In fact, the scene is in critical condition. Fortunately there's a Surgeon on duty to make a few crucial cuts.
Steve "Surgeon General" Garcia has worked with an assortment of top local lyricists, such as Mac Lethal and Tech protégé Grant Rice. Garcia helmed the Veteran Click compilation, a touchstone disc from 1999 that remains the strongest, most diverse multiartist document in Kansas City hip-hop history. Meeting monthly with Joc Max and Tech's beat-blasters Don Juan and Icy Roc, Garcia shares production techniques and vibes off the area's freshest unreleased sounds. His latest CD, Music Never Ends, jumps from club-banging party starters to computerized blip beats to thick, head-nodding funk, infusing it all with genuine Latin flavor. He has a home studio at which he uses computers, drum machines, keyboards and samplers to compose multilayered beats at all hours. Basically, he knows what he's talking about. So hip-hop upstarts, heed the Surgeon General's warnings:
· Keep the live show moving. Too often, KC rap shows consist of a few lyricists, a handful of hype men and a posse of buddies with no discernible talents, all pacing menacingly like players in a massive pro-wrestling tag-team double-cross. If all Nas needs is one mic, why does an unsigned amateur opening for a step show need six or seven? As for the loiterers, either require them to wear matching outfits and perform choreographed moves or order them to do their spectating from the floor.
One of the people onstage should be a DJ that's mixing the beats live, adding flexibility and organic appeal to the set. If an artist raps as well as DJs, the way Garcia does, a DAT might be necessary. In that case, keep the snippets moving quickly. At the Hurricane on Thursday, July 18, Surgeon General and his partners in rhyme MD23 and Mr. Luna plan to stuff dozens of tunes into a thirty-minute window by performing verses instead of entire songs. "That way, we can show people the variety of our beats and our lyrics," Garcia explains. But once you've programmed the backdrops, don't try to flip the script. At the Granada a few years back, veteran duo Black Sheep tried to accommodate a request and ended up scanning the tape to find the correct track, an exercise that was as pathetic as it was yawn-inducing.
· If the people just don't care, don't make them throw their hands in the air. A common hip-hop fallacy holds that mindless banter will rouse uninterested concertgoers. If you say, "When I say X, you say Y" and nobody says shit, try another tactic -- freestyle, throw on a faster beat, anything but calling for a response that will never come. "We'll do some of that just to see where the crowd is at," Garcia says. "It's hip-hop to do that, to let them know that we know they're there. But if the crowd isn't participating, we won't do it."
· Switch up the tone, lyrically and musically. Master lyricists such as Common, Masta Ace and Tech move easily from social commentary to witty wordplay to just clownin', and their beats follow suit. Garcia does his share of drinking, bumping and grinding on Music Never Ends, but he also gets personal on a track about dropping out of college to produce music full-time. He also joins fellow Mexican rhymers Mr. Luna and MD23 in flipping the bird at the U.S. Border Patrol, a gesture that, though he laughs it off, is more politically active than nearly anything else that appears on local rap wax.