Beneath the cold fluorescent lights of E Street NW downtown on Saturday night, Andres “Scrambles” Castillo flips, twists, and, well, scrambles for his few minutes of fame. His breakdancing crew, the Lionz of Zion, have squared off, two against two, on the sidewalk, surrounded by a film crew from BET’s Rap City. Each of the Lionz politely takes his turn in the center, but hand spins and head spins are nearly impossible on the concretewithout the typical linoleum or cardboard. Moving to the bass thumping from a nearby truck, Scrambles and his colleagues Ghost, Caz, and Saibot smile into the lens but seem oddly out of their element.
Just outside of the spotlight, the Lionz’ fellow crew, the Natural Elements, look on with disdain. Eventually, the Lionz exhaust their limited repertoire, and the dancing ceases.
A member of the film crew calls out, “Anybody else?” The Natural Elements firmly decline.
The crews have gathered for Divine Design, an “audio/visual cultural exhibit” hosted by the Noyo Design Store at 625 E St. NW. The event is, more precisely, a tribute to all things hiphop. Hours earlier, a huge sheet of linoleum was laid out on the ground floor inside the store for the breakers. Several DJs spun old-school hiphop and breakbeats as the Lionz and the Elements competed furiously but festively in a circle.
The circle is known to b-boys as a “cipher,” wherein they control the competition; only true fans can enter. The BET crew, however, has broken this cipher by asking the crews to battle each other outside, on the sidewalk.
The two crews are more associates than rivals, but they are markedly different in their bearing. The Lionz, with their matching jerseys and antic charm, are true showmen. They leap at the chance to be on national television. Scrambles sees the shoot as a “good opportunity for exposure,” despite the adverse conditions. “What we do is adapt to our environment,” he asserts. “That’s probably why we’re the best on the East Coast.”
The Natural Elements are more like hiphop gypsies; they don’t dress or dance alike. However, the Elements unite on one issue: They refuse to play along with BET’s stagey tactics. Element Brent “Vortex” Talley is upset that the network would fabricate “a commercialized environment” because it is “taking the focus off of the actual event,” he huffs. “We’re not going to do these things on the spur of the moment and just jump when they say jump.”Neil Drumming