By Michael “Foul Mouth Jerk” Capra
When I first arrived in Asheville in 1996, the clubs and music venues downtown categorically refused to book hip-hop shows. If you wanted to rap in public, you had to do it in a park or on a street corner, over a beat box, or the occasional hippie with a hand drum. It was in one of these Lexington Avenue street cyphers that I met my future GFE bandmates and the Brooklyn-bred Patrick “MC Huggs” Huggins. In his signature eyeglasses, bucket hat and NBA jersey, he explained to me that he had arrived in town the previous year, and that with his band Groove Crust he’d been working on breaking through this citywide rap ban.
True to his word and his work ethic, within the year he had done just that. By 1997, Groove Crust was playing clubs like 31 Patton, Metropolis, Gatsby’s and Be Here Now. He had opened the door. At this time, we were both working in kitchens downtown — he as a grill man and me as a dish dog. It was not uncommon to see him after work, before a gig, passing out handbills on Biltmore Avenue or Broadway and talking up his show to locals and tourists alike.
Understanding that, like many other local MCs, I was still trying to pick the locks on this nightclub ban, he never hesitated to invite me to come spit a verse and rock the stage with him. Even when I showed up to his gig, fresh from the dish tank, covered in grease stains and smelling like french fries, he would not hesitate to put a broke boy on the guest list and offer me a beer on the band’s tab before graciously sharing his stage time with me. And I know I’m not the only one he did that for.
That’s the kind of dude Huggs was. If he had the plug, you had the plug. Even when he reached that pinnacle of 1990s Asheville stardom — playing a set at the Vance Monument during Bele Chere — he invited guest rappers who couldn’t get stage time of their own to join him. He wasn’t just an artist, but a fan and supporter of the culture and individuals. If there was a basement party in the gutter punk filth of the Pink House, he was there with a pair of Heineken 22s in his backpack. An after-hours rave at Hairspray? He was already playing the wall by the time you got there. DJ doesn’t have a mic for us to rock on? Don’t worry, we’re spitting through the sweaty-ass headphones. Huggs was locked and loaded.
When the west side was still known as Worst Asheville and many people were scared to come over to this side of the French Broad River, MC Huggs had an apartment on Haywood Road, just past Michigan Avenue. He would host floor-wide DJ parties where every apartment was wide open, music blasting, with folks dancing and smoking in and out of the hallways. The policy, as always with MC Huggs, was open-door.
Over the years, after he stopped gigging regularly, Huggs still had his ear to the scene. He kept coming to shows and supporting, whether you were new and up-and-coming, or a veteran with tour miles under your belt and stripes on your sleeve. In fact, other than our unfortunate, impromptu weekly Ingles meetings to mourn our beloved New York Giants, one of the last times I saw the brother was just before the quarantine, in March at The Mothlight for Spaceman Jones’ Urban Combat Wrestling event. He was a fan.
In ’97, when MC Huggs and Groove Crust played Bele Chere, Mountain Xpress described them as “Run-DMC meets Led Zeppelin.” I think in the pantheon of what is now our small but thriving hip-hop scene here in the mountains, that’s an apt description. He was foundational — the first brick that many of us built on. If you are an artist in this scene or even a fan, I will tell you like I told everyone when he was still with us: MC Huggs did it first.
You opened the doors, homie. Rest in Peace, Rest in Power. You will be missed, but you will not be forgotten.
Patrick “MC Huggs” Huggins unexpectedly passed away on June 21. He was 56 years old.