"When I go into a battle, I start hard and end hard — no fluff in between. No dumb gimmicks or backflips on the stage. Just banging beats, a scrunch face and drums that slap you in the face," says Apollo Brown, winner of the 2009 Detroit Red Bull Big Tune competition. Those words emanate from the minds of each producer participating in the yearly Red Bull Big Tune battles.
The Red Bull Big Tune is a head-to-head hip-hop producer contest established in 2004 by DJ/producer/MC Vitamin D and music manager/program director Jonathan Moore, inspired by the Jamaican reggae/dancehall sound clashes. The Big Tune is a national tour with regional competitions taking place in nine cities in the United States and ending here in Detroit on 10/21 at Saint Andrew's Hall. In each city, 12 producers square off two at time playing their greatest beats, and each winner is selected by the crowd's reaction. The top two competitors advance to the national finals, held in Chicago this year on 11/18, where the winner gets paid studio time with a major label hip-hop artist.
On the Detroit stop of the Big Tune tour, prominent DJ/producer Just Blaze is the competition's guest producer and will give us a quick showcase of his own selection of beats. Just Blaze has produced for the likes of Jay-Z, T.I. and Diddy, among many others (including four songs on Eminem's new album, Recovery).
Everybody has their own mindset going into the Big Tune battles, but in the end it's the crowd that will decide your fate, so winning them over is vital. Through those racks of speakers, beats with thumping bass and cracking drums pulsate into the ears of the audience. "My strategy is just to play music that moves the crowd," says Toronto native Frank Dukes, and 2009 Big Tune National Finals winner. "I come from a DJing background, so I understand the importance of playing to your audience. That's the key to winning. That and having beats that don't suck."
When battling, it's crucial that each producer is stocked full of enough beats to last throughout the competition. However, they should never hold anything back because they never know what their opponent has under their sleeve. "The strategy for success is, first off, to have fun and enjoy myself and play some of the best beats I have," says 14KT, winner of the 2008 Detroit competition. "I like to come in swinging and finish swinging. I don't save beats for the next round or later rounds. I play some of my hardest joints every round."
The Red Bull Big Tune is a worthy competition. New opportunities for music collaboration can happen, so it's always vital to look your best. After his win in the 2009 National Finals, Dukes recorded in the studio with Wu-Tang Clan's Ghostface Killah and is currently on tour with him. It's important to look at it as a great learning experience, getting to meet other notable and up-and-coming producers from around the nation. "I think the most positive things I've gotten out of Big Tune was the publicity and a little more recognition," says 14KT. "Also, the relationships I established with fellow producers. I got to learn about the different programs and methods other producers use."
In all, the Red Bull Big Tune battles are positive competitions set to expose the producer culture in hip-hop and the advancement of good music, period. Even in the nature of battling, it's essential to have a good time and make it a memorable experience. | RDW
Red Bull Big Tune • 10/21, 9 p.m. • St. Andrew's Hall • 431 E. Congress St., Detroit • 313.961.6358 • redbullbigtune.com