There's a lot of bravado in hip-hop. Promoter Callie Dee depends on that to inspire contestants of her American Idol-style competition that crowns the best rapper across Dallas, Denton and Fort Worth. "In hip-hop everybody thinks that they’re the best," she says.
Dee hoped Master of the Mic — which declared its first winner, Alsace Carcione, in 2015, and will name its second this Friday at Club Dada — could bridge the hip-hop scenes across the three cities and provide resources to lesser known talents.
"I do a lot of stuff in Denton, Dallas and Fort Worth and everybody kind of secludes themselves to one of the three scenes," says Dee, who is based in Fort Worth.
The competition begins with a series of open mic-style auditions in each city. Dee says the auditions were a bit more structured this year than they were in 2015, with one taking place every three months. The largest audition this year was in Dallas, with 31 people signing up.
"We had a little less in Denton and Fort Worth," she says.
The judges for the 2016 installment — so-called even though the winner is being named in 2017 — are the D.O.C. of N.W.A.; Picnictyme of Booty Fade; and Kayotik of 97.9 The Beat. At the first open mic, the judges picked their 10 favorite performers, then during the second and third rounds fans got to join in the vote until the group had been whittled down to two performers who are representing the scene in their respective cities this weekend.
At the final competition in Dallas, one winner will be chosen to receive prizes including a headlining spot at Trees, six hours of studio time with producer Sikwitit, merch with their own design, a month of representation with the public relations firm Creative Currency and more.
But the most valuable prize in Dee's mind is the possibility of meeting new collaborators through the Master of the Mic experience. Last year it went just as she'd planned.
"We had a good turnout. It really helped unify the scene; a lot of people collaborated and met and became fans of each other."
Dee's greatest hope is that the judges themselves will be inspired to work with the finalists and winner they select, which appears to be the case with Carcione and the D.O.C., who is the only judge to return from last year. He was living in Los Angeles when the 2015 competition took place but has since returned to his hometown of Dallas, and Dee says he's been increasingly committed to developing local talent since he made the move.
"There’s already talk about him and Alsace working together," she says, adding that they were supposed to do something in December but it has been pushed back.
"We had [more] people I didn’t know last year, which was really cool," she says. "But I think the talent level is about the same. We still have some great performers. I think everybody has given it a little bit more on the finale. They’re not telling me exactly cause it’s a surprise, [but] one guy has got actors who are gonna go out on the stage and another guy has dancers."
There have also been some changes to the judging lineup. Despite 2015 being her first year to throw Master of the Mic, Dee was able to tap Erykah Badu and Dorrough to judge, along with the D.O.C. She accomplished this through sheer hustle.
"I put a lot of money in and I take chances. I went out there real, real hard — showing my face, getting involved, helping everybody, helping other production companies, being on their street teams. It was kind of a crap shoot. When I came up with this idea it was hard to get people involved and then ... Cold Cris believed in my competition and that’s how I got Erykah."
Dee says Master of the Mic had the opportunity to work with a couple of other big names this year, but she made a conscious decision to move away from a celebrity focus in the judging lineup.
"I spent a lot of money last year and a lot of that I realized wasn’t necessary. I’m trying to focus more on people who will guide people in their careers."
As far as who's likely to win Friday, Dee says that's a tough call.
Representing Dallas are J. Catalyst ("very much a performer, so I know he's going to bring it") and Juq'o Vibe ("kind of a veteran in Dallas and he definitely deserves it for his grind").
On the Fort Worth team are Kilo Art-of-Fact ("a lyricist to the nth degree — amazing with word play and passion") and David Allen Dope ("since he's been in the competition I've run into him everywhere").
Finally, Denton will make its run for the title with KoolBRZ ("out of all the competitions he brought the most people and has the most fan support") and Dre the Hitman ("he doesn't cuss or do anything like that — he's not a Christian rapper but he does talk about faith in his rap").
No matter who walks away from Club Dada with the new title Master of the Mic, you can expect to see Dee standing in a corner when it's all over, looking pained for the other deserving contestants.
"Every elimination just hurts my heart," she says.
Master of the Mic takes place 9 p.m. Friday at Club Dada, 2720 Elm St. Tickets are $20 to $40 at dadadallas.com. At 7 p.m., prior to the show, there will also be a panel discussion about hip-hop "past, present and future" with experienced local producers, writers and event curators including Picnictyme, the D.O.C., Joel Salazar and Dallas Observer contributor Jeff Gage.
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