with the help of co-CEO Andy Price. The group has complete control over the entire process, from making the beats, designing the artwork, to promoting their shows. Once Mad Real Mondays started, it provided a platform for the Indyground artists to showcase their talents. We were always here, we just didn't have a place to go.
"Now we have a place to get heard," said Eddie English.
The group is hitting the road October 24, to go on a 13 city tour. In the meantime, they are working to gain respect for their music here in Columbia.
"I'm not trying to be the leader of nothing," said Steddy P. "I just think if were making quality music in this city, I think it deserves a bigger space than just Sapphire Lounge. We deserve to do shows at Mojo's, at the Blue Note. We deserve to go on tour."
Although it is a small venue, Sapphire Lounge is a place for the underground hip-hop community to celebrate its culture.
"If you live it, breath it, then you know exactly what its about," said Bushdiecker. "This is it. Hands down."
To celebrate its two-year anniversary on Monday evening, Mad Real focused on what makes it so popular- its appreciation of all things hip hop.
"There's been hills and valleys," Bushdiecker admitted. But it's been a lot of fun and here we are tonight with a live set and three graffiti artists that are doing some legal pieces right down here, great artists from L.A. and St. Louis that are coming through to bless us, help us out, spread the word, the love of hip hop."
What was more prevalent than the talent showcased, was the feeling of camaraderie among Mad Reals local supporters. Much of the events success is credited to the local artists and audience members who come back to Sapphire Lounge week after week.
"It's about being free and saying whatever you want on the microphone," said Heather Lynn Hopper, an avid fan of the event. "I have a passion for people who love music and really have something to say."
At the end of the night, some of the local talent, including artists from the Indyground label, got to take the stage for some freestyle rapping.
"This is everything I do," said Steddy P. "This is my passion. This is what makes me happy. I'm not going to be a very happy person if I can't go somewhere and get on a microphone or if I can't make a beat or write something. This is something I have to do."
For Eddie English, his deep connection with hip hop can be explained briefly.
"Hip hop& it gave me a voice, it gave me a family," he said.
In the final freestyles, Steddy P. summed up the heart of the underground hip-hop community in Columbia.
"When I say, 'Hip hop,' you say, 'Don't stop,'" he shouts. "Hip hop."
And the response came: "Don't Stop!"