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Uphill Battle: They're putting everything they've got into it. but the Serendipity Project have their work cut out for them trying to build a local hip-hop scene.

More Than Serendipity

In a town as small and white as Santa Cruz, a significant local hip-hop scene would need more than a ghetto-fabulous miracle to thrive. It may seem like there are plenty of hip-hop fans, judging by the way acts like Andre Nickatina and Talib Kweli draw so many kids out to their shows. But there's a huge difference between getting people out to see big names and actually building a scene. The truth is that, bolstered by the university, the local hip-hop scene always has enough talent to put on shows or throw a party now and then, but then both the talent and the audiences graduate--from high school or junior college or college--and then they're out of here, leaving the enduring acts like Thunderhut or The Moonies or whoever with the challenge of building up a whole new fan base from scratch every couple of years. It's an uphill battle keeping any semblance of a hip-hop "scene" alive.

The Serendipity Project, a local organic hip-hop/funk band, came up with an ingenious solution: lure both MCs and audiences out with freestyle battles, promising cash prizes for the winners and gory spectacles for the audience. Last week's battle at the Catalyst "Dollar Night" was probably the largest in scale, but I think it also confirmed the ultimate futility of any efforts to keep a hip-hop scene thriving in town. I'd love to be proved wrong on this one, but let me tell you why I think I'm right.

First of all, it was completely obvious that most of the people watching the battle weren't die-hard hip-hop heads. They just wanted to see a battle a la 8 Mile, but were bored after the first round because of terrible performances, or terribly lopsided match-ups. The semifinals and finals are where you're going to hear the best rhymes, but those rounds hadn't even started by the time I left at 1am. On a Wednesday night? Come on now! But it was because they were trying to work in so many other performances other than the battle--a smart tactic that unfortunately backfired when the crowd thinned dramatically, even though the performances (especially those of Z-Man and Serendipity Project) were pretty fucking fantastic. Obviously, many of those who turned out were there for one reason and one reason only--to see some heads roll.

But if the event had been just a battle and everyone stayed to watch the whole thing, it wouldn't have done much to showcase local talent. Two of the best MCs of the evening--previous victor Thesaurus and newcomer Dirtbag--weren't even from the Santa Cruz area. Only the Serendipity Project's own Knowble came through. Until the next battle proves me wrong, I guess he's our one-man hip-hop scene holdin' it down.


Can't get enough of the White Album Ensemble covers? Two of the group's members--Richard Bryant and Dale Ockerman--are still at it, along with Ednre Tarczy, David Tucker and Tom Ayres. The band is called Moving Parts, and they say they'll play everything from The Beatles to Steely Dan to Stevie Wonder. Hell, they might even throw in some Elvis and show tunes. Nobody really knows what they'll play for sure, considering they've never even had a rehearsal. They play at the Crow's Nest on Friday, June 18.

Mike Connor

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From the June 16-23, 2004 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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