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February 10 2000
Vol. 91, Issue 5

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Phonte Coleman
Phonte Coleman relaxes after winning rap duel Photo: Rashaun Rucker

Remainder of one
Rashaun Rucker
Echo photography editor

At 8:30 p.m. I fall through the Catís Cradleís doors amidst chest bumps, grips, daps and high fives. Feeling confident in my Gap cargos, the first face I see is DJ Sammps. We grip up and he says,"Man itís going to be off the hook in here tonight." I nod my head and head to the bar for a drink. I wait for the madness to begin, sipping on my root beer. I begin to look around and I find myself lost in the music and glitz of the local hip-hoppers.

Mo Black is sitting on the steps with a chew stick in his muzzle. Women surround Jamaican T, while J-Gunn and Fat Magic share a laugh. "The Light" by Pharoahe Monch thumps through the Cradleís prehistoric ceiling speakers. Everyone is waiting anxiously.

Heads nod as we listen to our generationís gospel music. Itís sad to say, but Jay-Z has replaced Jesus as our spiritual leader. A mic test echos through the cavern. Once again itís time for the Duel of the Iron Mics.

Fans scurry to the stage as though it were a bread and cheese line in the Great Depression. Host DJ Mike Nice strolls on the stage wielding a microphone and a bottle of Aquafina. His partner in crime and co-host DJ Sammps flashes a devilish grin and throws a wink to the crowd.

We all know hip-hop feeds the soul. I am five miles to empty like Brownstone. At last some good olí soul food is cooking. But of course we have to showcase some local talent--Mass Konn, Set Camp, Dysfunkshynal Family, and last yearís winner, J-Gunn.

During the break I notice promotions and flyers form trails on the floor, almost as if left by Hansel and Gretel. DJ Madd was everywhere handling business.

Suddenly a pair of focused eyes are right in front of me. It is none other than Centralís own boy wonder, Phonte Coleman. He laughs and we dap up. "I came to get my damn money," he says, referring to the $175 winning prize.

A little self-assurance never hurt anyone, I suppose. I chuckle as he walks away with a strut that reminds me of James Dean. Soon he returns with a small liquid trail seeping from his lips. "Budweiser, the beer of champions," he says holding a can up for me to see. We laugh as he flees backstage to get ready for battle.

From the onset I see we are only dealing with a few real MCís and a bunch of rappers. Being a MC one day a week is like being a Sunday-only saint. Itís not happening. Bishop Omega, Phonte, Keyshawn and Covalent are the final four.

Bishop Omega and Keyshawn meet in a less-than-mediocre battle. The battle of the night occurs when Phonte wreaks havoc on Covalent:

"You be Vanilla Ice/Iíll be Suge Knight/ and throw your punk ass off the balcony tonight/stepping to me on stage/with all that noise/when you and your homies look like the damn Backstreet Boys," Phonte raps to Covalent.

The spectators holler. Covalent was good, but he is taken out like John Rocker at a Fruit of Islam meeting. Left are Phonte and Keyshawn. The battle is close. But then they battle the topic: "If I Was a Penis." Eyes roll. Heads turn. Women holler.

Phonte makes his move: "You donít understand my onomatopoeia/ If I was a d--k/Iíd squirt in your face/ and give you gonorrhea." It was over at that instant. Everyone knew it. Phonte got his money.

The next day I arrive at DJ Joe Dramaís door. 9th Wonder answers. To my surprise Phonte is there. This is perfect, I think to myself. An unknown song by Earth, Wind & Fire is playing.

Phonte emerges sluggishly from a back room wearing a t-shirt, jeans and timbos. He holds the January issue of The Source. He sits and I mull over my notes. 9th Wonder, a producer we are cool with, scans various Blackstar instrumentals. Phonte closes his magazine and answers a few questions:

---

Why did you deem it necessary to return to the duel this year?

Honestly man, I wasnít even gonna enter this Duel. But on the day of the contest, Financial Aid fronted on my refund check and it pissed me off. So I entered at the last minute out of anger, you know. I guess it helped (laughs).

Who influences your music?

Back in the day it was artists like Run D.M.C. and Big Daddy Kane, but now itís cats like Pharoahe Monch, Mos Def and the Roots ... and a lot of rock and alternative groups like Radiohead, Dave Matthews and Portishead.

What do you see for hip-hopís future?

I see hip-hop going back to the organic level with the help of artists such as DíAngelo, Common and Mos Def. The bling-bling stage of music we are in is about to lose its shine.

Where do you see yourself in the future?

Oooh. (pauses) Oh ok ... for right now Iím a part of a new group called G.I.M.M.E, (Great Individuals Make the Most of Everything) which includes Chaundon and Thomas "Pooh" Jones. We are working on an album soon to be released. With the help of yourself, 9th Wonder, Dana, Medina, Rosie, DJ Joe Drama, and 308Studios everything should go well.

After he answers I realize this is not so much an interview, but two fans discussing something they both love. In this case one may become one of the greatest to ever hold a mic.

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