What began seven years ago as a regular gathering of some of New York's best underground MCs at various locations around the city has grown into a traveling carnival of rappers looking to take their lyrical style on tour around the country.
Hip-hop veterans and newcomers to the rap scene are teaming up for the rotating lineup of the highly anticipated Lyricist Lounge tour, which kicks off Wednesday at the Tunnel in New York City.
Such brand-name rappers as Big Punisher, De La Soul, the Roots, KRS-One and Slick Rick will be headlining this series of shows, which will also feature rising artists Black Star, Common, Queen Pen, Fat Joe and Buck Shot. Created in 1991 by New York hip-hop promoters Anthony Marshall and Danny Castro, the Lyricist Lounge is a regular open-mic gathering of underground MCs that is hosted by well-known rappers at various venues throughout New York City.
"The Lyricist Lounge is where real hip-hop lives," Flipmode Squad member Rampage, 25, who declined to give his real name, explained last week from a Los Angeles tour stop of the Smokin' Grooves summer festival. According to Rampage, all six members of the Flipmode Squad (Busta Rhymes, Rampage, Lord Have Mercy, Spliff Starr, Rah Digga and Baby Sham) have performed at the showcase, with Rah Digga even taking to the mic while pregnant.
The showcase has developed a reputation as a place to go to hear non-commercial hip-hop and to catch rappers who are on the verge of breaking through. While the event's hosts include such big-name acts as Q-Tip, the Goodie Mob, the Jungle Brothers, the Roots, Sean "Puffy" Combs, Guru and KRS-One, the Lounge has introduced Foxy Brown, the Notorious B.I.G., Big Punisher and others before they scored their first hit recordings.
The 12-date Lounge tour will begin in New York with old-school rappers Slick Rick, bohemian rappers the Roots and underground phenoms Black Star on the bill. It will play Chicago and Detroit with Big Punisher and Common at the helm before traveling with De La Soul to such West Coast cities as Los Angeles and San Francisco. Then, the tour heads back east to Miami, Boston and Philadelphia.
In addition to the established acts, the Lyricist Lounge tour will keep with tradition and feature sets by unsigned artists, who have yet to be confirmed.
"We're all lyricists in this group," Rampage explained. "And when you want to hear lyrics, the Lyricist Lounge is where you go."
In May, New York indie label Rawkus Records released Lyricist Lounge -- Vol. 1, a two-CD set that re-created the scene at a Lyricist Lounge show by inviting De La Soul and Kool Keith to put some MC-style stage patter between tracks such as Cipher Complete's "Bring Hip-Hop Back" (RealAudio excerpt), "Jayou" by Jurassic 5 and "C.I.A." (RealAudio excerpt) by KRS-One, Rage Against The Machine frontman Zack de la Rocha and The Last Emperor.
To celebrate the release of the CD, Marshall and Castro led an abbreviated version of the tour through stops on both coasts with lineups that featured headlining stints by Black Star and Bahamadia.
At that tour's San Francisco stop, luminaries from the Bay Area hip-hop community were in attendance. Members of Souls of Mischief took in the show, while breakdancers did their thing to pre-show cuts spun by former Invisibl Skratch Pikilz member DJ Apollo.
"For rappers who aren't commercial, venues like the Lyricist Lounge are essential," Souls of Mischief member A-Plus said as Flipmode Squad member Rah Digga took to the stage at the recent San Francisco show. "It's hard enough for rappers to get gigs without a following, so a high-profile [show] like this, representing hip-hop that isn't on the radio all day, is very important."
Lyricist Lounge Tour Dates:
Aug. 19; New York, N.Y., Tunnel (Slick Rick, the Roots, Black Star)
Aug. 26; Chicago, Ill., House of Blues (Big Punisher, Common)
Aug. 27; Detroit, Mich., State Theater (Big Punisher, Common, Queen Pen)
Aug. 28; Cleveland, Ohio, Agora (Fat Joe, Big Punisher)
Sept. 12; Atlanta, Ga., The Roxy (KRS-One, the Roots)
Sept. 15; Phoenix, Ariz., Phoenix (De La Soul, Black Eyed Peas)
Sept. 16; San Francisco, Calif., Maritime Hall (De La Soul, Black Eyed Peas)
Sept. 17; Los Angeles, Calif., House of Blues (De La Soul, Slick Rick)
Sept. 20; Washington, D.C., 9:30 Club (KRS-One, Buck Shot)
Sept. 24; Miami, Fla., Liquid (De La Soul, Black Star)
Sept. 25; Boston, Mass., Avalon (De La Soul, Black Star)
Sept. 26; Philadelphia, Pa., Electric Factory (De La Soul, KRS-One)