Way back in 1999, artists like Silkk the Shocker, Busta Rhymes, Sporty Thievz, Jay Z, Puff Daddy and JT Money dominated the rap charts. Lauryn Hill won five Grammy awards, and the world was formally introduced to Eminem.
Locally, artist George Goins aka Pooh Manchew was looking to make some waves of his own with his Nappy Head Crew. Eventually, he would end up founding two of the longest running series in Cleveland hip-hop with Kings of the Iron Mic and Queens of the Iron Mic starting the following year.
After a terrific run, Kings of the Iron Mic will have its finale show at 9 p.m. on Saturday at Now That's Class
"I never looked at myself as a promoter," Goins says. "I just looked at myself as someone who was booking shows and bringing good acts to Cleveland that I would want to see. I started out as a performer and I wanted a way to be able to do a show where I wouldn't be isolated with the pressure all on me. So I reached out to other artists in the city. The way I did it, I'd book the show with no other acts except for my crew. We'd put out flyers and cats would contact us like, H'ow can I get on the show?' That was the beginning of the Iron Mic."
The name of the long running series seems to stem from "Duel of the Iron Mic" — a song by Wu Tang Clan's GZA, but Goins doesn't take credit for the naming.
"I actually didn't come up with the name," says Goins. "I was going to Tri-C at the time, and there was this guy named Nerve in a group called Elements. I needed a flyer done and that's what he gave me. I just ran with it from there. It worked, but I think that many people initially thought it was a battle."
The group did its first Kings of the Iron Mic show in May of 1999 at the old Peabody's in The Flats.
"I didn't know anything," says Goins. "I learned on the fly. I remember getting to the venue where we left a deposit of about six or 700 dollars, we get there to do the sound check and the dude is like, 'You got that other $350?' We couldn't get it off the door; they needed their money upfront. So, me and a couple buddies had to cough up the cash. But yeah, just by being in The Flats during that time, we had a good turnout. I had never planned on doing more of them, but people would always ask when's the next show."
There was no specific schedule for the shows. They could be held at any venue in the city.
"It was all random and more of a demand thing," Goins says. "We were a lot younger, so we were doing them more often in the beginning. After Peabody's, we ended up going to the old Grog Shop on the corner of Mayfield and Coventry. It was a bit of a smaller venue and back then they really didn't do any hip-hop, so it was a milestone. We also did the Rhythm Room, Pat's in the Flats, the Phantasy on the Westside. We even did a show in Columbus once at a place called Bernie's."
One of the highlights of the Kings of the Iron Mic came when Detroit's Slum Village performed.
"That was probably the biggest name we had," Goins reflects. "At that point they were past J-Dilla but they had a song with Kanye ["Selfish"] and a Chevy commercial. It was just T3 and Elzhi at that point, even Baatin had passed away at that point. They were pretty easy to work with."
After a successful 17-year run, Goins is ready to move on from the Kings and focus his attention on something that encompasses more than only emceeing.
"I really want to do something on a different scale that takes in all of the elements of hip-hop," Goins says. "I think some of them get lost. I'd like to bring in more deejays — like turnablists. I'd like to have more b-boys and have graffiti art represented. I think that there are too many rappers right now. It's so easy to rap, when compared to the other elements. The other ones really need to be practiced a lot more. If you're a b-boy, you've got to practice. That's physical. If you're a graffiti writer, you've got to practice that too. I would love to create something with the energy I would see at an event like Scribble Jam and bring it here on an annual basis. Instead of doing a bunch of smaller events, I'd just do one big event that's like the Super Bowl of hip-hop. I'd like to try to bridge that gap between the elders and the youngins because we can't let it [hip-hop] die off what they play on the radio. That's what they listen to because that's all they know. If we could get the young people there and involved in all those elements, I think that'll keep what we call hip hop alive."
The roster for Saturday's event includes Vigatron, San Goodee, TuT, Chris Todd, Jo Melody, Red Strype, Rime Royal, Suave Gotti, Beat Efx, 6th Man, RifRaf, BDX216, Eddie Hands, Vic Vegas & LayLo Slim. Music will be handled by DJ Know1. Admission is free.