If only the Killers, those Vegas-born darlings of MTV, could rap.
Then maybe the local hip-hop scene would be viewed like its counterparts in Atlanta, Houston, Los Angeles and New York—vibrant, creative and productive. Instead, ours operates more like the Batcave—insular, dank and subterranean; all that's missing are the stalactites.
"People ain't even checking for Heat City," says James Allen, using the nickname he's given to the 702.
It's a sentiment professed ad infinitum on Heat City: From Undaground to Gangsta, a 50-minute DVD that covers the past, present and future of local hip-hop. Produced by Allen (rap name: Spoaty Mac), a recreation programmer for the City of North Las Vegas' Parks and Recreation Department, and Troy Sydnor, who quit his city job to produce full time, Heat City offers a candid look at Vegas hip-hop from the mouths of its purveyors.
It's likely the most comprehensive local hip-hop DVD ever. Armed with his sister's digital camera, Allen hit the streets, studios and even the Boardwalk Casino—where he snagged an interview with R&B singer Tony Terry—to talk to rappers, producers and record-label owners, most of whom he didn't know.
"I didn't even know if they'd let me interview them," Allen says.
No worries. Something about rappers, cameras and free publicity seem to go hand in hand.
Heat City's overarching theme—other than proving that, yes, Vegas hip-hop is vibrant and creative, though its productivity leaves a bit to be desired—seems to be discontent. Present are the usual laments about Vegas' music scene in general: disunity, lack of radio airplay, the crabs-in-the-barrel syndrome—everyone wants to be the first to blow. As one female artist says, people here "think they're already stars."
Beefs further demarcate the scene, be they gang or neighborhood affiliations, clashing styles or personal feuds. If you don't like someone else's style, says Shaggiemac of 2 Sense, you're hatin'—even if that person's music actually sucks. Veteran entertainer "Sweet" Lou Collins suggests that Vegas create its own sound, just as California has G-Funk, Atlanta has crunk, Louisiana has bounce and Texas has screw music.
Heat City succeeds in not merely paying lip service to Vegas hip-hop's diversity, but showcasing it. There's the wordsmithy Isaac Sawyer opining on the state of the game in one segment and in another, Greazemac, shouting out the intersection of Martin Luther King Boulevard and Washington Avenue—if you don't know about the intersection, he says, you don't know Vegas. There are Hispanic MCs, female rappers and groups. One rapper professes allegiance to the Donna Street Crips. Another is so committed to Vegas that he'll die for the city. And yet another who says that gangsta rappers who've already earned their "stripes" in the streets need to put in work in the studio—translation: Step ya' game up.
Local hip-hop historians should recognize folks like Fugg Nasty—who's worked with legendary East Coast artists such as De La Soul and Ed O.G. and the Bulldogs—longtime Vegas DJ King J (who had a marginal hit in the early '90s with "Lick Me") and pioneers like Doomsday Productions, whose previous incarnation as the Raiders of Doom in 1985 blazed a narrow trail for local rap.
While the Chapter, Vegas' most notable hip-hop export—the first local act to score worldwide distribution for an album, this year's Us. vs. Them—is absent, Qadeer (Rodney Stone), an up-and-comer who's been written about in The Source magazine, makes an appearance. Wrapping up Heat City is a spoken-word poem—Allen wanted to throw a curve—and 10 minutes of spitfire freestyles, in case major-label talent scouts are watching.
All in all, it's a solid first effort, and Allen and Sydnor plan a follow-up in the near future.
"The DVD was meant to put a face to music in Vegas," says Allen, who's rapped since the age of 12, modeling himself after Run D.M.C. He loved Run's (Joseph Simmons) rhymes and D.M.C.'s (Darryl McDaniel) voice. "It was really to help people get to know us."
Sydnor says the idea of chronicling local hip-hop came out of one of his and Allen's frequent brainstorming sessions. The duo met at a co-worker's Christmas party in 2001, and again two years later while playing in a recreational basketball league. Ever since Sydnor gave Allen a few beats for his solo project, this year's Spoaty Life, they've been inseparable. Being a hip-hop veteran—first B-boying, then graffiti, DJing, and after he got a Casio keyboard, producing—Sydnor decided a documentary format was the best way to tell the Vegas hip-hop story.
"We needed footage. No one knows me, but Spoaty is a local celebrity," Sydnor says of Allen, who was raised in North Las Vegas and formed the rap group 2 Sense in ninth grade, a group who also scored Heat City. "We're very proud of this effort."
Heat City: From Undaground to Gangsta is available for $10 on