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Night in the Life

Left to right: Ponzo "CakeBoss" Houdini, J-Heat, Paul Cameron, Nova Red, Balistic Man.

Buffalo hip hop finds a home

Buffalo’s rap scene needs a home. At least that is what promoter and hip hop enthusiast Paul Cameron of City Life Entertainment says about the talented yet unorganized Buffalo hip hop scene.

Cameron and a diverse group of local rappers are trying to give it a home, specifically the Ujima Theater in the heart of the Elmwood Village, where City Life has begun holding their monthly hip hop showcase, Night in the Life. “This is a place where independent artists in Buffalo can perform,” says Cameron. The showcase, which he has been running since 2012, originally called Buffalo East on Main Street home but moved to Ujima after Buffalo East was shut down earlier this year.

After a successful first show at Ujima in February, Cameron and his group of a dozen or so local artists are more than ready for the next one this Friday, April 25. The goal of this showcase is lofty yet simple: to give hip hop a home in Buffalo and unite rappers from every corner of the city and suburbs. “There is a lot of segregation. People need to open up,” says Nova Red, a music producer who works with rapper J-Heat as Code Red. The two will also be on the showcase this Friday. “When you’re growing up and you’re in a set neighborhood, you have the mindset that you’re not going to this neighborhood or that. We have to break that barrier.”

Relocating to the Elmwood Village could help break barriers. For many of these rappers who hail from the East Side, North Buffalo, Lackawanna, and beyond, the Elmwood Village is essentially a neutral area. “We’re trying to reach out to all 716 artists, not just the East Side or the West Side, south or north. We’re trying to get all of 716 together,” Cameron says.

To this group, losing their home base at Buffalo East has been a blessing in disguise. It’s an opportunity to start fresh with a new outlook that focuses on performances and entertainment, rather than a party atmosphere, which Buffalo East was known for. “The difference is Buffalo East was a bar, nightclubby scene so it lent itself to a party atmosphere. This also means that people aren’t always paying attention to the artists,” says Cameron.

Ujima is a different beast: The shows are seated and the focus is on the stage and the performers. Though it might seem counterintuitive to seat audience members at a hip hop show, it’s looked at as a positive characteristic to this group.

J-Heat and Nova are intrigued by the change of pace. “It’s more challenging for the artist performing. You have to rock the stage from left to right. At the same time it gives you a better opportunity to connect with the people you’re performing in front of,” Nova says. Cameron says people shouldn’t be afraid to show some energy, though. “If you want to get up, you can get up and dance and do whatever else you want to do, but you have a moment where you can actually sit and watch and have someone entertain you. I think that gives the artist a chance to become entertainers and not just some dude on stage with a mic.”

There aren’t a whole lot of opportunities for Buffalo hip hop musicians to demonstrate their skills. This is partially due to the stigma of violence associated with hip hop shows; there aren’t many venues clamoring to book hip hop, regardless of the artists involved, says Cameron, who handpicked the artists on this showcase because of their talent, but also because of his trust in them.

Many of these rappers rely on the open mic scene, where artists show up, sign up, and wait their turn to play. This can be frustrating; set times aren’t always known ahead of time, which makes it hard to coordinate a fan base.

New opportunities, like Night in the Life, and Cretaceous Sunday Cypher, a semi-monthly rap cypher, recently hosted at the Hertel Lounge, are helping to open doors. Along with Cretaceous Clothing, beat producer Jamie “Jacebeats” Catania helps run the Sunday Cypher. He’s one of a few leaders, like Cameron, who are trying to take Buffalo’s scene to the next level. Khari Waits, who is not only becoming a staple in the local hip hop scene, but also the hardcore punk scene as well is positive about the direction Night in the Life is taking, especially as an all ages event. “The downside of the hip hop scene right now is that most of the venues aren’t all ages. Younger kids who want to experience live hip hop are cut out from it,” he says. “Having a space where people can do what they do, and do it well, that’s the most important thing to me.”

The diversity of the artists involved with this showcase is impressive. Balistic Man hails from South Buffalo, showing off polished tracks like “Rewind It”; Ponzo Houdini represents his Cake Boss brand and Buffalo’s inner city with his street-rap style; there is also rap trio All High; singer Breanna Favors, rappers Top Da Chop, Timmy (TLG), and K-Rob, and finally Lackawanna R&B-tinged rapper Ahmed Albanna. Says Cameron: “We’re trying to get together, trying to make enough noise and make something happen for Buffalo. Not so much the individual, but for everyone in the 716.”

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