Local Hip Hop ensemble Animal Crackers get interactive hosting weekly throw-downs

Local Hip Hop ensemble Animal Crackers get interactive hosting weekly throw-downs Hip Hop culture, for many a Cincinnati youth, tastes like Animal Crackers. Snack time and place is Wednesday nights

Local Hip Hop ensemble Animal Crackers get interactive hosting weekly throw-downs Hip Hop culture, for many a Cincinnati youth, tastes like Animal Crackers. Snack time and place is Wednesday nights after ten at Top Cat's Club in Corryville. A co-ed, biracial, mostly college-aged audience enters the club, several at a time. The stage is set with four turntable stands and many crates of vinyl. One DJ plies his trade, putting supplemental scratches on top of various tracks both obscure and old-school. I notice a favorite track from Mission Control Presents: Prehistoric Sounds Featuring Mood. Several break-dancers, monogrammed code names on the backs of their T-shirts, take turns locking, popping and spinning. Three more DJs and two MCs eventually make their way to the stage as the crowd thickens. It's a crowd that now features local musicians of various styles returning for their nearly-eleventeenth Animal Crackers show (members of Admiral Walker, Lazy Rocket, Velvet Dreamfield, an ex-Rottweiler and a few from the aforementioned Mood).

The DJs proceed spinning both their own and crowd favorites, mixing them with their own supplementary swipes and pitch-shiftings. The break-dancers, the warm-up now over, intensify their street moves. One DJ selects the Mos Eisley cantina band from Star Wars as one of the host MCs checks his mic over the time-honored galactic swing. You know the warning.

"He doesn't like you," he gruffly imitates to his partner. "I don't like you either," he finishes with a character-breaking laugh.

With this, the MC battles begin. This is the reason why we're here. To the fervor of the crowd, the host MCs select the night's first two combatants. Each is given roughly a minute (or perhaps a rough minute) to extemporize verse over beats selected by one of the four host DJs. Over the next few minutes, it doesn't take much time for those gathered to champion the guy who eventually wins. He end-rhymes "ridiculous" with "syphilis" over a slow, loping beat. And no, you don't want to know what the loser tried rhyming. Both the host MCs and the audience make sure to honor both combatants, cheering appreciatively, and the MC battles proceed throughout the night.

Animal Crackers: an incubation dish for the Hip Hop culture of tomorrow. And for the young B-Boys, DJs and MCs here, tomorrow is tonight.

One thing makes this night different from the other Wednesdays. Now anyone intrigued can play the home version. Animal Crackers is celebrating the recent release of Animal Crackers Breaks 1- {Break Neck} on Stereo-Type Records, distributed by Nu Gruv Alliance. Credited to Casual T., Cincinnati Kid, D.Q., King Smo, Mike B., Mr. Dibbs (an unknown commodity to no one in local Hip Hop), Unseen and Nobody, this platter is intended as a small Lego set for the Hip Hop crowd. Ever listen to anything labeled "File Under: Battle Breaks & Beats" from start to finish? Or put another way, have you heard In Shop We Build Electric Chairs: Professional Music by Nightwalker 1984-93 (#3 in the Fading Captain Series)? A record such as this isn't meant for conventional, linear play.

But that's just it, young listener. This is a sonic box of defining movie lines, bass rhythms, various tempo shifts, atmospheric keyboards, sound effects, middle-school stage band drum solos, root canal guitars and television serial organs. All of this strikes without warning. Such records are pressed as a way of giving back to Hip Hop. Aspiring DJs and MCs, as they construct their own tracks, can lift this beat here, that rhythm there, another sample elsewhere. If they do, here's hoping they do as Animal Crackers and other Hip Hop artists do, and plant something for every beat they dig.

While Hip Hop certainly has evolved from this, what could be seen as a behind-the-scenes filming of Breakin' 3, an Animal Crackers show is energizing. The many feverish regulars Wednesday nights at Top Cat's know.

It's the energy you can feel while watching any game of pick-up, chain-net basketball. Skills are there, and they'll only come along. But if heart isn't there, this game is best left alone. As the crowd, dancers, DJs and MCs all work each other this night, it's evident that Animal Crackers give back a little more to Hip Hop than some vinyl with beats and breaks.

ANIMAL CRACKERS' Hip Hop night takes place each Wednesday at Top Cat's.

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