One Nation, Under Ground

Lars Larson and the subterranean network of the local hip-hop

"I'm sorry," he says. "I was up till five last night in the studio with Dtekh. We were supposed to record this radio show yesterday, but he didn't call me until 11:00, and even then we couldn't do it because he was driving down Lake Street in his underwear."

Larson has been on the phone all afternoon trying to get a hold of Dtekh, who runs Supreme Beats studio. Tonight, he and Larson will use the studio to pre-record the first installment of Beats and Rhymes, a new weekly hip-hop show featured on the all-local Internet radio site MisplacedMusic.org. As Balance nears closing time, Larson gets restless. He picks up the phone again, and learns that Dtekh is eating dinner with onetime KMOJ DJ Travis "Travitron" Lee.

"You know where Soul City Supper Club is?" Larson asks. "We'll just meet him over there, then go to the studio. Maybe you'll get to meet Kandis."

Kandis Knight writes most of the news and interviews for DUNation and contributes a short news spot to Beats and Rhymes. Larson's also got a hunch that she is the reason Dtekh was driving around in his skivvies last night.

 

As he makes his way into Supreme Beats, Larson is thinking about the DU message board. He rubs his lips, shakes his head, and sighs, reluctantly admitting that the board's gossip and in-group fighting is one of the reasons his site gets so much traffic.

"I should moderate it more, I guess," he says. "I don't want to censor it--y'know, free speech and stuff--but it's just insanity. They're a bunch of haters. It's like a reality show for the whole scene."

Like any good reality television show, the message board counters its disagreements with a dose of romance. Two babies have already been born as a result of hook-ups made on the board. And the content runs deep: DJ Aaron Money regularly posts essayistic threads with titles like "The Cost of Poverty." But in the end, it's the beef that keeps people reading.

"Everybody reads it," says Larson. "I ran into Brother Ali the other day at Davanni's, and he told me about how [Rhymesayers rapper] Siddiq had called him up just to tell him about a thread."

That's when it strikes me that Larson knows everybody. His website isn't just a resource for the underground; it is the underground. He's gelling an entire scene--which makes it hard to blame him for mixing up a name or two once in a while.

That's why, when he does it again an hour later, I don't hold it against him. "What's up everyone, we got Derek in the house!" shouts Larson into the microphone as he glances over at me. Sitting on a red velvet couch in the production booth at Supreme Beats, I don't remind him that my name is Chuck. Instead, I check the song list that Larson and Dtekh have already laid down. It's a solid hour of local hip hop: Los Nativos, Musab, Traditional Methods. "That's the best album of the year," Dtekh tells me, pointing to the Traditional Methods track. Even off the air, Dtekh speaks like a radio DJ: fast, articulate, and purposeful. When he tells you something, you buy it.

While Dtekh and Larson continue working, I find Kandis Knight sitting by a computer in an adjacent room. A colorful paint job runs up the high walls to the ceiling, and Knight researches her news spot by scouring the DU message board. She looks at some announcements for the local hip-hop festival "Yo! The Movement" and DUNation's birthday party before giggling at a post titled "Unknown Prophets and Big Quarters, July 22." Three pages into the thread, the discussion gets reduced to a verbal sparring match between a local amateur MC named A-lib and Jay Bee, the baritoned co-host of Radio K's The Beat Box. In the post that Knight is reading, A-lib says that his adversary is "whiter than baby powder" and makes highly dubious claims about Jay Bee's sexuality.

"You little twerp," Jay Bee writes. "Anus-stabber. Stop giving me your white friend's celly, queer. Pussy bitch." Knight giggles again as Larson walks up and reads the post. "This is getting out of hand," he says.

But there's no time to read the rest of the message. He has a radio show to record, and after he returns to the mic, it comes off without a hitch. Dtekh is such a hyperactive co-host that the program sounds a little like a B-96 house party without the commercials. And the tracks the two DJs play make for a fine capsule of the local music scene. Listening to the show, it's tempting to believe that with someone like Lars Larson at its helm, local hip hop just might snuff out local rock 'n' roll after all. But I've got my doubts. So does Larson.

"When Sun's closed, they threw away a bunch of their leftover stuff, and people were lined up to dig through the garbage for that shit," he tells me. "People keep coming into Balance thinking it's still Sun's. Three kids came in today looking for Motörhead T-shirts."

He laughs. Maybe he'll carry a couple in the store, he says, just in case the kids come back. There's symbolism for you: Motörhead shirts and Triple 5 Soul under one roof. Maybe there really is some balance in this music scene after all.

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