K.C. hip-hop group moves closer to the edge of success

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 Tech N9ne, and the Kansas City-based hip-hop group is gearing up for a main-stage performance at the Spirit Fest.

Introductions are made and I mention dropping their new single, "KCMO," at a recent house party.

"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 15 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 Tech N9ne earlier this year and sharing 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 it "roll until the wheels fall off," as Ground Zero puts it.

The single "KCMO" is the musical and geographical mean of Dr Dre and Tupac's "California" and A Tribe Called Quests' "Steve Biko (Stir It Up)." 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 No. 1 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."

Opportunity knocks

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 Mista Loonz and Speedy into the fold, the members of Vertigo decided they were simply too talented together to continue pursuing individual projects.

"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 the ensemble'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 on the business front, providing Vertigo with radio support, meeting with record labels and generally being "that extra caulking gun around the windows."

For Ground Zero the lyrical responsibility has been to keep it real.

"What we write about, what we rap about; that's how we live," he says. "If it's not how we live, it's how we were living. We don't put the 2 on the 10."

Healthy roots

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.

While an Aug. 2 album release and future tours will help the band 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."

He adds, "It'll be about a foot and a half long because I'm a big guy."

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