Zingirides caught Nelson El and Verbal Contact in action at a convention in Nashville two years ago and kept the lyricists in mind when searching for appropriate hip-hop representatives. "They were positive, motivational groups with great stage presence," he recalls. "I was thrilled to have that to present to the world instead of the kind of stuff you have on the radio."
While it's certainly a compliment that Nelson El and Verbal Contact were chosen to represent their art form, the venue at which they'll be performing -- a massive heated dome -- isn't to be confused with the Olympics Medal Plaza. Nor do the headliners at what Zingrides dubs "the Pepsi Dome" boast the same popularity and relevance as the Medal Plaza performers -- Rick James, Eddie Money and Quiet Riot fill out the nightly roster at what could be called the Olympic Spirit Fest. Still, the rappers' high-profile sets on February 22 (Nelson El from 9 to 10 p.m., Verbal Contact from 10 to 11) will introduce these worthy MCs to their largest and certainly most cosmopolitan audiences to date.
On El's recently released sophomore disc, Chop City, his forceful and clear delivery provides the sole connecting factor among the album's tracks, which range from R&B-flavored numbers with smooth hooks courtesy of female vocalists to chorus-free posse cuts to sparsely orchestrated underground bangers.
"That's by design," El explains. "I wanted to divide it like a pizza, with a couple slices for everybody -- East Coast, Down South and the West." To achieve the desired effect, El enlisted Lord Draft, a Newark, New Jersey-based producer with a loop-heavy style; Rah, the South Carolina transplant behind the synthesized thump of "EPA" as well as several old-school-soul-laced tracks; and local standout T. Woosley, who anchored the complex beats with trunk-rattling bass drops.
Lyrically, Nelson El's topics don't stray far from hardcore territory -- sipping Cognac, stacking paper, blasting tools -- but his lines contain no cursing. (However, several of the guest rappers, most notably female MC Genesis, don't use similar restraint.) His no-profanity stance traces back to when he used to perform his newly penned rhymes in front of his mother. "A lot of people think that it's a big moral stand, but it's just the way I did it then, and I figured, 'Why change?' It requires more creativity and it makes me broaden my vocabulary."
Still, while lines such as I love guns and knives/And taking lives don't contain dirty words, they're not the most appropriate sentiments at the most terrorist-aware athletic event in history. And in a setting where biathletes will probably get patted down hundreds of times a day en route to engaging in their bizarre hybrid of skiing and rifle-blasting, "Lock and Load" might not be the most appropriate anthem. Sensitive to such concerns, El has crafted a violence-free hour-long set, which he plans to preface with a "shout-out to everyone who lost a family member or loved one on 9/11."