Features, Print December 3, 2019

Trying To Catch A Wave: Murs & The Music District Bring Open Mic Hip Hop Back

by Kyle Eustice

Murs was well aware the open mic part of hip-hop culture was dying, or at least inching toward its last breath. So when his friend Davis Powers, former producer for Jimmy Kimmel Live! and The Carson Daly Show (and Fort Collins High alumnus) mentioned he was working with The Bohemian Foundation in Fort Collins, they started brainstorming about how to better connect with the hip-hop community. Murs suggested doing an open mic at The Music District and the rest is history. 

Named Groundwaves, the mic kicked off in June 2019 and ran for six consecutive months. For each installment, dozens of hopeful MCs would throw their name in the ring and take the stage in an effort to showcase their rapping prowess — or lack thereof, in some cases.

“The Bohemian Foundation and The Music District loved the idea and they funded it,” Murs explains. “They said, ‘Let’s try for six months and see how it goes is.’ And I believe that it’s one of, if not the, most successful programs they’ve had. Everyone was pleasantly surprised. The first night, there were 200 plus people and we were at capacity.”

Murs on stage at The Armory for the 2019 Groundwaves Finale.
Photo by Roberto Loya

For the November 19 finale, the event moved to The Armory. Only this time, participants weren’t allowed to pick their own beats. Instead, local turntablist/producer Fullmetal provided instrumentals ranging from J. Dilla to Dipset. As always, Murs presented a nurturing environment, encouraging each participant to do their thing — no matter what their skillset. 

That continued off stage, too. After each event, Murs would offer mentoring sessions where aspiring artists would ask “anything from how to tour or literally how to rap or how to hold the mic,” Murs stated.

Passing the mic, passing the torch: Murs has directly mentored the open mic scene in Fort Collins, which will continue with a similar event at Hodi’s Halfnote December 21.
Photo by Roberto Loya

The audience wasn’t afraid to tell each participant what they thought at each Groundwaves event either. Often times, they’d provide unsolicited feedback or blurt out the unfavorable chant, “Thank you, come again.” Sometimes that was all it took to ignite a fire within. 

“I think you can get your feedback right there. Even if you don’t come to the mentoring sessions, that one little word of feedback is the feedback that you needed to do more work,” Murs explains. “And then I think a lot — and I might be wrong — but I think it’s imitation, creation and then innovation. Those are some steps that I’ve heard other artists mention. 

“So I think they need to go back, watch, maybe come back to Groundwaves and try to do something acceptable, but also watch the people who are doing well and learn from other examples. That’s how I learned. I feel like rap is something that can be taught now. It’s being taught at a university level. It can be taught like violin or piano.” 

Via Groundwaves, Murs interacted with new MCs at every skill level.
Photo by Roberto Loya

For those who are disappointed Murs’ official Groundwaves run is over, there’s already talk of bringing it back next year. Until then, Hodi’s Half Note will host something similar.

“If it’s not with me, it won’t be called Groundwaves, but maybe something new. Phonosapien does an open mic at Hodi’s,” Murs said, referring to Co-Op, the monthly hip-hop event hosted by Bad Neighbors (of which Phonosapien is a member) which features headlining acts, creative writing exercises and an open mic. That event pops off December 21.

“Groundwaves 2019 was a smashing success,” Jesse Elliott, Director of The Music District stated, “in part because of the vision, leadership and invaluable mentorship of Murs, the hard work of our awesome team at the MD, and most of all because of the amazing hip-hop community that has always existed here in Fort Collins. Details are yet to be set, but we’re excited to continue building our community via the power of one of the world’s most powerful and important art forms in 2020.”

In addition to the open mics themselves, Murs hosted mentoring sessions, writing exercises and more. Plans for a 2020 installment of Groundwaves are underway.
Photo by Roberto Loya

Overall, Murs is grateful for the opportunity and believes he grew as a human being during his time in Fort Collins. “What I thought was useless information about hip-hop turned out to be of good use,” he says. “To mentor especially, made me realize how many answers I do have after 25 plus years in the business.” 

The community is grateful too, and the hope is that the hip-hop scene itself will have grown, with the standard of a “safe space but not a fake space” as Murs put it – a supportive community that gives honest, constructive feedback being the new norm. Building the FoCo hip-hop scene up, rather than dissing each other to the ground has been the point since the first Groundwaves hit.

The ensemble of MCs who participated in Groundwaves 2019 Finale at The Armory.
Photo by Roberto Loya

The hip-hop open mic torch will be carried by Bad Neighbors at the monthly event Co-Op, which takes place at Hodi’s HalfNote starting December 21. Murs is expected to return to FoCo for Groundwaves 2 in 2020.