Cover Story: The Decade Fire

Hip Hop institution Scribble Jam celebrates its 10th anniversary by expanding to other cities for the first time

Jun 1, 2005 at 2:06 pm
Fat Nick Accurso

Scribble Jam spreads the love at Annie's (above) in August and, for the first time, in 13 cities across the U.S. throughout the summer.

Center stage, a DJ makes a note whine under flexed fingers, chopping chords into bits. Microphone fiends deliberate who's illest, delivering punchlines and taking hits. Fresh air is clipped by the smell of spray can spit, while buffalo girls go around the outside of a windmill kick.

And this is just one Scribble Jam experience.

If Scribble Jam had a scrapbook, each page should reflect the tags of everyone who tirelessly politicked, passed out fliers or performed for nothing more than crowd approval. Anyone who remembers Scribble's humble beginnings knows the event wasn't an overnight success; even organizers Patrick "Pase" Johnson (DJ and member of Five Deez) and "Fat Nick" Accurso (who's actually quite lean) admit the first few years seemed like an excuse to have a party because they weren't making money.

Eventually, though, what birthed from a get-together for Scribble Magazine matured into one of the country's most recognized grassroots festivals dedicated to Hip Hop culture. And this year Scribble Jam turns 10.

"Everybody in every city over the years has been like, 'When's it coming to my city?' " Accurso says, acknowledging that some fans of the festival already travel to Cincinnati from major cities like New York, Chicago and San Diego.

And so for the first time ever Scribble Jam will hit the road, stopping in 13 U.S. cities from May through August, spotlighting such Cincinnati alums as Glue, Mr. Dibbs and Blueprint with DJ Mista Rare Groove. The tour finishes Aug. 11-14 in Cincinnati, highlighted by a $10,000 MC battle at Annie's and a 10-day graffiti art exhibit.

"The new thing that we're doing this year is a museum show at the CAC," Pase says. "It's going to be called TEN: Contemporary Arts and Hip Hop, representing the 10 years of Scribble, and there's gonna be 10 (graffiti) artists from all over the country."

"It'll have a lot of history with Scribble, like a lot of the Scribble Magazine's own view and then photographs from over the years, videos we put together, along with the art," Accurso adds.

Ten Scribbles ago, Pase says he was a kid who initially wanted to have a party and acknowledge Hip Hop culture's four elements of expression (DJing, MCing, break dancing and graffiti art) by hosting a Scribble Jam each season. He says he and Accurso collaborated with more prominent members of the local Hip Hop community, namely Mr. Dibbs, a respected turntablist who helped the two spread the word in the beginning.

"That's when we came out with Scribble Magazine, which was like a core graffiti magazine," Accurso remembers. "With Dibbs and his partners, that's when we kinda collaborated together and had a little bit more than a party for the first issue of Scribble Magazine that came out."

The warm-up Scribble Jam sparked at Annie's during a chilly month between fall and winter of 1995, which Pase says he remembers mostly because he was painting the wall outside. The following year they tried doing three mini-Scribbles in one year at Annie's, but iffy attendance and the time it took to plan for each event soon pared Scribble down to an annual affair.

"It was too much work," Pase says, furrowing his brow. "It's too much work now."

The first three years depended mostly on a groundswell of grassroots support from the local Hip Hop community.

"G Fresh (of 3rd Finger Record Pool) was an integral part in the beginning," Accurso says.

With all the hard work being invested, it was time to get serious.

"We actually started to turn it into a business as opposed to just having a party for everybody to have a good time," Pase says. "It became so much work that it didn't make sense to put it on just for the fun of it."

Accurso says it wasn't until 1999 and 2000 when they "actually started to make a smidgen of money."

By then, Scribble's MC battle reputation swelled outside of the city, and MCs from Chicago, Minnesota and Detroit began to use the event to build their resumes.

"I think that most of the Scribble Jam guys that won the battle now have careers in entertainment," Pase says, rattling off independent recording artists like Atmosphere, Eyedea and multi-platinum Eminem.

Although Eminem was virtually unknown when he battled at Scribble '97, today some people look back and remember his appearance as the event's claim to fame. Accurso half agrees.

"It's one of our claims to fame at this point, but (Scribble Jam) was really one of the only type of grassroots festivals that still existed," he says. "The ones that were taking place were kinda falling away from the grassroots part of it and not really worrying about the involvement of everybody. When they started having unreachable people, the stars were why you went to the event, whereas Scribble Jam is more about everybody being involved.

"I think that's what gave us more fame, that people went to it and it was more of a personalized situation than going to just a regular concert where you got people onstage, you're in the crowd and nobody really cares about you."

The accessibility of Scribble's concerts brings obscured talent in your face, front and center. Little Brother, Living Legends, Beans of Anti-Pop Consortium and Brother Ali are just a few of the national acts who made the concert portion of Scribble memorable, but who comes depends on if the price is right. Accurso says that signed acts demand fees anywhere from $5,000 to $20,000.

"I mean, Scribble's always been based out of our pockets," he says. "There's never really been any type of corporate backing. The last two years, we've actually had a little bit of (financial) involvement from Toyota/Scion, but it's been one of those things where we try to keep it 'poor' so we still have complete control over it. Of course, money talks, and we're starting to reach out a little more to give us the ability to bring people like that."

Wish lists of worthy but affordable entertainers start generating right after a Scribble weekend ends. Accurso says that, at this point, organizing a Scribble Jam takes a year of preparation.

"It's hard because it's in August, the dead end of summer and there's all these music festivals going on. Every artist is touring, so it's hit or miss," Pace adds, referring to when he and co-organizer Tony Heitz book acts. "I think we've gotten who we had on our wish list only one time."

As usual, the Friday and Saturday events are at Annie's, whose backyard is big enough to pack in thousands of sweaty Hip Hop heads to enjoy every festivity. Scribble will also include Thursday night's traditional "Meet and Greet," where people reconnect each year to trade notes, talk smack and network.

The Mockbee will showcase graffiti art, while a concert and a room devoted to "just DJs" will provide the night's soundscape.

"That's always been the bottom line of Scribble Jam," Accurso says of the flurry of varied activities at the event. "There's always something to do."

SCRIBBLE JAM is Aug. 11-14 at Annie's and various other venues. For more info, check out