Widely acclaimed tournament-style music competition Urban Music Challenge became a staple of The Rutledge, Nashville’s legendary live music venue. Called “the American Idol of original, independent music,” UMC co-creator Tye Ramos and his sponsors were curious how the competition would be received outside Music City USA. Ramos decided to test the waters, sticking a single toe in his frigid hometown of Battle Creek, MI on February 8.
Dubbed Midwest Music Challenge and emanating from art-tastic The Warehouse concert venue with its colorful wall paintings, leather couches, and delicious food (I had a cranberry bruschetta), freezing temps and mounds of snow posed no threat to a brand destined for nationwide greatness. I am glad and beyond honored I was invited to serve as one of three judges, proudly representing SoulTrain.com at this historic, well-directed and orchestrated, hugely entertaining sold out event!
Presented by award-winning LAFA Music, Jamey Wofford Photography, FUG Inc, Concrete Magazine Nashville, Capo IUM (International Underground Marketing), among other sponsors, seven artists—Villain OCJ, SmartMouf, five-member group Roc Boiz, Nemoniq, James White, Hightyde, and underground street veteran Ski Streetz—brought their proposed best songs to an audience who remained hot the entire night. Hands waved, hooks were chanted, and many ovations erupted. After three rounds of concise lyrics, room-rattling beats, and on-point critiques, only one rhymer could claim a staggering prize package which included a trip to Las Vegas!
Using a 5-point scoring system, multiple-award-winning singer/writer/producer Rio, renowned hip-hop promoter Lisa Downie of Mona Lisa Productions, and I judged each act on categories Performance & Presentation, Placement & Marketability, and Production & Song Content. The finale saw the cool-as-sorbet SmartMouf challenge the white-water-rapids flow of Hightyde for the highest composite score.
In the end, with scores so close the decision was swung by a contestant claiming extra .5s for graciously thanking everyone following his performance, Hightyde was crowed the first MMC Champion!
The night offered a number of memorable highlights, one notable was watching Ramos direct the set up of the show, working hands-on with Throwed TV’s crew who were on hand to film the entire event. Before showtime Ramos and company conducted on-camera interviews with each contestant, even asking who they each expected in the final round. Three of the seven predicted SmartMouf, including the eventual winner.
Each artist stood out to me for one reason or another, yet most-remembered was a heartfelt pep talk Ramos delivered during a closed meeting with all the contestants in the greenroom. He spoke out about overcoming hip-hop’s bad reputation, encouraging all to be respectable ambassadors for the genre, themselves, their family and friends, and the venue. Using himself as an example, he noted how hard work, dedication, honesty, and learning proper business etiquette can take them a long way. With all eyes fixed attentively on him as he passionately spoke, Ramos advised the eleven men while there was going to be a winner…none of them was there to lose. He implored the grand prize was networking, gaining contacts, and learning from a professional atmosphere created to influence growth. This was met with applause from everyone in the room.
Honestly, I felt every aspect of Midwest Music Challenge deserved a round (or three) of applause.