Loose-limbed breakdancers float effortlessly just above the ground, the high-pitched squeak of their tennis shoes echoing off the project walls as beats from the back of an SUV rattle the car windows and chest cavities of the onlookers. Elsewhere, the rhythmic pounding of pebble-grained synthetic leather on asphalt punctuates the verbal and aerial assaults on a fenced-in hoops court. In another scene, row upon row of tricked-out rides–sporting everything from custom wheels to Sony PlayStations and DVD players–boom bass, as bystanders look on with envy. Sound like the latest Nike ad? How about a new urban music show on MTV or BET? In fact, it’s one of the slickest new music programs in the country and it’s all put together right here in good old North Cacka-lacky.
While you might equate rap music and hip hop with any number of major metropolitan areas, Chapel Hill’s Zoom Culture, a company devoted to creating high-quality video content, has created a format to deliver hip hop to the world, breaking down production obstacles by utilizing technology to its fullest extent. Hip-Hop Nation: Notes from the Underground, Zoom Culture’s latest show, is a perfect calling card for their product. Devoted to showcasing the four elements of hip hop: turntablism, rapping, graffiti and breakdancing, the show combines interviews, music, concert footage and skits, all designed to relate the hip-hop experience to a national audience.
The premiere episode offers a profile on turntable wizard/scratch champion DJ Craze, several clips of amazing, acrobatic freestyling and sidewalk breaking as well as a tour of Montgomery, Ala., with dirty Southern rappers appropriately named … Dirty. There’s even a segment devoted to the proper etiquette for getting into a pickup basketball game that instructs the viewer on the use of such phrases as “You got five?” and “I got next.”
As you watch the show, it’s mind boggling to consider the expense incurred by the company just to send their crews out all over the country to cover hip-hop concerts and related events. But that’s the trick behind ZC and their innovative approach to creating content: The company employs up-and-coming artists from across the nation and utilizes their concepts and creativity to create a wildly diverse type of show. These intrepid auteurs, called Zoom Directors, are essentially field generals documenting their local scenes or spotlighting artists popular in their region. Zoom recruits these filmmakers via the show’s Web site (http://hhn.zc.tv/), which also serves as a format for viewing segments submitted by other artists. The Web site even contains a brief tutorial on producing your own spots, complete with sample scripts and technical tips.
But the Internet isn’t the only place to view this groundbreaking show. NBC 17 has partnered with Zoom Culture to bring Hip-Hop Nation to the Triangle’s television audience. Once the two companies had agreed to collaborate on the show, they realized a need to find a host. Dave Dobler, head of sales at NBC 17, said he had the perfect person to serve as tour guide through this hip-hop carnival.
To say that Larry Pickett is enthusiastic about music is the understatement of the year. His voice mail message contains the phrase, “Things are gettin’ crazy down here!” and there’s no doubt that it’s the truth for this up-and-coming star. Pickett, along with partner Elijah Davis, had been producing a music show for several years on cable access. It was while volunteering for a flood relief project following Hurricane Floyd that he ran into NBC general manager Mike Ward.
“I had been doing a show on cable, The Larry Pickett Show, (airing Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. and Saturday nights at 11:30 p.m. on Cable Access Channel 10 in Raleigh) that featured interviews with local bands. He [Ward] had been watching the show and told me to come by and put in an application.” And, just like that, the wheels were set in motion.
Pickett soon found that his audience had multiplied exponentially. “Mike gave me four or five minutes during the 5 p.m. news on Fridays. Instead of the bands just coming on and chatting, I wanted viewers to see and hear exactly what they do, so we decided to make short videos for the groups.” Pickett’s production skills blossomed and his short segments paved the way for his own half-hour music show, LP17. Before long, he had compiled dozens of segments on local and national bands that featured interviews as well as brief “mini-videos” created by him and his cohorts, most of which are viewable at www.lp17.com.
Pickett’s early childhood was spent in Queens; he moved to Long Beach, Calif., in 1987. When asked if his love for hip hop was fostered in the Old School East and allowed to blossom in the gangsta rap region of Long Beach, Pickett answers the question with a staggering, head-spinning retort. “I was only 7,” he says. It’s then that the scope of Pickett’s accomplishments really becomes clear: The guy is 22 years old and he’s already doing what most kids only dream about. He’s hosting three television shows, a radio program (K97.5’s Thursday night “Battle of the Beats,” where he breaks new hip-hop talent on the air) and is the webmaster for the LP17 Web site. Still, Pickett is reticent when the inevitable question of MTV arises. “I’ve had offers, but if I go to MTV or BET, I’ll be hosting a video show with a bunch of national acts that have already made it. It’s going to be their show. I’d rather sit back and let my shows grow … and make this happen.”
For now, with Hip-Hop Nation: Notes from the Underground, poised to be a nationally syndicated program, Pickett is content to bide his time and wait for the right moment to move on. With a dearth of real hip hop on MTV, and BET offering limited coverage of the genre, there is definitely a demand for a show that features the rawest, most intriguing aspect of the culture–its underground scene. Pickett’s talents, combined with the vision of Zoom Culture and the skills of dozens of unknown videographers, shed a bright light on the future of the show. On the playground court of hip hop, these players have made their presence known by simply stating, “We got next.”
Hip-Hop Nation: Notes from the Underground, will air this fall on NBC 17. For information on dates and times, stay tuned to their Web site at www.nbc17.com/