EVERYONE ALREADY KNOWS the big news this week, but it stands repeating regardless: The littlest Rhyme Sayer of them all, Eyedea, saw his triumphant Blaze Battle appearance from November 2 finally broadcast on HBO. Sponsored by the late, much-mourned hip-hop monthly Blaze, this showdown was as high-profile as any to occur this year, with unsigned talent facing off in front of hip-hop notables (ranging from Grandmaster Caz to Bad Boy newcomer Shyne) and judged by KRS-One himself. All eyes were on the winner, who handled himself with characteristic aplomb after dispatching such MCs as Ali Vegas and Shells.
Some of those eyes, it turns out, were tucked into the sockets of some well-financed industry skulls. Big-money hip hop doesn't get much bigger or more moneyed than Puffy Combs, and a reliable source let slip to me that Puffy has offered the Rhyme Sayers $600,000 for a nine-album deal, while another $400,000 deal from another, as yet unspecified major label is also reportedly in the offing. Speaking for the Rhyme Sayers, Siddiq Ali downplays this talk. "There are a lot of deals on the table," says Ali. "But there have been deals floating around for three years now." In any case, Ali reports the crew does not plan to act upon any of these offers in the near future. (The Battle will be rebroadcast 10:00 p.m. Monday, December 11 on HBO.)
Now, having spread some new rumors, let's try to dispel some old ones. Mos Def's no-show at the Convention Center on Sunday, November 26 has disappointed ticket holders wondering if the scuttled event was the result of a prima donna move on the MC's part, or a promotional scam. Natalie Morrow, head of Natalie's Entertainment, which booked the show, insists it was nothing more than a delayed flight that stranded the MC in St. Louis. (And no, Mos was not flying on Northwest; it was TWA.) Morrow adds that Mos Def has recorded an "apology" to disappointed fans that should be aired on area radio stations before this paper hits the streets.
I caught up with Morrow at the Java Noire coffeehouse in Lyn-Lake the Wednesday after the aborted event, where she was reimbursing ticket buyers herself. Morrow is so charming a pro, she used the opportunity to gather an e-mail list and promote her weekly open mic at that coffee shop (each Wednesday, 10:00 p.m.) to those unsatisfied customers who came for a refund, many of whom were commiserating with her by the time they left the building. Some had wondered why Morrow allowed the show to go on when it seemed obvious the main event was stranded in St. Louis. Morrow justified her actions by past experience: When Morrow brought Method Man and Redman to the Northrop Auditorium last winter, the duo showed up at the last minute after four rescheduled flights, and the event went off as planned.
According to Morrow, Mos Def will be returning to town on February 17. "This was going to be a track show," she explains, with just the MC and some canned music. "But he wants to do something special, so he's bringing his band next time." That band, featuring Dr. Know from Bad Brains, and Sugarhill (and Living Colour) alum Doug Wimbush, has not yet debuted. So this show will be one of the first chances to see the rock 'n' roll philosophy of the man who recently called Fred Durst a modern-day "Al Jolson" who may as well be "performing 'Mammy' over a hip-hop beat" (in Vibe).
That night was the first time in too long that I'd stopped into Java Noire, a small, poshly decorated pocket of black culture planted near the rapidly gentrifying corner of Lake and Lyndale. I wandered into Uhuru Books in the back, where I found a copy of Walter Rodney's How Europe Underdeveloped Africa, a socialist survey of colonialism by the Guyanese historian that I've been scrounging for ever since KRS-One namedropped it a decade ago. It was worth the wait, too. (Though to buy it, I had to nudge the proprietor, who had dozed off in the cozily overheated space.) I'm hoping to pop back into Java Noire on December 11, when local hip-hop crew X Government have arranged a prerelease party.
The duo, which features the quick-witted rhyming of KM Ten and the quick-wristed scratching of DJ Magma, will be dropping their new joint, Brimstone, Volume 1 next February, and this show will be an opportunity to preview some of those tracks. The duo has been circulating the maxi-single "Futuristic/Spread Love" (Sasqwatch Records) since late last winter, keyed to rhymes like "I masturbate lyrically on mixtape militia/Kiss ya/Squad goodbye Sasqwatch official-/ly blast darts." Their newest single, "Bangdocious," is already a leap forward. Despite its playalistically insistent title, the track itself coasts along on a subtle bump, proof that you don't always have to raise your voice to be heard.