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.

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"We want to keep it real poppy, like one of those crossover groups that makes the big cash," Savage explains. He cites Ja Rule, Ludacris and Ashanti, but critics of commercial rap might point at MC Hammer, Will Smith, and Vanilla Ice, all of whom made "the big cash" while forfeiting credibility.

"I'm not worried about what people say," Savage responds. "Those guys haven't changed to do this project." (Fans of Ground Zero's early work with Surgeon General in the gritty duo Dos Loc might raise eyebrows at this assertion, but Savage says Zero, in a bid for radio play, penned "Forever" before meeting Savage.) "All the music is still coming from them; all the lyrics are still coming from them. I'm not the evil white dictator who comes in and says, 'This is what we need to do.' It comes from their hearts, and I'm real proud of it. We're not worried about people saying 'They're soft; they're weak.'"

That's not to say Savage isn't concerned about industry opinions of Vertigo. In fact, he's a serial demo distributor, passing discs along with the glad hand to studio guests such as Kid Rock and Tommy Lee. Savage's connections, strengthened by years of booking guests for the morning show, have already paid some dividends. Following a few leads, Vertigo landed its first -- and, to date, only -- gig, opening for Digital Underground, 2 Live Crew and Rick James in Las Vegas. Savage struck up a friendship with the most reputable artist on that bill, DU mastermind Shock G (a.k.a. Humpty), who had kick-started 2Pac's career and contributed impossibly funky beats to Raw Fusion's underground classic Live From the Styleetron.

"He's super-interested in us," Savage says. "He's going to take us under his wing. We're going to go out to L.A. with him and start recording."

It's often puzzling when a group that has yet to establish a local presence starts making cross-country trips, but occasionally that strategy works. Downthesun, a Canvas offshoot that's little-known even to devout followers of the area scene, recently signed to Roadrunner Records after conducting a travel-intensive campaign. Besides, Savage reasons, playing shows wouldn't serve much purpose at this point.

"We're not concentrating on live performances until the album is done," he says, "because people have to vibe on the music first or else they're not even coming in the door." When Vertigo does take the stage, Savage says, fans should expect a charismatic, high-energy show reminiscent of -- and perhaps influenced by -- Tech N9ne's patented set.

"I'm sick and tired of going to rap shows and just seeing twelve people standing around," he gripes. "Tech is so successful because he realizes it's all about how people perceive you, about giving back to the crowd and making yourself proud. It's like Billy Goat [an early-'90s regional outfit whose concerts were known for Dionyssian excess]. You'd go to their shows even if you didn't like the music."

Savage would prefer that people did like the music. "I don't want to go through all the trouble and energy just for people to hate it," he says. "I just want to make these guys proud."

Castles Made of Sandstone

As of June 3, ostensibly to better serve Kansas City, Sandstone Amphitheatre has become Verizon Wireless Amphitheater (note the abandonment of ye olde Renaissance Festival-friendly theatre spelling). Media conglomerate Clear Channel and Verizon, which has attached its name to fourteen other venues around the country, tag-team-delivered this announcement on Monday, tossing in a pair of concert announcements (a Run DMC/Aerosmith double-bill, date to be announced, and a mid-August return stop from Tom Petty and Jackson Browne) after unveiling the venue's bold new corporate logo. Verizon signed a seven-year sponsorship deal, resulting in an undisclosed financial windfall that Clear Channel will use for everything from facility upkeep to luring higher-caliber superstars. (The Who, already with two Verizon amphitheaters on its itinerary, has an open Midwest date in August -- Tommy, can you hear me now? Good.) Unlike the fake-last-tour repeat offenders who dotted its schedule, Sandstone's nine-year-old name won't go out with any fanfare -- on-site signage, uniforms and tickets will all read "Verizon" in time for Thursday night's Diamond Dave/Hagar the Horrible pairing.

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