For the past five years, Master of the Mic has been one of the most important events in the local music scene. The hip-hop competition, which crowns the best rapper in North Texas, is a crucial platform for local talent, who have the chance to showcase their skills in front of heavyweight judges, who in past years have included Erykah Badu, Dorrough and The D.O.C.
Promoter Callie Dee, the mastermind behind Master of the Mic, says that after making substantial changes to the event's model, the competition will be taking place online in a “quarantine” edition. Contestants will perform on Facebook Live, at a given time slot, from their own homes.
"We’re jumping on the live stream wave," Dee says. "I figured with the way things are right now in the event/entertainment industry, it only makes sense to create an online platform to help artists connect with fans. It’ll be different, but I’ve worked a few weeks with Blake Baraka on all the details and technical issues, and I think we’ve come up with a great plan."
Among those differences is the fact that instead of paying for a ticket to attend and vote for their favorite contestants at a venue, the event will be free to view, and audience members can vote by “reacting” to each contestant's performance on Facebook and by making donations, which will be split between their contestant of choice and the winner. Votes will be based on the number of donations made, not by total dollar amount, a move Dee says is more representative of music industry standards.
“That’s where my 'music business' side comes in,” she says. “You can be a great performer, but if you can’t get someone to reach into their pocket to support, then you should probably just stick to this as a hobby.”
The biggest difference, however, is the fact that making the location a virtual one allows for hopeful contestants to participate no matter where they are in the world. The first round of competitions will take place May 10, and Dee says they will consider international submissions.
The winning package is yet to be announced, but Dee says it'll include different services like studio time, social media consultation with Social Werk, mixing and mastering, printed merch, video electronic press kits, in addition to a cash prize.
"This year I’m concentrating on offering a large cash prize," Dee says. Last year, she took four of the finalists to perform in Los Angeles, but Dee believes it's too soon to make long-term plans for this year's winner, as she doesn't know what lies ahead in the next few months. Even the event's finale has yet to be set in stone, but Dee is hoping for a June date.
This year’s confirmed judges includes a long list of hip-hop legends and experts: Jah Born, Brian Mullins, Roderick Pullum, Xeus Birdine, Abstract Rude, Ras Kass, Headkrack, Mr. Pookie and Mousequake.
In a sense, organizing a large international event has turned out to be easier in the midst of a pandemic lockdown, Dee says. Not only has she not had to coordinate the date with a venue, but other logistics have been made swifter through the shelter-in-place orders.
"That part is great," Dee says of the online-only aspect of this year's iteration of Master of the Mic. "Judges not having to leave their home to participate, not having to coordinate around other events, et cetera."
Dee says it will be as close to the real thing as she can make it.
"You have to be a tad more creative; it’s not just going to be some janky live stream, we’re working on transitions between artists, spots to have sponsors' 'commercials' if you will, animated logos …"
Past winners include Alsace Carcione and DQ Hampton, who won the Dallas Observer Music Award for Best Hip-Hop Act in 2019.
Master of the Mic is still reviewing submissions. Those interested in participating can fill out a form on the event's website.
In order to participate, "They need a computer with internet, camera, an interface with at least two inputs, mic, headphones and a way to play your beats through the interface — I use my phone — and $15," Dee says.
And, of course, they should not only believe themselves to be the best rapper in North Texas, but possibly in the world.