Independent readers must've been onto something last year when they voted Fusion of Syllables "Best New Band."
Since then, the local hip-hop crew led by Black Pegasus (aka Rob Houston) has released its full-length album, Focus on Skillz, on the local Illynoise and Overstand Records that has already sold more than 3,000 copies. As a solo artist, Black Pegasus has spent the past year paying his bills by competing at MC battles across the state. After winning over 12 battles at competitions from Grand Junction to Fort Collins, Houston won the opportunity to compete at the "Jay-Z Rock the Mic" tour at Fiddler's Green on July 29. Right after recent-hip-hop megastar 50 Cent's performance and just before Jay-Z took the stage, Houston soundly defeated an MC named Dent in front of 20,000 people. After his victory, Houston was then invited to battle at the prestigious Scribble Jam -- a festival of underground hip-hop culture sponsored by Scribble Magazine every year in Cincinnati. There, Houston went head-to-head with some of the biggest names in underground hip-hop, defeating iconic MCs like Juice (who beat Eminem at the first Scribble Jam in 1997), eventually taking second place.
Indy: First off, what exactly is an MC battle?
Black Pegasus: It's where two people rhyme over a beat in a competitive way to clown and kind of demean someone just to show them that you're the best MC [rapper]. It's to show who has the quickest comebacks -- a battle of wits.
Indy: How long have you been battling and how did you get into it?
BP: Since about 1999. I just have a competitive nature.
Indy: Do you prepare for battles?
BP: Every battle MC has a couple of lines in their mind ready to drop on someone. But when you create a rhyme in the moment about what's going on around you -- [the other MC's] appearance or what he said -- that's what gets the crowd going. To prepare for your battles you just have to freestyle a lot -- like when you're watching TV or driving down the street -- just to get your mind thinking faster than the average person. That's what I do to get ready for a battle.
Indy: MC Battles have been going on since the early days of hip-hop in the late 1970s, The Eminem movie 8 Mile was all about MC battles. Has it gotten a lot more popular since the movie came out?
Indy: There are a lot of MCs who don't battle. What's the difference?
BP: Battling is real simplistic and one-dimensional. It shows how sharp your mind is ... it's just like playing a sport. But songwriting has nothing to do with battle rapping. When you're writing a song, you have to focus on more than just the quickest comeback. You pick concepts and it involves a lot more.
Indy: So tell me about being on stage in between two of the biggest hip-hop acts in the world in front of 20,000 people.
BP: It was kinda nerve-racking because you don't know how people will react to your freestyle and lines. But just being from Colorado and knowing that not that many people believe in you, not many people can say they've done that and gotten their name out there and gotten that kind of respect.
Indy: After you won at Fiddler's Green, you were invited to the Scribble Jam. Tell me about that.
BP: It's the biggest Midwestern, four-element hip-hop (break dancing, graffiti, DJing, and MCing) competition in the U.S. and they started putting it together just to show love to the Midwestern hip-hop scene. But people come from all around. Everyone from Eminem to Juice to the Mole Men, Sage Francis, and Dose One has been in it.
Indy: How many people were there this year?
BP: About 4,000.
Indy: So how big of a deal is it to get second place?
BP: One thing that's a really big deal is that I'm the first person from Colorado to ever get invited or be in it. It puts your name in the ears of a lot of people nationwide ... A lot of the MCs who've been in the battles have gone on to do a lot bigger things, get distribution deals, et cetera just because they got their name out there. It's more of an independent, underground event, so there aren't a lot of record deals or anything, but there's a lot of networking. But if you win or get second place, there's so many kids who are into this that you can sell 30,000 albums if you network correctly.
Indy: So give us some examples of rhymes from some of the battles.
BP: All right: "It's over wit/ he so skinny he could use ChapStick for deodorant." And: "He ugly as hell you can see um/ His mom had to be drunk to breastfeed um." Then there's "I'm Black and Mexican so you know I'm hard/ The Black will whoop ya ass, the Mexican steal ya car."
Black Pegasus is currently producing a DVD documentary of his MC battles and hip-hop shows. His new solo album is titled Can't Spell Crap Without Rap and is due out in the winter of 2004. For more information, go to www.focusonskillz.com.
-- Noel Black