Wednesday, July 2, 2003
It's a sunny Sunday afternoon on the patio of McCoy's in Westport, and
it's also the first time the entire crew of Vertigo has been together in weeks. Rapper Ground Zero has just returned from touring with TechN9ne, and the Kansas City-based hip-hop group is gearing up for a main-stage performance at Spiritfest. Introductions are made and I mention dropping their new single, "KCMO" at a recent house party for a group of my brother's friends.
"Next time you have a house party, you let us know and we'll be there," says Ground Zero, a KC native who is as friendly as his figure is imposing.
The interview continues smoothly until Vertigo member and area producer S.G. (Surgeon General of Production) playfully tests my credibility by inviting me to beatbox. Nervous and beatless, I evade the challenge by asking about the history of beatboxing.
"The art of beatboxing began with the Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh," begins Ground Zero.
"And it continues with those two fat boys over there," interrupts Vertigo's manager and close friend, Mike Savage, pointing across the table to S.G. and Vertigo member Mista Loonz. "They get drunk and have a beat-box competition at four in the morning."
After only fifteen minutes and a few laughs with the group, it's easy to see why Curv -- the lone female of the group -- says Vertigo is just as much about family as it is music.
Without a doubt, the five members of Vertigo are some of the nicest folks you'll meet. They're also one of the fastest-rising rap acts in the nation.
After touring with TechN9ne earlier this year and sharing the stage the stage with the likes of Rick James, Digital Underground and 2 Live Crew on a 16-city west coast tour, Vertigo has gained enough momentum to help them "roll until the wheels fall off," as Ground Zero puts it.
"KCMO," the group's newest single, is the musical and geographical mean of Dr Dre and Tupac's "California" and A Tribe Called Quests' "Steve Biko." The song, a hard-hitting tribute to the group's city of origin, indicates that although the Midwest has yet to produce a platinum rap act, Vertigo is knocking on the doors of success with enough force to blow car stereo subwoofers across the nation.
"My number one goal is to get stronger and stronger and give some of these other artists an avenue," says Vertigo member Speedy. "I'm tired of people saying that you can't do it in Kansas City. We want to set the tone to where people can actually see that if you put your mind to it, you can make it wherever you're at."
"Midwest emcees have the ability to do east and west coast, and it's a beautiful thing," says Ground Zero. "We're all from Kansas City, but we all have a different flow, and at the same time we're able to gel them together and make real nice hits." Though listeners will have to wait until August 2nd to pick up Vertigo's debut album, four of the tracks are available online at www.yovertigo.com. The album, which is self-released, was engineered and mixed by Robert Rebeck at Chapman Recording studios.
The veritable supergroup of Kansas City hip-hop talent partially arose from the hardcore group "Dosloc," which Ground Zero formed with Curv and S.G. after deciding to move out of the inner city and make some changes in his life.
"It was all cussing," says Ground Zero of Dosloc. "It was non-radio playable. We opened up for Beck at the Rhumba Box downtown, and then we actually did a show with Beck."
After bringing Mr. Luna and Speedy into the fold, the members of Vertigo decided they were simply too talented together to continue pursuing individual projects. Speedy says the members of Vertigo admired each other's styles before they met, making their eventual collaboration a natural process.
"Vertigo paved the way for itself," Speedy says. "It's a fusion of multicultural diversity."
Vertigo draws from a cross-section of the Kansas City talent base, giving the group a unique sound that Savage describes as "hardcore hip-hop meets salsa." Another asset to Vertigo's sound is the lyrical flow of Curv, whose rhymes pack the tracks with punch while making them sparkle at the same time. Curv, who like S.G. and Ground Zero has her own production company, says she encourages female vocalists to be involved with the business and production of music as well as the writing.
"Don't just sit back and wait for people to come up with the opportunities," she says. "You have to offer your soul to this music.
It would be impossible to argue that the members of Vertigo have done otherwise. In addition to rehearsing three times a week, the group members constantly call each other with new ideas, regardless of the hour. While the group has been busy touring and rehearsing, Savage has gone to bat for the group on the business front, providing them with radio support, meeting with record labels, and generally being "that extra caulking gun around the windows."
For Ground Zero and the rest of the Vertigo artists, the lyrical responsibility has been to keep it real. "What we write about, what we rap about; that's how we live," Ground Zero says. "If it's not how we live, it's how we were living. We don't put the 2 on the 10."
Ground Zero, who chose his moniker years before the September 11 attacks made it a household phrase, said he wanted to pick a name that was neither flashy nor hardcore.
"I am flashy, and I might be a killer, but if I was, I wouldn't tell you," he says. "I wanted something real, something solid, and it was Ground Zero, because hell, I started out with nothing."
Though the members of Vertigo have their hands full with upcoming performances and planning a CD release party, they each volunteer at community organizations, whether it be teaching children about the music business through the Legacy Coalition or helping feed the homeless through the Guadalupe Center.
Though their upcoming release and future tours will help them continue to branch out across the nation, Vertigo's roots will remain strongly in Kansas City.
"I expect the community to continue to give us love like they've been doing, to stand behind us and have faith," Ground Zero says. "As a matter of fact, next week I'm getting 'Kansas City' tattooed across my back.
It'll be about a foot and a half long because I'm a big guy."
The group's love for the Midwest also extends to Lawrence, where they have played at the Granada twice. All the artwork and imaging for Vertigo was done by Lawrence resident Kevin Powell, and Savage said he has even considered hosting the CD release party here.
Either way, Savage promises a return to Lawrence sometime in the fall. In the meantime, it's 5:30, the interview is up, and Vertigo is off to rehearse.