“‘Danielle? Danielle—your mom is outside.’ Y'all remember that!” And with that bit of nostalgia, the MC kicked off the competition.
Looking for the perfect beat and the next hip-hop producer with skills to wow the crowd, the Red Bull’s Big Tune competition rolled into town this week. The brainchild of Jonathan Moore and Vitamin D in Seattle in 2004, the battle made its final stop in Las Vegas, where 12 producers from the southwest went region head to head, beat to beat at Moon Nightclub Thursday night.
Building a stage over the VIP booths opposite windows overlooking the lights of the Strip high atop the Palms, it was Red Bull-a-palooza, and the dance floor was packed with hip-hop fans staking a spot in front of the stage.
For round one of the competition, two producers each stepped behind a pair of CDJs and a mixer, most looking at the setup much like the aliens in Earth Girls are Easy looked at… well… everything. These were mostly producers—not DJs—who were probably used to staring at a computer all day in their grandmother’s basement (as was the case of 17-year-old winner C-Sick from the 2008 competition).
But the 12 finalists (four of which were Vegas locals) were prepared to bring the beats. With the competition based 100 percent on crowd reaction, it was generally hit or miss with each producers’ selections. One minute an original beat would have the crowd pumped with hands in the air; the same producer’s next beat might have a lackluster response. But there’s no doubt it was entertaining, thanks largely to what happened next.
Sometime after the first battle, the competition went from tune schooling to a full-on dance-off. In an attempt to hype the crowd while their track was spinning, the amateur beatsmiths began emerging from behind the safety of the tables to show off some improvised moves.
There was the white dude who you’d guess would fit in better at a Phish concert with facial expressions and energy to rival a caffeinated Jim Carrey. A favorite move for others was playing an air keyboard or drums high over head along to their original synth lines and snare. And you couldn’t miss the guy who, at first, resembled Lil Wayne. Once his baseball cap came off, this dude was vogue-ing to his music so well he could have been a dancer on Madonna’s “Blond Ambition” tour.
One producer’s music could have dubbed him the “Hip-hop Deadmau5.” While the pale skinny kid who likely needed a fake ID just to get into the club won the crowd’s approval for a few rounds and undoubtedly had talent, he spent the time between playing his tracks texting or Twittering on his phone.
When the air keyboard, air drumming and very real texting had wrapped, the Red Bull Big Tune winner representing Las Vegas was local DJ Finyl, aka Franklyn Mendiola. Bringing his A game along with air-guitar skills and hockey-playing bear sweatshirt, we couldn’t help but wonder where this guy’s been hiding.
Caffeinated Mr. Carrey came in second (aka LA’s D1, pronounced De-uno), and both producers will go on to the Red Bull Big Tune National Championship in Atlanta on November 3 for the chance to collaborate with a recording artist of their choice at the Red Bull Studios in Santa Monica, Calif. May the best producer (cough, cough, go DJ Finyl!) win.