Unfortunately, the last live event many of us remember attending is months ago and there doesn't seem to be any reprieve in sight. Sure, there have been a few drive-in events along with a bonanza of fire live streams. Meanwhile, local venues are restructuring themselves to align with the various state-level executive orders. Not to mention, collectives like AK Productions and Quite Low Records are gearing up to do their best to save salvage some semblance of those summer festival vibes. Nevertheless, that vacuum that the loss of nightlife creates, continues to grow. However, when we look outward, the purveyors are definitely feeling the pain of a devastating year in bass. Certainly, the venues, promoters, DJs, producers, and various supporting staff quickly come to mind when thinking of those suffering the most. Beyond this, we must observe a moment of silence for the few among us who dedicate their time to verbally uplifting our collective energy- drum & bass emcees.
Although the appreciation we dispense upon our beloved mic controllers might be in short supply, their contribution to the game shouldn't be taken lightly. Certainly, this doesn't apply to their counterparts within the realm of the monolith of hip hop. Notwithstanding the fact that that's where many bass music emcees draw their inspiration from, "rappers" are in a different category. In fact, some might say the continual rise of the dnb emcee follows the path of the purist master of ceremonies- Not quite prototypical, full-breathed lyricists nor mere antiquated, guttural hype-men, but somewhere in between.
The History of Emceeing Through the Eyes of the Emcee
The history of the bass emcee is as long as it is underappreciated. Specifically, in reference to those who hawk verbal phlegm over drum 'n' bass or breakbeat tracks. In particular, the UK grime scene offers a wealth of cultural evolution dating back to the birth of underground bass music. Peering back in time, we gain a clear picture of where rave or "party rocka" emcees started which helps us understand where we are today.
In his 2018, in-depth look at the drum 'n' bass emcee for Red Bull, Dave Jenkins digs significantly deep with a thorough analysis of the marriage between bass music and emcees. In his article, Here Comes The Mic Man, he speaks with legendary mic rulers like Dynamite, Inja, DRS, SP:MC, and Harry Shotta. They reveal the subterranean facts that provide a crystal clear window into the world of drum & bass emceeing. First of all, Inja gifts him with a thoughtful yet contrite perspective when he describes the unique relationship between emcee and DJ.
"The MC is the conductor. They’re right next to the crowd, they’re right next to the DJ, they bring it all together."
It's hard to say it any better than that. As spectators of bass, this is exactly what we see and feel at an event on any given evening, in the Denver underground scene. Unsurprisingly, the lessons don't stop there. Dropping even deeper knowledge, Dynamite loads more facts into the lyrical bonfire when he posits on the birth of bass music emceeing.
“We came from the original hip-hop combination,” adds Dynamite. “Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince, Eric B & Rakim. Historically drum’n’bass has had that same formula with a lot of duos. Brockie and Det, myself and Roni Size, GQ and Micky Finn, Conrad and Bukem. It’s like a double act.”
Surely, emceeing, in general, is a huge part of the diverse musical culture of today. You can't even get on the bus or navigate a dance floor without someone trying to bend your ear with their "slept on" mic skills. With that in mind, a DRS quote seems extremely apt.
"Jungle became so popular that all the kids in the ends aspired to be jungle MCs. You know the cliché – 20 MCs around the mic, all bada bada bada bada..."
Finally, a quote from the legendary Harry Shotta appropriately brings our journey through the annals of dnb emceeing full-circle.
“I think what’s changed now is that MCs are giving the crowd much better lyrical content and something they can relate to. We’re talking about relevant things and not just hyping up ourselves or the DJ or what’s going on in the party.
From this, we can easily see where the lyrical facilitation of bass energy gets its foundation. Naturally, though, this leads us to one question: What are today's underground orators doing with the blueprints that these legends are leaving behind for them? Undoubtedly, the bass capital has the answer and is ready to grab the torch like a mic stand.
Emcees in the Bass Capital are Holding it Down
Now, if you're still skeptical about the reach and longevity of drum & bass music, you're definitely in the minority. Evidence of this doesn't even require a deep scan of the bass music archives. For instance, Iowa's Grinnell College has a somewhat robust piece about dnb's historical imprint. Thus, if kids in the "corn belt" of Iowa are getting down to some rinsed out vibes then you know heads in the bass capital are already with the sauce. Therefore, it's no surprise that our devotion to bass music culture cultivates a healthy crop of dnb emcees.
Even if you require spitters to meet a certain quality threshold before cosigning on their legitimacy, the Denver underground has you covered. With this in mind, the denizens of Denver bass music can provide uniquely valuable perspectives into the current state of bass. Specifically, there are a couple of fire mic controllers preparing to unload bars over beats set to echo through the valleys of the Colorado Rockies. So, in anticipation of their emcee duties at AK & Quite Low Present Till the Break of Dawn: Under the Stars - let's check-in with two standard-bearers of microphone mathematics who patrol the Denver underground - Slim_r_i and Relyt.
Bass’D Out DNVR: Do you remember when you first fell in love with bass music? What do you love the most about it? What are your favorite genres to emcee for?
Slim_r_i: I think I've always been a bass fan. Even at an early age. By the mid-’80s to the ’90s, I would say I was completely gravitating to bass sounds. I liked some metal, but this is also around the time that I fell in love with hip hop and early electronic music. Then breaks really took hold. But by the end of 90's I was a full-fledged junglist.
I bleed camo. Drum ‘n’ bass will be my mistress ‘til I'm 10 toes up. I’ve been working with a lot of breaks and hard dance as well. It's tough, I get different vibes from these three different styles that are so closely related. Dnb makes everything ok no matter where life is and allows me to release aggression. Breaks always have this classic old school feel. The breakers and tracksuits take me back and always keep me rooted. The hard dance is literally my safe place. The way the ravers and artists treat each other is indescribable. Ugh, I wish my camo junglists would remember those roots more often and not take shit so seriously. Can't beat the vibe the candy kids give off, though.
Relyt: The thing I love most is the vibes! Also, the way a well-produced tune can bring an entire room of strangers together, to experience the same feelings at the same time! Obviously, I’m a junglist to the grave, but I do enjoy emceeing over breaks, trap, and occasionally dubstep!
BOD: When did you first realize you wanted to be an emcee? Who are some of your most influential artists?
Relyt: I realized around 2000 or 2001. I was heavy into hip hop. It was all about Bone Thugs ‘N’ Harmony which helped shape my ability to rap fast. Then, I went to my first rave and saw MC Dino and DJ Fury going off and I instantly fell in love! Dino has been a huge influence on my emceeing ever since.
Slim: That's kind of tricky to answer. I started on open mic rap nights in Pennsylvania in the late '90s. It was literally about flexing and acting up back then. Then, in the early 2000s, I was working on DJing dnb in South Carolina. I shelved it all to run a business and have kids. Around 2011, I found myself in the bass capital, Denver. I went through some huge life changes that led me back to the clubs for bass therapy. For the third time, dnb saved my life. I became heavily entrenched in Denver's dnb scene and made so many great friends. I was thirsty! I wanted to play music, but it was such an oversaturated market. So, after some convos with dnb heads I respected, and getting the blessing of the main guy hosting everything, I made my rounds to the crews and got put on. Lulz, I guess I never realized until I was already in it.
I take inspiration from everywhere. Legends like Stevie Hyper, Skibadee, and General Levy, to name a few. Some of my favorites like Inja, Evil B, Traumatik, Flipside, and Harry Shotta inspire me too. I can’t forget about the state-side champs like Armanni Reign, MC Dino, and Messinian. Along with that, there are others like Tone Piper, Wizzkid. Local guys that I see on the regular are important to my growth as well- big up Reylt! But I have to say I learn a lot from what I don’t like by listening to other emcees and hosts.
BOD: What was it like for you the first time you picked up a mic and went onstage in front of a crowd? Was it hard to break into the industry?
Slim: Well the very first time was like '98 or ’99. It was open mic with my boys with about 100 people in the crowd. I really didn't understand then. I just would just wilded out and left. I didn’t take in the experience. When I started here in Denver, it was pretty scary. My first show was a heavy head-banging dubstep show that was sold out. I think the crowd was as confused as I was as to what I was doing on stage. But in the end, I knew a lot of people there and I got decent feedback. It's been on ever since.
It wasn't that bad for me. I think the timing and my established relationships with people in the scene helped a lot. I love this shit, and I feel like it shows. Promoters and DJs tend to back me for that reason.
Relyt: It was like what I assume your first hit of crack would feel like- I was addicted… I still am. I still get nervous before shows, but that quickly goes away when I get into the venue.
BOD: As an emcee, what do you feel is the biggest thing you can contribute to a set? What qualities do you feel any solid emcee should possess?
Slim: Energy and direction. Sometimes people forget they are there to have fun and appreciate the moment.
Professionalism, situational awareness, and timing is huge! Knowing when to shut up, paying attention, and being flexible is huge too. I tend to work as a host more than emceeing so knowing your fellow artists is a must. I never host for someone new without some background digging. Affiliations and label knowledge are important parts of a proper introduction. I consider myself a facilitator. It's not really about me but who I am there to highlight. A DJ should never feel like they have to pick up a mic to get the crowd to engage. Especially, if there’s an emcee on the lineup.
You have to walk this fine line of ego and confidence but don't shadowing. You can't be scared to be front and center or even act silly to engage everyone. Shit happens, the sound goes off, changeovers take too long, and people are late or don't show. That's where a good host or emcee will shine. It's important to remember DJ's tend to feed off of you as well. I always try to chat with headliners or people I've never met before their sets. Haha, equipment knowledge is also key! Knowing how to tune yourself and how to hold a mic is 101. That can be taught, but the feels I've described cannot.
99% of the time you will have no idea what the DJ will do or play. But the feel of handling those situations is something you have, or don't. Knowing how music is made is very important to that feel... Oh, and for the love of bass! Don't be that guy that's just a waste case on the mic. I've never had to leave a set because I need to puke. It's so disrespectful.
BOD: How does the energy of the crowd affect your performance? What would you say is the emcee’s responsibility during a set?
Relyt: Crowd energy and participation is huge! I pride myself on being able to create and control a vibe in a club, and I would say the emcee's responsibility is just that!
BOD: How do you keep your mic skills in top form?
Slim: Honestly, I feel like I don't. I know I'm capable of much better work. I'm only settling into this role. I'm close to 40 and feel dumb as rocks most the time. I've only been back on for a few years. I still have so much to learn- So much to express that I don't even know where to begin. But I read, write, and listen to other emcees on sets all the time. I also do my best to keep up with new tunes as they are released. I have a never-ending playlist. With that, I bar over new tunes in the car that I've never heard before. It's about as close as you can get to the feel of doing a set with a DJ. Here's the thing- the past 10 years have been a rollercoaster and now I've finally redeveloped stability in my life. I’m confident that it'll start showing more in my performance. I guess; to sum it up, that is my weakness. I'll be the first to admit I'm a shit emcee but a damn good host. When I get that down its game over.
Relyt: I emcee in my head all day every day!!
BOD: What do you like most about performing live? What do you like the least? Do you think emcees get the love that they deserve?
Slim: I've been blessed in my short run so far. I've had the pleasure of working with legendary DJs and producers. Guys like Roni Size, Stanton Warriors, Krafty Kuts, Kutski, Crissy Criss, Al Storm, Scott Brown, Martix n Futurebound, R.A.W., The Freestylers, Mob Tactics, Rel 1, Rob Gee, Reid Speed, DJ Venom, Dieselboy, AK1200; the list goes on- I guess moments that stick out are my first time with Stanton Warriors and Roni Size (wish I could get a redo on that one). I was scared shitless and star-struck. He was really cool and told me he wanted more from me. Helping Reylt fill in for Messinian when his flight was canceled last year for POTD’s 20-year tour was special too. But my favorite thing is the relationships I've developed with so many UK headliners- I don’t know - the Brits tend to like me.
I don't really have a stand out shitty experience. Some shows I'd like to do again and use what I've learned. There are some moments that I really wasn't into so I could have done better. Sometimes, dealing with random people that hound you for the mic is a pain in the ass. Haha, my Ex called the police to the venue one time over an old warrant that she found. She was told that she could not come to the show by the head of security because of her attempts to start drama, so she had the law show up and they did a walk through while security hid me out. I didn't get to perform as a result. It wasn't that bad to deal with just more of a WTF?
We definitely don't get the props we deserve as emcees. It's definitely not the most loved aspect here in the states. But that's never my motivation. The reality is I'll never be everyone’s cup of tea, no matter how good I am. This is why I try to have a different style than most emcees. But, when a random person I've never met compliments me, those are the moments I hold onto.
Relyt: The thing I love most is being able to emcee with some of the people whose music I’ve spent the past decade geeking-out to. People like Dillinja, Metric & Mampi, and Swift just to name a few! The thing I like least is a hard question- maybe fuckin’ my shoes up?! Honestly, that’s a complex question. There are emcees out there that spit straight fire and don’t get booked because of politics and bullshit! On the other hand, there are emcees out there who have no business touching mics that are getting booked like crazy. I believe if you’re actually a talented emcee and a good person then yes, the people, DJs, and promoters have lots of love!
BOD: Any comments or shoutouts you want to give?
Relyt: Shouts to Urban Aboriginee, Quite Low Records, Reload Productions, and The Distinguished!! FUCK COVID!! Support your local music venues!!
Slim: First off, I appreciate this interview!
Big ups to Hartshorn, Evasive, Ryan Vail, Fury, Ghost, Deceptive, Sevamatic, Kris, Shua, D.O.H., and Denver's Dom. Thanks for having my back gents and pushing me forward!
S/O to my crews 303 Family, Dnb:03, Altitude Sickness, The Distinguished, Quite Low Records, Sounds of Bass, and AK Productions.
Much love to Reload Productions, Free Bass, Amplitude Presents, and all Denver drum ‘n’ bass for the opportunities.
Rest assured, the Denver dnb scene is definitely in good hands as long as these two are holding the mic and have something to say about it. More importantly, their continued growth and success is proof that bass music is alive and well in the bass capital. No need to take it from us though. Be sure to follow both emcees at the links below. Then, catch them live in-action when they grace the stage alongside some of Denver's best DJs at 'TillThe Break of Dawn: Under The Stars, next month.