Bellingham Cupids Brawl is a two-part event featuring hip-hop artists Ethan Lucci, Salem Hush and Martii MC-Fly performing before a freestyle rap battle at the Make.Shift Art Space’s all-ages venue on Friday, Feb. 24.
Hush will kick off the night, followed by MC-Fly and Lucci. After these performances, a freestyle rap battle where contestants will take on one beat for up to three minutes, one person at a time, will be held.
Lucci’s goal is to make this an annual event that’s open to everyone. He hopes this will shed light on local rap artists trying to make a difference with their music and strengthen the Bellingham rap community.
“There's a connotation around rap and what the violent culture of it can be, and that's kind of what I'm trying to make a statement against,” Lucci said.
The artists he invited to perform value the same things Lucci does, which show through their music.
Martijn Wall, whose stage name is Martii MC-Fly, says people can expect to see a strong sense of community at the show, as it sheds light on the underground rap scene in Bellingham.
“I think for the hip-hop show at Make.Shift, it becomes more focused on the performer and on the lyricism,” Wall said.
Hush, whose given name is Nestor Cruz, said Make.Shift offers great opportunities to people entering the scene.
“We need more local artists to have a platform and we definitely need more stages for them because we want to have more Macklemores, Odeszas and Death Cab for Cuties,” Hush said, referring to other artists who got their start in Bellingham and Seattle.
Daudi Abe, a hip-hop professor at Seattle Central College, describes himself as having a unique kinship to hip-hop culture since he grew up with it during the 1980s and ‘90s.
“As hip-hop in Seattle started to develop, it took on some unique characteristics, and I think one of the primary drivers of that uniqueness is the geographic location of our area,” Abe said.
The hip-hop scene evolved differently through the Pacific Northwest. Abe brings up Sir Mix-a-Lot, who’s from Seattle. Some rappers began singing about things such as violence and referring to women negatively, but Mix-a-Lot didn’t fall into that crowd.
Abe recalls the music video for his song Posse’ on Broadway, in which Mix-a-Lot and his friends stop a group of men from attacking a group of women.
“With as popular as gangster rap was at the beginning, it would have been very easy, and there were plenty of artists who did just follow that path,” he said. “But someone like Sir Mix-a-Lot was like, I don't necessarily want to do that.”
Abe said although hip-hop emerged out of Black culture, it has always been inclusive. What matters most is remaining authentic.
“It has been cast as this thing that came from Black culture, and that part is true. But it has always been diverse and inclusive," he said. "As it's gotten older, the things that matter most in hip-hop are skill, authenticity and audiology.”
Abe said having the opportunity to engage with hip-hop in your community on a local level is a beautiful thing.
As part of an internship, Lucci worked with Make.Shift and venue director Kelly Sorbel to curate Bellingham Cupids Brawl.
“Make.Shift’s traditionally a place where established people can try something new and people new to the scene can become established and take safe risks in creative spaces,” Sorbel said.
Make.Shift prioritizes being a safe and accessible space. Their mantra, “no drugs, no booze, no jerks,” is important to them.
“It creates a designated space where those are the forward values. They're related to art, play and relaxation. To be able to make art and play and relax, you need to feel safe,” Sorbel said.
MC-Fly sees how Make.Shift holds those values high and emphasizes their importance.
“They’re accessible to all of the communities that we'd like to have performing and they're also a very safe place. I think those two things are paramount,” Wall said.
Bennie Washington, a contestant who will be performing in the rap battle, confirmed the importance of having safe spaces like this.
“It makes you want to open up and makes you feel lifted, makes you feel like the world’s weight is lifted off,” Washington said.
The winner for the Cupids Brawl freestyle battle on Friday, Feb. 24, will be chosen through crowd noise at the end and receive a to-be-determined prize. The cost to get in will be $10, but tickets are sliding scale. Doors open at 8 p.m., and the show begins at 8:30 p.m.
Tristyn (she/they) is a city life reporter for The Front. They are planning on majoring in visual journalism. This is her second-year at Western. In Tristyn’s free time, they enjoy thrift shopping, being outside, going to music festivals and hanging out with her roommate’s cats.
You can reach them at Tristyn.firstname.lastname@example.org