The name says it all: CMJ Music Marathon. Disregarding a few mid-morning hours, College Music Journal's annual New York festival is non-stop from Tuesday to Saturday. By day, there are panels with professors and industry insiders overlap. At night, the music takes over venues across Manhattan and Brooklyn.
I made my way to the festival on Thursday, looking forward to networking with the upstart independent-media workers I rightfully predicted would be in attendance. But what I was most excited about was a showcase for an event that has been my biggest draw since getting involved with the Pittsburgh music scene several years ago -- Rhyme Calisthenics: The Official MC Competition. The hip-hop game show, with its Wheel of Skills, challenges MCs to improvise written and freestyle performances in several rounds of the contest. It began at the Shadow Lounge and spread to other cities.
Past events have included up to 16 participating MCs. With time constraints, the CMJ Showcase featured two: Pittsburgh's Real Deal and New York's Jus Daze. With the score nearly tied going into the final round, the pressure and crowd anticipation heated up. Following a solid performance from Jus Daze, it was Real Deal's turn to choose a category. He chose "Mirror Match," a challenge that requires you to battle your reflection in a mirror. Each of the three judges held signs with the number 10, Real Deal received a perfect score of 30.
First-time judge Amy Andrieux, CEO of TheStarkLife.com and former executive editor for The Source magazine, explains, "I had to give Real Deal a 10 in the final round because he effortlessly made a caricature of himself in the Mirror Match challenge. It was flawless."
Andrieux acknowledges the impact that Rhyme Cal can have on the present and future of hip hop.
"We're living in the days when artist development is pretty much nonexistent for most artists," she says. "I think Rhyme Cal offers a unique opportunity for those on the come-up to sharpen their skills before hitting the marketplace."
Rhyme Cal will be presenting a series of five monthly events in New York City beginning in November.
"It only takes one viewing of Rhyme Cal to turn you into a fan," explains Rhyme Cal host and Wilkinsburg native Thelonious Stretch. "It's reality TV at its finest."