The Rhyme Calisthenics Interview
“Here we go, go, let’s play the game, game.”
It’s time to rhyme! For the past three years our favorite game show has been missing from the Burgh after expanding into other markets. Fortunately for us, Rhyme Calisthenics is back in town with the second installment of Pittsburgh’s Premier Hip Hop MC Competition. The next throw down will be Saturday, Feb 22 at The New Bohemian at 9pm. The event is all ages and costs $10 to attend.
For those of you who missed out on the first installment, Rhyme Cal takes rap battles to a whole new level. In addition to owning an opponent on the battlefield, Rhyme Cal throws in unique challenges to truly test an emcee’s technique via “The Wheel of Skillz”. The wheel features twelve different kinds of rap challenges that test the competitors’ real life rap skills, from freestyling to writtens, and concept to delivery. For years it was the place for up and coming emcees in the 412 to build their repertoire, including that famous guy on MTV now (Mac, we’re lookin at you!). In fact one could argue, the training grounds at Rhyme Cal is what gave Mac Miller that extra edge he needed to make it where he is today.
We had a chance to speak with Rhyme Cal creators, James Brown and Thelonious Stretch about the history of the event and what’s new.
Stretch and I co-founded Rhyme Calisthenics in 2007. It started with two conversations we had, one at my old crib and the other at ID Labs about the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene needing some type of event that pushed MCs beyond the cliches and stereotypical subject matter and gave them an incentive to be more creative, more improvisational and more outside the box with their lyricism. We developed the infamous “Wheel of Skillz” which has 12 different challenges relevant to being an MC and started doing shows at the Shadow Lounge. With some support from Sprout and Nakturnal, we were able to build a strong event series that attracted MC’s from as far as Philly, Cleveland and even New York. Rhyme Cal events became one of the rare places where you could find all the Pittsburgh rap veterans and up-and-comers, DJs, and fans all in the same space, all excited and energized. The whole point was to recreate that energy of golden era hip-hop and we felt like we succeeded in bringing folks together and lighting a creative spark in the scene through our competitions.- James Brown
Brown goes on to explain why Rhyme Cal left the Steel City, and why they came back:
Around 2010 we expanded the event team and began doing Rhyme Cal events across the Northeast. Between 2010 and 2013, we held Rhyme Cal events in New York, New Jersey, Washington D.C., Philly and Toronto. We had established rappers like Saigon and C.Rayz Walz as judges, and were one of the featured showcases for the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival as one of the main stage openers for Busta Rhymes.
There are a lot of reasons why we brought it back to the Burgh. But the two main reasons are that Stretch, our host, moved back to Pittsburgh after living in New York for a few years. Secondly, we created Rhyme Calisthenics specifically for Pittsburgh. We felt like the Burgh didn’t have many platforms for MCs to exercise and hone their skills and we were able to build more of a movement here because the Pittsburgh hip-hop scene was just coming into its own and developing its own reputation. Bigger cities like NY have dozens of open mics and MC challenges (none as dope as Rhyme Cal of course), so Rhyme Cal wasn’t a necessity to those scenes. Ultimately we’re happy to bring our focus back to the Burgh where it all started. Over the years, nearly 100 Pittsburgh rappers have competed in Rhyme Cal, including Mac Miller, so we’re excited to revive the event and help kick start the careers of the next 100 Pittsburgh rappers.
Stretch explained to us what makes the new Rhyme Cal different:
We are now in the middle of our team series, which is a 4 vs 4 MC competition spinning the wheel, so there is a new final round that takes the whole team to execute (4×4). We also have a new network party call the BoomBap Effect, which is a producer showcase/open mic to bring MCs and producers together in a venue to work and build, that starts in March. And we’re also bringing the classic 16-man competition back for a Rhyme Cal Summer Jam. Now that we’re working with the youth, we also have teen challenges, and an all-women Rhyme Cal to support breast cancer awareness is in the works. Rhyme Calisthenics has a busy year ahead so you’ll be hearing a lot more from us!
The Feb 22 RhymeCal will feature two teams of four, lead by Mista Scrap and Jon Quest, check their skills out below: