Miami's Allies, three of the crew that includes DJ Craze (the only three-time world DMC champion), are involved. The MC for the night's event is the Allies' Infamous, and J-Smoke and Spictakular will be judging the contest. There's another member of the Allies present, too -- Atlanta's Klever, the current DMC U.S. champ, scoping the competition from afar.
J-Smoke spins while kids slowly file into Masquerade's Hell. Up in Heaven Oi! bands are playing, and it's a strange contrast outside as girls with shaved heads and long bangs hang with guys in tight jeans and skinny suspenders while multicultural kids in baggy pants and baseball caps hustle past.
On a temporary stage, two sets of turntables sit atop sturdy old speaker cabinets facing the bar. It wouldn't be a hip-hop event without excessive, obtrusive brand names and, sure enough, Technics, Shure and XXL banners hang, while copies of Strength snowboarding magazine and XXL litter the place.
It also wouldn't be hip-hop without gratuitous self-promotion, so once Infamous takes the mic a little after 11 p.m., he gives big ups to his crew, hypes their ventures (an upcoming magazine called Tablist), plugs More Dusty and tosses out trivia questions and T-shirts. While Infamous is talking, the first competitor, Abstru, stands to one side, gingerly and meticulously cleaning the contacts of his needles.
Once the video camera is set, the turntables' levels checked and the judges are ready, Infamous calls for the first of tonight's eight countdowns. He tells the audience to treat the show like one at the Apollo: If someone is good, show them love and throw up your hands, but if they suck, show no mercy. As the audience chants down from five to one, Florida's Abstru nestles into the tables and begins his timed five-minute set.
There's something not quite right about the turntables. Instead of the traditional set-up -- the mixer between the tables -- Abstru has his mixer to the left with the tables together. But it doesn't stop him juggling tightly back and forth between 33 and 45 RPM. It's two-thirds of the way into the set before the audience hears some even scratching. The next competitor, Blessed One, contemplates, nodding.
In a few minutes, however, Blessed One's on stage, his head shaking in disbelief and his name ain't so appropriate. He has trouble picking records quickly enough as he scratches over a slow jam, and after some basic back and forth with increasing pitch, he accidentally knocks the tone arm with his own arm. Set's over.
SPS takes the stage for a roller coaster set of smooth fast-slow-fast jungle juggles and some theme from "Knight Rider" oscillating shit. He does the first body trick, fading under his leg.
The next DJ, hometown favorite Lord (Public Enemy's DJ), takes this into account and ups the ante, using the pitch to make bounce and flatulent bass, switching it up under the leg and around the back, then achieving warp speed to intimidate all comers.
Lord's scare tactics don't keep the other competitors -- Inferno, Lens-Swan, Logic and Jabberjaw -- from doing their routines, which include elektro, crab scratches, old-school breaks, tons of braggadocio vocal samples and Morse code-like tones (all classic tricks, no tricked-out surprises). But the room is buzzing that it's down to Abstru, SPS and Lord.
Finally, all eight DJs have been called, and the numbers are tallied while Spictakular and J-Smoke spin. Then Klever cuts some while breakdancers do their thing and Infamous dubs the spectacled turntablist "Mr. Bigglesworth" (last year Klever was crowned "that Elvis Costello-lookin' motherfucker").
It looks like the crowd of wannabe DJs know what they are talking about. In third place, SPS steps up. Then, much to the audience's surprise (incurring later shouts of "you was robbed" throughout the parking lot), DJ Lord winds up a close second place. And Abstru, the kid who may not have flipped as many records but who flipped the script on mixers, wins the Southeast crown, giving him two months to prepare to go up against Klever in San Fran for the DMC nationals. This year's competition shows winners dance to a different beat. Dig it.
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