But am I being a hater?
These MCs and DJs are more like the cool, dreadlocked black dude down the hall in your dorm who would let you get high with him and listen to Gil Scott-Heron records no matter how nerdy and white you were. These guys don't slap bitches; they get dumped by their girlfriends and write raps in revenge. As a result of these and other factors, white people feel comfortable at their shows, and this crew is making inroads at places like the Peanut Downtown and the Lucky Brewgrille on Johnson Drive.
But gangstas need love, too.
This week's cover story presents a very different image of hip-hop from the one revealed in the Pitch's summer two-parter on the murder of Anthony "Fat Tone" Watkins, a lyrical sniper from the 'hood who lived and died in the gangland reality he rapped about ("Tone Death," July 28). Tone apprenticed himself to Rich the Factor to learn MCing, and he paid a status-making visit to California, but his hell-bent desire to be the most ostentatious gangster on the KC-Bay Area hip-hop circuit got in his way.
Nationwide, it seems that would-be hardcore rappers are figuring out that living hard just ain't worth it. For example, Paul Wall, Bun B, Mike Jones and the rest of Houston's SwishaHouse crew who, with their slowed-down, sun-baked Texas-screw sound are all major now spend most of their time flashing their grills (bejeweled teeth), showing off the neon signs under the hoods of their slabs (tricked-out Impalas) and retelling strip-club adventures. They don't need to flash guns or sell drugs they're doing just fine off their music.
Likewise, if you ran into Nelly's St. Louis crew in a dark alley, they'd probably be more afraid of you. Same goes for that peaceful Kanye lad. By contrast, 50 Cent, mainstream rap's biggest star, is still talking about the guns and drugs, but he's made a living martyr of himself, hanging up there like some kind of St. Sebastian pierced by arrows from the barrel of a nine. But he's from New York, and they always been wack up therrre.
In Kansas City, meanwhile, the starving-artist complex rages on. This city has always fought against allowing hip-hop to make its way from the 'hood to the high life. Area rappers have to work extra hard to get noticed in town and even harder to get noticed elsewhere.
It helps, then, when an up-and-comer has some ties to local G-history.
Kameron Moore, who MCs as Filthy Fattz, is the late Fat Tone's 23-year-old cousin; he appeared on Tone's single "Blast for the Cash." Now on his own, his beats are hard and his rhymes are raw, but it doesn't look like Filthy's interested in following his cousin's footsteps.
Quite the contrary, Filthy is working with a childhood friend and promoter, the well-spoken and professional Anthony Henry of Iconz Entertainment, to create his own mystique, which he calls the Generation-X Gang. (That's also the title of his debut album, out November 23.)
Filthy's motto is "Keep it professional, but keep it 'hood." Henry handles the pro; Fattz does the ghetto.
"I came from the projects, Charlie Parker Square, 12th Street. I'm 'hood it's embedded in me. But I know how to look past that," he says, implying that a lot of the east- and north-side rappers are stuck in a dry rut.
At a midafternoon rap session, Fattz wears an Iconz hoodie, smokes Newports and orders the unexpected concoction of Mandarin Absolut with orange juice and a splash of cranberry. He could use a shave and should maybe get into some Russell Simmons-approved yoga to tighten up his waist, but he doesn't look particularly filthy or real fat. He lets his promoter do most of the talking because, well, Henry's good at it. Fattz leans back in his chair, looking thoughtful and solemn, and is much faster to order another drink than to laugh or even smile.
"I'm not really cocky," Fattz says of his artistic persona. "I'm a few steps above the majority of rappers, but I'm real humble about it. I'm focused on reaching out and touching people, not saying I'm better than you or I'm better than him."
OK, so that might not sound so humble by most people's standards. But judging from the five-song, seven-minute sampler that's the only Fattz recording available as of this writing Henry and Filthy are all about the tease Filthy's more interested in promoting his Gen-X Gang than bragging about himself.
What the gang is, exactly, is a little vague. Henry describes it simply as the nation's current media darlings and criminals, the 19-year-olds and the twentysomething newsmakers like LeBron James or whoever last week's tragically young drive-by victim was.
The Gang is whoever you see when you turn on the TV, Fattz says, and it's also the new era of rap. "We've surpassed the Jay-Zs. We're the future of rap."
If Filthy really does have a strong "we" backing him up locally and musically my sense is that he doesn't yet it could mean a hell of a lot for KC rap. The cities that have blown up recently excepting, of course, New York all have supportive, nurturing gangsta-rap scenes. Kansas City's MCs would benefit not only from a vital club scene but also from some veterans to lead young bucks like Filthy. Tech N9ne and Rich the Factor are practically invisible, having left a recorded legacy but nothing that's living, breathing and bustin' rhymes.
Iconz' tireless work marketing Filthy fliers, ads, a five-man street team can get him only so far. Mainstream hip-hop is tied to scenes, and so far, ours is weak.
There's really nothing to be afraid of, though, so y'all should check it out. These spittaz ain't gonna bite.