Thank you, Jay-Z and Puff Daddy, for confirming what we’ve long suspected: Hanging out in hip-hop clubs may be hazardous to our health. Which is why it’s nice to know that Lyricist Lounge has come to television.
A sort of traveling rap talent show, the Lounge is seen as the hippest house party around by the hip-hop cognoscenti. It started in 1991, in a rehearsal space on New York’s Lower East Side, as a forum for unsigned rappers to get on the mic and drop some rhymes. Today, it’s a place where fans in the know can check out rising stars and rub shoulders with the likes of Puffy and Busta Rhymes. “It’s a training camp for up-and-coming rappers that’s launched a lot of big careers,” says Eminem, who performed at a Lounge event in 1998, when his name evoked no more than colorfully coated candies. (Others who busted early moves there: Mos Def, Foxy Brown, and the Notorious B.I.G.)
Danny Castro, who started the Lounge with Anthony Marshall when both were New York City high school students, remembers that the first open-mic session drew “10 to 15 people.” These days, attendance is upward of 1,200, and the Lounge — which Castro calls “a hip-hop ecosystem” — has moved to tonier venues (like Manhattan’s Supper Club), enjoying ever-increasing clout. Now folded into a full-service entertainment and A&R company, MIC Media, the Lounge has also taken to the road, dropping down in Los Angeles, Atlanta, and Denver.
Next stop: your living room. On Feb. 8 at 10:30 p.m., MTV debuted The Lyricist Lounge Show, inspired by the road show but with a twist. The program is a half-hour comedy revue featuring sketches set to rap music. The idea was born during the recording of 1998’s Lyricist Lounge volume one CD, when rappers Words Worth and Masta Fuol began clowning in the studio, acting out a humorous scenario while improvising rhymes. Someone had the foresight to videotape the performance, which MIC partner Jacob Septimus likens to Monty Python in an urban mode (think The Miseducation of Benny Hill). “Our mouths dropped,” says Septimus, “and we said, this ought to go on TV.”