Northside Records wants to “put D.C. on the map,” says Mike Pratt, the company’s director of marketing and promotions. “There’s too much talent here to go unnoticed.” For the past 13 months, Pratt’s record label has co-sponsored “Northside Records Presents…Underground HipHop Showcase,” a showcase of signed and unsignedmostly localhiphop acts, held every second Saturday of the month at the State of the Union nightclub. For only $5, dedicated hiphop fans can see and hear what’s going on in D.C.’s underground hiphop scene.
Northside Records, based in Upper Marlboro, Md., is a 3-year-old company formed by Pratt and and his partners: Khari Gzifa, A’Dwin Lasana, Sheridan Pierre, Derrick Martin, and Zory Kenon. “We remember the African medallions, the days of ‘Let’s just go to the joint’ and the friendly competitions,” says Pratt. “It was about having fun.”
And that’s just what the showcase is attempting to resurrect. For example, there are strict rules for the MCs: no gratuitous cursing, no violence, no being disrespectful to women, and no mentioning selling drugs or other de rigueur thug activities. “Hiphop can manifest itself in a raw and a positive form,” Pratt saysa goal Northside attempts to realize through sponsoring various endeavors: the Showcase; the Metropolitan Underground Alliance, an association of independent labels and artists; and Headz, a free magazine it publishes to highlight the underground scene in the D.C. area.
From 9:30 to midnight on the night of the showcase, MCs perform on stage, b-boys dance, and DJs Markie B and NSR spin both classic and new hiphop records in a dimly lit, cramped room. Audience membersyoung men with dreadlocks and Timberland boots and young women in headwraps and shell-toe Adidas sneakersbob their heads to the beats with fervor.
Many of the artists appearing in the showcase are amateurs, and this event is one of the few ways for them to get exposure and feedback. Though no one has yet achieved commercial success from performing at the Underground Hiphop Showcase, Pratt thinks that’s just as well. “It’s all about growth,” he says. “People from all over are packing shows for artists they’ve never heard of. The momentum is continuing to build.” Maori Karmael Holmes