Vertigo gets high with a little help from The Rock's Mike Savage.

Rap It Up 

Vertigo gets high with a little help from The Rock's Mike Savage.

Last year, a former area resident with a crazy-white-hip-hop-kid persona introduced his homeys, including a behemoth roughly four times his size, to the music world. Later this summer, a Kansas City resident whose white-rap-fanatic act earns him daily airtime -- on a rock station -- will debut his own crew, including a mammoth rhymer. That's where the similarities between Marshall "Eminem" Mathers' D-12 and Mike "The New Kid" Savage's Vertigo end, however. Slim Shady earned his stripes battling MCs, and though his peers now readily acknowledge his skills, he remains defensive when labeled an impostor or pressured about his upbringing. Savage takes the truth -- that he's a suburban guy who loves rap -- and stretches it to cartoonish extremes on KQRC 98.9's morning show, which he produces. His theme song, which swipes its "THE new KID" emphasis from a DMX tune, and his studio banter, a stream of stereotypical urban-slang expressions such as "fine-ass booty," conjure images of a delusional "thug" blasting 2Pac in his mom's minivan as he cruises the cul-de-sacs of his gated community.

"That isn't me," Savage assures. "We take parts of our real personalities and embellish them to make them more interesting. Johnny Dare's the biker ringleader scumbag, Murphy's the voice of reason, Tard is the slow kid who gets himself into all kinds of trouble and I'm the hip-hop wanna-be kid who wants to be hard-core so bad."

A real-life model for Savage's character, Limp Bizkit's rap-metal clown prince Fred Durst, brings 98.9 ("The Rock") as close to it gets to programming hip-hop -- which is to say, light years away. "I love The Rock," Savage says, "but hip-hop is where my passion lies." No longer content to channel his affection for beats and rhymes into an occasional spinning of the Beastie Boys' "Sabotage," Savage began soliciting demos, hoping to start an entertainment production company that focused on rap acts. He discovered Ground Zero, a man-mountain with a knack for nimble rhymes; Mr. Loonz, a smooth-flowing Hispanic MC; and Curv, a female freestyler with a brash, confident delivery. Speedy, who had volunteered to assist the group as a financial manager, became an official member after his gravelly voice proved a perfect fit for one of the group's tracks. This hip-hop collective dubbed itself Vertigo and, hooking up with Surgeon General, a prolific producer (Mac Lethal, Veteran Click) whose sample-free beats are one of the leading causes of area dance-frenzy outbreaks, quickly composed a club-ready demo.

On "Forever," the first of the disc's three songs, Ground Zero, identifying himself as a thug/baller/ex-banger, describes moving to a life of love from a life of danger. A female vocalist pledges her devotion, crooning an R&B hook over sprinkled springs and easy-going thumps. Later, her voice gets filtered through dance-diva distortion, ending up as artificial as Cher's "Believe" chorus. The next track opens with a Latin piano feel, then a synthesizer-heavy beat echoes and reinforces the initial melody while Curv makes her hard-edged debut. An overwhelming array of vocalists overlap during the chorus, all making the same inquiry: "Watcha Gonna Do?" Then "Off in the Club" decorates a spare, bass-heavy beat (partially created by Savage) with squiggly keyboard melodies as Vertigo's vocalists recite a litany of club commands: Work it, make that body drop, grind, shake it fast, get loose, bend it over.

Bend it over is about as explicit as this outfit gets. Curv censors herself on a few occasions, shushing shit into shhh, but there are no beeps on the disc. During his love song, Loonz makes only gentle, vanilla sexual allusions. Vertigo might never get play on The Rock, but it's friendly to any station catering to urban sounds.

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