On the night of August 21 st, The Metro was host to the Chicago leg of the Red Bull Big Tune, a nationwide competition designed to showcase the talent of up-and-coming hip-hop producers. Out of the innumerable producers who sent their beats in for consideration, only twelve were selected to display their skills to the crowd. By night's end, only two would move on to the nationals held in New York City.
Rob Bates, one of the twelve hopefuls competing that night was added to the roster at the last minute after another producer dropped out. Bates was standing in line with his friends when Jonathan Moore, host of the competition, asked if he had any beats on him. As luck would have it, Bates did. Impressed with what he heard, Moore added him to the list of competitors, much to the surprise of Bates and his friends.
Rising producer Jake One manned the main set of turntables on stage, pumping out textured rhythms and beats that the crowd grooved to as they waited for the competition to begin. Once the theater was filled from floor to balcony, the competition got under way.
The rules were simple -- two producers would trade musical blows, leaving the crowd to choose the winner.
In the first round, C-Sick's ground-shattering loops went up against the tag-team antics of The Flyboyz. Their antics, however, which included flinging money (fake, probably) into a roaring crowd, weren't enough to move on to the next round.
The other highlight of the first round was the battle between Tall Black Guy, who won the competition last year, and last-minute addition, Rob Bates. Tall Black Guy rained a hailstorm of stormy beats and groovy basslines over the crowd. In an attempt to psyche out the competition, he even playfully flashed his belly at Bates. Choosing a mellower approach, Bates fired back with jazz-influenced arrangements that relied more on high-flying horns than crushing drumbeats.
Still, the crowd remained undecided, forcing a sudden death rematch. In the end, the crowd picked Bates to move to the next round.
In an unexpected twist, featured performers, The Black Spades turned out to be the low point in the evening. The crowd was relatively tame during their performance. The lackluster response probably stemmed from the fact that The Spades were emcees at a competition dedicated to and created for hip-hop producers. At one point, they asked the crowd, "Hey, Chicago! You feelin' us?" The crowd's answer wasn't reassuring.
Things came full circle when DJ Premier, the other featured performer of the evening, took the stage before the start of the final round. Dubbed the architect of hardcore East Coast hip-hop by Rolling Stone, Premier lived up to his moniker, giving a performance that brought the crowd to a frenzied boil. With each passing beat, they fell further under his spell. "Chi-town, you with me?" Premier asked throughout his set. Each time, the crowd screamed and shouted their approval, and each time, their screams and shouts got louder.
Out of the twelve producers who entered the competition, only C-Sick and Rob Bates made it through to the final round, where they battled for the coveted finalist spot. The rhythms and beats ran the gamut from soft and soulful to hard and heinous. And in the middle of it all, C-Sick and Bates playfully jibed each other, doing whatever they could to sway the crowd to their side.
When all was said and done, C-Sick emerged as the finalist. But it wasn't a total loss for Bates, who was the runner-up (not bad for a guy who entered the competition at the very last minute). Both producers will head to the nationals in December for a chance to win it big. And I mean big. The winner of the national competition receives custom studio equipment and the chance to work with an artist of their choice.