The best Cleveland-based rap act you've never heard

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The best Cleveland-based rap act you've never heard

While acts such as Jahi, Bone Thugs N Harmony, and Thieveland get most of the press around town, Ripsquad (rappers Speed and Furious) might just be the best Cleveland-based rap act you've never heard. The group, which is completing a full-length (Illa Godz) slated for release later this year, has only issued a single ("Ice Water"), but it also functions as part of a collective called the Immortal Micunion, which has an album out on Deep Thinka Records. That's the label Speed (Robert Hill) runs with his Buffalo, New York-based partner Tone. Speed and Furious, who have known each other since they were teenagers, first performed together in a group called Tha Supreme Kourt and formed Ripsquad about five years ago. While they're certainly not working with big budgets, Hill said the duo's skills and ability to use technology have increasingly gotten better.

"When we first started doing this, we were paying for 30 or 40 hours of studio time, and the product was crap," he recalls while sitting in his modest Euclid apartment, which doubles as the Cleveland office of Deep Thinka Records. "Now that we know how to use our own equipment, the product we've come out with is much better. It's not about what you got; it's about how you use it. A lot of people use 32-track studios and thousand-dollar microphones, but don't get good results."

Ripsquad, which samples bits and pieces from movies such as Raging Bull and writes fantastical lyrics about dueling with other MCs, has as much flavor as early Wu-Tang and records the kind of music you'd associate with independent hip-hop labels such as Rawkus and Quannum -- imprints that produce hip-hop that's too adventurous for the mainstream. In addition to putting out a full-length from Ripsquad, Deep Thinka plans to release another CD from the Immortal Micunion, as well as an album by the Buffalo rap group Deck of Cards.

"People always ask me who I like, but I'm not into the big rap stars," Hill says. "I like people like Black Star, and people go "Black Star, who's that?' and I tell them it's Mos Def, and they go, "Oh, Miss Fat Booty guy.' It's always an association game, and we don't run around saying, "I'm an MC, and I own my own label.'"

In fact, Hill works as a typesetter by day to support the label.

"It's the life of an independent label -- day jobs and night mics," he says.

Ripsquad plays at the Grog Shop (1765 Coventry Road) on February 24 along with Espionage, Xtracts of Slang, and Illside. For more information on the label and Ripsquad, consult the website at Tickets for the show at the Grog Shop are $5 if you're over 21 and $7 if you're under 21. For more information, call 216-840-6999.

Raised in Nashville, singer-songwriter Florence Dore moved to Kent last summer to take a job teaching English at Kent State (yes, you can call her Dr. Dore). She'll make her area debut on February 27 at the Grog Shop (1765 Coventry Road), where she's on a bill with local Stacie Collins and Chicago's Handsome Family. Dore, who got her start playing punk rock, now has more in common with the alternative pop and country of Cheri Knight, Aimee Mann, and Lucinda Williams.

"I was embarrassed about my interest in country music and would try to hide from my punk rock acquaintances," she says. "Then I discovered a band called Lazy Susan, which was three chicks with acoustic guitars and pretty harmonies, but not an Indigo Girls kind of thing. I felt happy and validated."

Since Dore's usual bandmates, bassist Scott Yoder and Smithereens drummer Dennis Diken -- both of whom played in Amy Rigby's band -- don't live in town, Dore has recruited Hillbilly Idol guitarist Al Moss and stand-up bassist Bill Watson to back her up. Together, they've been rehearsing songs from her demo No Nashville Tonight, which was produced by Eric "Rosco" Ambel (Bottle Rockets, Blue Mountain). While Dore has been busy teaching since moving here, she tries as much as possible to link the two pursuits (she often schedules gigs around academic conferences) and finds inspiration for her lyrics in the literature she reads.

"I hope I wouldn't have to make that choice between academics and music," she says. "I'd like to play almost once a month in Cleveland and build up a local following. You can make a record, but if no one knows who you are, it doesn't matter."

Part of Roni Size's Reprazent crew, DJ Krust has been a practitioner of the style of techno called drum 'n' bass for nearly 10 years -- which means he's been there from the start. The English DJ's latest album, Coded Language, features jazzy breakbeats and soulful vocals. Krust will be playing in Cleveland on February 26, as part of a rave called Junglodium. Other DJs on the bill include UFO!, Sniper, Mystical Influence, MC Recca, Kevin Cunningham, Tik Tak, Hazey, DJ Release, Rob Riddum, Troll, Akshun & Conspiracy, LSDiaz, and Bagel. Tickets are $20 in advance, $27 at the door. Consult the website ( or call 216-556-2982 for more information. -- Jeff Niesel

Send local music info and all things illa to [email protected].

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Jeff Niesel

Jeff has been covering the Cleveland music scene for more than 20 years now. And on a regular basis, he tries to talk to whatever big acts are coming through town, too. If you're in a band that he needs to hear, email him at [email protected].
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