As many Hip Hop heads are aware, every third week in May has been declared “Hip Hop Appreciation Week” by The Temple of Hip Hop. It is a worldwide celebration of how far the culture has come and acts as a rally cry to where it is going next. In many respects, this sentiment is best exemplified within the spirit of the Twin Cities as some of the greatest and most renowned figures of Hip Hop centralize among Chicago’s chilly cousins for a week of festivities, celebrating the various mediums that unite fans together for the love of the rhythm that resonates within us all. Validated between Governor Mark Dayton’s Proclamation and Rhymesayers annual blockbuster festival, Soundset, this week continues to instill a sense of wonderment and hometown pride that has echoed throughout the world. Yet with all of these moments of frenzied partying and excitement, it is best to reflect on those who nurtured the open minds with the principles that set the foundation for this scene to blossom. One of those tireless pioneers is the legendary DJ Stage One.
After moving from Dayton, Ohio to Minneapolis in his early teens, Stage One witnessed firsthand the innocent beginnings of the Twin Cities Hip Hop scene. Like many Hiphoppas, he was first immersed within the art of graffiti bombing, but it wasn’t long before he was inspired by the movie Beat Street to put his musical might to the test with two turntables and an extensive vinyl collection. Soon he started cutting it up in local clubs and on the airwaves of KMOJ and KFAI as well as his part in one of the first and most respected Hip Hop groups in the Twin Cities, The I.R.M. (Immortal Rap Masters) Crew, who are credited as being the first group to release an album in 1985.
Now after three decades within the Twin Cities Hip Hop scene and a lengthy resume, Stage One is about to add author into the list as he prepares to release his first book, The Bridge is Over. With the help of Juxtaposition Arts and No Words Clothing, The Bridge is Over will detail his story while coming of age within the mid-1980s when Hip Hop slowly came to the Twin Cities.
“I touch on the graffiti scene a lot because that what I was into at the time. Names and crews, certain accomplishments and what the environment was like when it came to bombing. It was just a different look compared to the more intense graffiti art today within the Twin Cities with all the cameras around. It was a little more innocent then with the whole something from nothing mentality. Creating from nothing as far as being derived from influences of a book or a movie. So you’re building, you’re creating, you’re trying to be the best you can be based upon your own merit. And that was everybody from the IRM crew to the latest graffiti crew to the illest beatboxer around. That time was a really innovative time and learning from scratch. That’s what the book represents. The fact that there were a lot of people, a lot of kids doing it for free. Like today there’s a lot of access to performances, but a lot of the promoters of Hip Hop in this city were around then like Ralph X and Ray Seville. They could bring an artist up here and know that they’re not going to make any money, just for the love of Hip Hop. That’s what it was really all about then. It was all done for fun. It wasn’t for any material gain at the time, it was a hood thing.”
For some, it isn’t hard to remember the setting of his book. For younger generations, the world without Hip Hop seems unfeasible. But this is what Stage One is out to prove, to transport the reader back to the 1980s and 1990s where the Twin Cities needed to establish and shape their own principles of a world that they had only heard of through word of mouth. Through his tales of late night tagging and cutting it up on the ones and twos, Stage One is out to give voice to unsung heroes that helped to build this empire from the abyss.
“I’m not telling the story for everybody because there was a lot of stuff that was going down that I wasn’t around to know,” said Stage One, “but this is just mine. It just happens to be unique because I got to meet a lot of cool and talented people that went on to make a mark on the person I am today.”
Along with the need to further commemorate the release of his first book, Stage One will also be premiering the new documentary, A Great Day in Twin Cities Hip Hop: Reflection of the Culture, Standing on Untold Legacies on Saturday, May 23rd from 3-6pm at the Honey Nightclub. Based upon the powerful photo portrait, A Great Day in Harlem, where some of the greatest performers in jazz came together in 1958 to commemorate the era they created; many of the most revered figures in the Twin Cities Hip Hop community came together to recreate this iconic photo and basked in the empire that they all helped erect. Now five years after the photos have been framed, Before the Mayflower Landed Productions is finally ready to unveil the stories of the day and to offer a critical analysis of the issues in the Black community amidst the gentrification of the Hip Hop culture.
“That was my way to bring people together and celebrate the vastness of Hip Hop in our region for people to see. From a 50 year old person all the way down to the 16 year old, to see the vastness of how big this has become. It’s time to have this sense of pride within the culture where we celebrate ourselves. We can get caught up celebrating other people’s artists, but we have artists alive and dead that have helped lay the foundation for Minnesota Hip Hop is a money making situation. We came from a time where we did our art for the love and now it’s grown into a social situation where we are helping other forms of information and education. Charities are building off of Hip Hop. Youth Groups are building off of Hip Hop. We took our Ls and were turned away from performing at these clubs when Hip Hop was deemed rude. We fought all these years to be respected and to be recognized as a peaceful culture that wants to perform and do stuff. This is my way of saying thank you to all these generations to help keeping this culture alive and keeping it on the principles of what this is really all about. Building our communities, breaking barriers and stereotypes and just being positive.”
And if all of this wasn’t enough, Stage One will also be grabbing the tables and setting off the main stage at Soundset this Sunday, May 24 at 11 am. As a strong supporter of the Headshots crew from its inception, Rhymesayers and Stage One have always been mutual fans as Stage One has rocked the spot for many fan favorites such as I Self Devine and Spawn. Although he has been cutting it up flawlessly for decades, he will be the first to admit that there are still somethings that make it all feel like the first time.
“I remember the first Soundset that I did (back in 2009). I opened up the show and when they opened the gate and the kids ran in like it was Disneyland. And it was the coolest thing. To be a part of something that happy and to see that happiness in them that I saw in myself as a kid and it felt good to be a part of that.”
As his legacy continues to grow by the minute, Stage One is looking forward to what future generations of artists and entrepreneurs have in store for our little Midwestern scene. Returning to the values set forth by The Universal Zulu Nation, his goal continues to help nurture the culture that was created in North Minneapolis and pass the torch to those deserving of its glow. This by no means that his skills on the decks are getting rusty, but as a devoted father, it seems that he is ready to foster the culture to all corners of the state and beyond. Between juggling Soundset, releasing a book and hosting a documentary all in a matter of two days; it takes a true DJ to manage all of this at once and as a scene, it’s time to show our appreciation.
The Book, The Bridge Is Over, will be available at Fifth Element in a few weeks and A Great Day In Twin Cities Hip Hop: Reflection of the Culture, Standing on Untold Legacies will be premiering on Saturday at Honey Nightclub at 3pm. Be sure to stay up to date with Stage One on his Facebook, Twitter and Soundcloud pages here & don’t miss his opening set at Soundset Festival at Canterbury Park at 11 am.