“When I put together a show, I think of it like a meal,” says Joseph Lepanto of Avlpromo. “You want to have a little bit of everything: a main course and sides that go really well with it.”
In the past year, Lepanto (also known as Diggypop Malone, or simply Diggy) has organized roughly 30 hip-hop shows in Asheville using this foodie formula and doing his best to keep mostly local acts on the bill. Now, along with Ravis McMorris (aka DJ Ra Mak), Diggy has booked his biggest show yet. Hype Night will happen Saturday, March 29, at the Boiler Room.
A succession of high-energy acts will take the stage. Diggy and Ra Mak have lassoed Asheville rappers Philo (of Fist Fam), Doug Dew, Rose Royce Rique and Mr. Saynomo. Ra Mak will be the evening’s lone DJ, spinning records for each emcee.
“That’s what happens at a showcase show,” says Ra Mak. “I’ve worked with all of them before. If you’ve done live hip-hop in the city, you’ve worked with them, and I’m kind of like the go-to guy.” That may sound like an elitist boast, but Ra Mak can back it up. He’s been addicted to music since he bought his first record at age 8 — a 45 of Musical Youth’s “Pass the Dutchie,” purchased at the former Family Records in the Asheville Mall. His DJ career began around ’96 in downtown nightclubs; soon after, he played his first hip-hop show at the now defunct Club 828.
The local hip-hop scene was very underground, Ra Mak remembers. “A lot of the music that was out back then was more house and trance and stuff like that. For me, it was tough getting out. I spun strictly hip-hop but kind of progressed into house,” he says. “Back then, you really had to focus on your lyrics, and some of the stuff that’s coming out now is lacking that, in my opinion.”
Around 2008, in an effort to combat that diminished quality, Ra Mak started hosting hip-hop open mic nights at Club 828. Many of the artists now prominent on the local circuit — Shiloh Corner Boyz and Flight Club as well as Hype Night artists Rose Royce Rique and Doug Dew, who were then part of a group called Team Olympic — got their start with Ra Mak during that time. And he still keeps old material from those artists: “They call me The Archive,” he says.
As a solo artist, Ra Mak has DJ’ed for Cappadonna of Wu-Tang Clan and supported Ghostface Killah and Ras Kaas. He’s also the DJ for Asheville duo Free Radio and with them has opened for Hieroglyphics subgroup Souls of Mischief, Nappy Roots and the revered Bay Area rapper Gift of Gab. In April, he and Free Radio will embark on a monthlong tour of the Southeast with Cee Knowledge of Digable Planets — they’ll stop at The Grey Eagle on April 24.
To Ra Mak, those personal milestones are signs that hip-hop has gradually become more accepted locally over the last two decades. Still, he and Diggy feel there’s room for growth. Stereotypes of the music make some venues nervous, says Diggy. “They reject the culture of hip-hop in general. They see it happen on TV and in the news — artists getting arrested — and think that negative energy is going into our local music.”
That mindset has made it harder to book shows in Western North Carolina, with exceptions such as the Boiler Room, One Stop and Timo’s House. But Diggy says most local venues are misinformed: Asheville’s hip-hop artists don’t cause trouble, and their material is often uplifting. “Hip-hop culture is based on saying what you believe in,” he says — and some people fear those who are trying to effect social change.
But if the early buzz for Hype Night is any indication, those fears may be subsiding. Substantial interest on the event’s Facebook page prompted the venue to raise the age requirement from 18+ to 21+ and add a $1 surcharge to the $7 ticket price to cover the extra staff needed. If capacity is reached, says Boiler Room owner Jeff Davis, the approach will be strictly one in and one out, a prospect that has organizers excited.
“The amount of people saying they’re going to come to this event — if we have half of those and half of the maybes, we’re 75 to 100 people over capacity already,” says Ra Mak. “It’s going to be big.”
what: Hype Night with Philo, Doug Dew, Rose Royce Rique, Mr. Saynomo and DJ Ra Mak
where: Boiler Room, boilerroomasheville.com
when: Saturday, March 29, at 9 p.m., $8