Last month, on March 2, as a result of my Alibi writing, I was asked to be one of three judges for Roc the Mic 13, a packed-house hip-hop contest put on by Dolla Bill, a local promoter whose shows are nothing short of complete fun. Like Roc the Mic 12—which I attended and loved in February—the show was comprised of almost 20 of the state’s top rappers and rap groups, with everyone competing for a huge trophy and a $300 prize.
Unlike Roc the Mic 12, however, I had a VIP pass around my neck and scorecards in my hands. People kept buying my girlfriend Mauro and I drinks, and random people kept trying to persuade us that the rappers who were their friends were great and the rappers who weren’t were beyond lame. What I’m saying is: This was awesome. I couldn’t help but remember the tragically uncool middle-school kid I once thought I would forever be—and I couldn’t help but feel that I’d finally arrived somewhere. Not financially, no. And probably not emotionally. But let’s not scrutinize this too closely. I got to judge a hip-hop contest. Just let me have this one thing. Please.
Some of these acts were just great, and there were none that I didn’t enjoy. The ones I think I rated highest were the always meticulous StackHouzeMusick—perhaps the only crew with carefully planned choreography to match their skillful rhymes and shouted harmonies—and an incredible group up from Las Cruces called L.O.E. Family, that seemed to take up the whole stage, intricately rapping over and around one another like a Robert Altman movie adapted into song. StackHouzeMusick took first, and L.O.E. Family took second—but other strong contenders included EnVee, who took third for her melodic, textured songs; Don P, who came up from the southern border and had the smoky presence of a classic Western movie desperado; and NEZ, two Las Cruces sisters who rapped and sang together.
One year ago, I didn’t even know there was a local hip-hop scene, so that's been fun to discover. Another corner of the Albuquerque music world I’ve only recently been made aware of is the folk-punk scene; it’s on my radar now though, and it seems vibrant. They’ve got their own bands, scenesters and a venue—The Wagon Wheel, a cool little house near UNM. On March 6, Mauro and I caught The Leaky Faces there, and then Sloe Fizz and the Wallbangers: There was washboard, acoustic guitars and banjo; teenagers in Minor Threat jackets dancing to shouted Woody Guthrie songs; and everyone moshing to “House of the Rising Sun.” I plan to wade into those waters again.
The rest of the month brought, among others, great shows by Lady Uranium (Mauro, bringing startling pop in a shimmer of keyboards), the jazzy rock-and-roll drive of Remina, Santa Fe’s let’s-just-say-perfect rock and rollers Venus Bogardus, the ’90s-reminiscent magic of These Charming Cobras and the amazingly skillful, strange theremin work of Anna Mall. At every show I felt as if I’d discovered something, and I’ve never felt as if I’ve found it all. I don’t think I possibly could.