Battle for the planet of the beats

by Keri Carlson

Outside the Loring Pasta Bar sits an over-30 crowd on their lunch breaks. Alongside, a few vintage-clad hipsters sip wine or suck on cigarettes to the ambient sounds of indie-darlings Sigur Ros or a breezy solo saxophone player. The Loring certainly stands apart from the rest of Dinkytown. Instead of the usual scrubby students in jeans and T-shirts, the Loring’s clientele has an air of sophistication that carries an attitude more fit for Uptown.

But on Monday nights the atmosphere changes dramatically. Monday is hip-hop night. And the older crowd and Italian designer footwear is replaced by 20-somethings and sneakers. The hip-hop nights have grown so popular that many times the Loring reaches capacity and a swarm of kids must listen from the sidewalk.

The popularity of hip-hop in the Twin Cities is nothing new. Atmosphere has been filling First Avenue for years now, and the group’s leader, Slug, makes regular cameos in “Spin” and other music magazines. What makes the Loring unique is that the hip-hop is not the usual emo-hop (the critics’ new term for rappers with a sensitive side) that dominates local hip-hop. Instead, the Loring features battles, head-to-head competitions that pit MCs against MCs.

Local rapper Eyedea helped put Minneapolis on the map in the world of hip-hop by winning major national MC battles, most famously HBO’s Blaze Battle. But until recently, battles were never a force in the scene. Sean McPherson, the bass player for the local hip-hop band Heiruspecs, noted an increased interest in battles since the release of the Eminem movie “8 Mile.” Other venues, including the Red Sea and the Lab have added their own battle nights.

To celebrate the success of the Loring’s hip-hop nights, Minneapolis will host its first major MC battle in the First Avenue Main Room. Both McPherson and Skye Rossi (who helped put the showdown together) expressed excitement about seeing how the best local battlers from the Loring events will compete when up against other MCs from around the country. The MCs will compete for a prize of $1,500. Rossi mentioned Zach Combs, who won this year’s Loring Pasta Bar competition, as one to keep a close eye on.

Adding to the magnitude of the event, Kevin Beacham from Scribble Jam will host; DJ Aaron Money, a frequent DJ at the Loring’s hip-hop nights, will spin; and Heiruspecs will play a set of live band hip-hop. Heiruspecs, who are well established in local music, will be the perfect choice for celebrating a new step for the Twin Cities hip-hop scene.