Gene Brown beat battle with Just Blaze and Jake One showcased hip-hop’s original vivacity

By Tyler Bunzey

May 17, 2022

Pulling up to the Event Masterz venue on Arrowridge Blvd on Saturday night, no one could have guessed that this inauspicious space was the site of one of Charlotte’s hip-hop events of the year. The brick exterior of an industrial strip of suites that house an appliance repair company and medical testing lab– made the venue appear more like a dentist’s office than a place for a beat battle between two of hip-hop’s storied producers. But the space was packed with an enthusiastic audience ready to experience Jake One and Just Blaze go head-to-head in a hip-hop friendly exhibition. 

DJ Static on Saturday night at the Gene Brown beatdown in Charlotte. Photo: Sheldon Kearse

The room was prickling with a kind of frenetic energy. Fans were eager to hear beats from two producers responsible for hip-hop mega hits like Drake’s “Furthest Thing,” Ghostface Killah’s “Troublemakers,” Jay-Z’s “Hovi Baby,” and Kanye’s “Touch the Sky” appeared relatively unbothered by the thickness of the air around them. It was simply a prelude to the music that would animate the audience late into the temperate Saturday night. 

The audience– composed of a who’s who of North Carolina hip-hop producers, emcees, educators, and fans– time hopped back to the early years with an all-vinyl, round robin-style set by DJ Justice and DJ Wizdom Kenyatta. After this opening homage, DJ Static kept the vibes going, featuring some remixes of his beats before emcees J Scienide and Kev Brown traded well-seasoned bars with remarkable chemistry. While hip-hop has shapeshifted and evolved many times over the years, it was clear that this first set of performers were set on preserving the beauty of its origins, which is increasingly difficult to find in its contemporary commercial life. 

If the evening was ignited by a kind of hip-hop nostalgia, there was no better collective to keep the party’s heart beating than Jamla’s Soul Council. The group of producers are known for staying faithful to the roots, bending place, time, and space in their sonic innovations. E. Jones and Kash inaugurated this portion of the show by trading beats in a demo set before Khrysis took the stage to play snippets from his catalog, including his newest release, The Hour of Khrysis. The audience was treated to a brief verse from Littleton, NC native and Jamla signee Swank before Khrysis abandoned the boards for a mic and rapped a couple of tracks from his album. This portion of the show concluded with their newest addition, Sndtrack, going toe to toe with Seattle producer Vitamin D in a neck-snapping beat battle that included flips of the Charlie Brown theme, Michael Jackson’s hits, and Rick James’ “Super Freak.” 

Just as this storied night of hip-hop production seemed to peak, Just Blaze and Jake One took over. The charged energy of the room, in spite of the final battle starting fairly late, circuited through a crowd eager to savor some classic beats. Even North Carolina’s own superproducer, 9th Wonder showed up to host the final beat battle. As each infamous beat spun, 9th’s face twisted in a kind of pleasured disbelief, mirroring the crowd’s thrill as they shouted along to the songs that made millennial audiences fall in love with the genre. Before the set ended, Mad Skillz and Large Professor delighted audiences with cameo performances. 

It was precisely these performances by storied figures that showcased the dynamism of the evening. Those in attendance just needed a sliver of the love and attention that these producers painstakingly invest into their craft. They tapped into the vital energy of hip-hop’s golden era where artists were rewarded for innovation. They craved to be close to a piece of the music that soundtracked their lives. On Saturday night fans and artists alike showcased that hip-hop’s original vivacity beats on, even in the most unexpected of places. 

Read next: 


In this article