Hip hop is generally a term that’s associated with music. It’s often only a genre. It’s a genre encapsulating conscious prose atop rhythmic beats, and relies mostly on the construction of rhymes built by the commanding expressionist. But to others, it’s a culture. It’s a lifestyle. Within it are four artistic elements of expression: the music, DJing, break-dancing and graffiti.
The latter serves as an all too misunderstood statement of individuality through art. The street, the artist’s canvas, the spray-can, the artist’s brush. And while front-running trend setters the likes of Banksy have managed to irk themselves into popular culture creating a general appreciation and acceptance of the rebellious street-art voice, it still has miles to go.
The Colorado Crush 2013 event that takes place this Saturday, Sept. 7th aims to educate about the misconceived craft. It features artists bringing their A-game to the street game. The event will feature more than 20 national and locally recognized graffiti artists, and though the graffiti element is the main course of the event, the other three elements aren’t without representation. An MC Battle and B-Boy battle will also be peppered in with hip hop acts both local and national.
We managed to get with Asphate, an emcee in performing artists Maxilla Blue, before the event's start and talked about its return to Denver, and what hip hop means to him. Click over to the Colorado Crush Facebook page for all the details on the daily activities.
Maxilla Blue is from Des Moines, Iowa – an area generally not associated with hip hop. How is the scene there and what do you want to tell everyone about it?
“Our scene is slowly budding. Quality exists, but in less quantity and density than in other metro areas in the U.S. We have solid representation of all elements with little known city history in each, and so we’ve been working to cultivate the public’s awareness. Most who begin to achieve a high level of skill or success in any one aspect of the hip hop culture in Iowa tend to pack up and continue their development in a city more conducive to their exposure in that particular element.
Iowa is also so used to being clowned or overlooked as a contributor to the country's art/culture that Iowans also have a tendency to wait for external sources to validate our acts publicly before we get behind them in full swing. MXB has strived to change that pattern by constantly reminding the city of the magic that exists here at home. I am hosting the city’s first graff exhibition next year. Currently, there is no such thing as a ‘legal wall’ here and the buff has a 72-hour turnaround by the city. We’ve had music festivals, which have ‘featured graff,’ but the 2014 event will be the first event where graff is the foremost focus, and the other elements play more of a supporting role. How that event, and the opposition to it, unfolds will be rather telling in terms of how ready our scene is for progression.”
You’re performing during the annual Colorado Crush, which is an event that focuses on the growing popularity of graffiti and the positive influence it can have on communities. Tell us how important graffiti is to the world of hip hop and if it plays an important role in your own lives.
“If shit hits the fan and we all have to go off grid for some reason, graff OR scribed signage will be used instinctively, as it was in the case of Katrina survivors marking the houses with dead inside. It’s natural and predates most forms of communication and serves a purpose that may never be diminished. Within hip hop, graff in its modern sense is the code of the street, but it has become its own monster, existing independently of hip hop.
I know a handful of punk or metal heads who don’t’ really mess with hip hop but crush cans/freights on the regular, so I hesitate to confine graff to ONLY being the ‘written language of hip hop,’ but I do believe it goes hand in hand like PB&J, despite the fact that most "hip hop" artists have little to no connection with graff culture. I’ve been bboying and writing graff for as long as Maxilla’s been around and I also Dj for myself when I tour solo, and I've noted that each element teaches a certain lesson more effectively than another. Graff has taught me respect for elders/history, a ‘less is more’ life approach, and a need to show and prove as opposed to talking up one’s image. You can’t really get away with empty boasting in graff or bboy cyphers whereas for rappers, it’s easier for a falsely built image/ego to last longer without the skill to support it.
I think if more mc's were bboys and writers, hip hop in general would be in a better place currently. I can tell you there has never been a MXB LP that isn’t littered with graff references or at least one song fully dedicated to the subject. ‘Saliva Live (vol. 3)’ has a title which references the weird involuntary reaction that occurs whenever I’m in a yard, the scent of paint causes salivary pangs, and my mouth starts to water, which seems to be the point at which I start to settle into the piecing and ‘get live.’ I ain’t the freshest writer, but I go for mine and have respect for all those who do. Nowadays I can do without the snobbery that builds from the natural self-critique that comes with graff and I tend to find what I can appreciate in each piece I see from other people instead of noting its shortcomings or counting the ‘graff rules its breaking.’”
Who are your major influences, in life and in music?
“My major life influences come from my mother, my Aunt Shelly who just passed away (RIP) and my Unk D who put me on to vinyl way back when belt-drive turntables were still the shit. I have so many musical influences that I think I’d be doing an injustice to leave some out, but I can say that nowadays, my Galapagos4 and Central Standard Fam probably keep me on my toes and critiquing my own work with a sharper eye more than anything else out currently. Qwel & Maker, Dj TouchNice, Aeon, Qwazaar, Batsauce, Jackson Jones, Hellsent, Old Irving, Maker have all impacted my musical outlook significantly.”
Maxilla Blue is a relatively young group having been formed in 2006. What’s the hardest part about starting up and continuing to do what you do?
“Starting up wasn’t difficult in any aspect, because from the start, we were just doing what we were each doing years before Maxilla formed, which is diggin’ for vinyl, mashin’ MPC pads, wreckin’ mics and faders. The most challenging thing in recent years, in my opinion is that with the progression of the web and cyber presence, its becoming increasingly necessary to be ‘social media politicians’ active in soliciting your music for views, likes and shares online as a means of maintaining relevance. We understand that times are changing, but for artists cut from our cloth, this has seemed to detract from the time spent on the craft itself, and worse yet, its seemed to convince others around us that those who can successfully popularize their music via social life and social media need not focus so much on honing skill and providing a raw/captivating live show performance which is our hallmark.”
Have you ever been to Denver? What are you most excited to experience while you’re here?
“I've been to Denver a few times, and haven't had a bad one yet. I used to hoop in college and we played Metro State in a tournament one year. We also crashed CO Crush in 2012 while touring with Qwazaar, Batsauce and Lady Daisey. We had the fortune of playing an impromptu, but abbreviated after party set, which I believe provided some justification in bringing us back to rock in full capacity in 2013. So, we're most looking forward to showing Colorado hip hop heads why that choice made perfect sense, and why Maxilla has become a natural choice for graff/bbboy trueschool events abroad.”
What can attending fans of the festival expect out of a Maxilla Blue live show?
“Our general response to this question is that we can show you better than we can tell you. But suffice it to say that Dj TouchNice is no slouch with either hand on the fader, Aeon Grey's beats make it easy for any MC to flex, and I have many shrunken skulls on my mic cord.”
What can we expect in the future?
“Winter approaches, which for us, means completing projects. My upcoming vinyl joint produced by Maker, ‘Closed Doors to an Open Mind,’ is nearing completion for G4 release and features artwork by graff writer LETER of DVC, who was recently featured on Bombing Science and Chicago Rocks Magazine. This piece, along with a few other solo releases which will likely hit before Maxilla Blue vol. 4. We recently toured west coast to Midwest and parts of France and Germany, so with the new releases we/I will be looking to return to those spots as well as explore other parts of Europe and further penetrate the continental 48.”