Part performance, part game show, the emcee competition Rhyme Calisthenics has become a staple of the local hip-hop scene. While the event is well known -- it's been held at Shadow Lounge about three times a year since 2007 -- it hasn't grown stale. For the 10th installment, organizers James Armstead Brown and Thelonious Stretch have a special guest, Detroit emcee Elzhi ... and a few tricks up their sleeves.
For starters, they are adding new twists to the event's signature prop, the "Wheel of Skillz," which randomly determines challenges for the emcees to face.
"One of the newest is 'Word Bank,'" says Brown. "We'll have a dry-erase board with a bank of random vocabulary words from the dictionary. The goal is to incorporate as many of those words into your freestyle as you can, as creatively as possible."
While the contests usually feature a bracket of 16 emcees, Saturday's installment will feature 10 competitors, many of them returning champions like Black Sun, who won the last contest, in May.
After the competition, a proven emcee will take the stage: Elzhi, best known for his time in Slum Village, whose mainstream 2004 hit, "Selfish," featured appearances by Kanye West and John Legend. Elzhi's not part of the contest, though in a way, he's long been at the heart of Rhyme Calisthenics.
"He's a word-heavy lyricist, a lyric-lover's lyricist," says Brown. "And our theme song ['Guessing Game'] is actually an Elzhi song. It only made sense to bring him."
As Rhyme Calisthenics launches satellite events in New York City and elsewhere on the East Coast, Brown expects the Pittsburgh series will wind down from three contests per year to two. But he hopes to use the competitions in other cities to find talent for the main Rhyme Cal events at Shadow Lounge.
Rhyme Calisthenics 10 with Elzhi and Classic Material DJs 9 p.m. Sat., Dec. 18. Shadow Lounge, 5972 Baum Blvd., East Liberty. $10 ($12 at the door). 412-363-8277 or www.rhymecal.com