If the Madison brand of hip-hop that has emerged in recent years is known for being smart, socially conscious and positive, give credit to rapper Rob Dz and DJ Brody Rose.
Looking back on his years in Madison, Dz talks about breaking down preconceived notions of local hip-hop. "I decided early on here that I wasn't going to be what everybody said hip-hop was," he says.
Now preparing to relocate to Chicago in August, Dz says his goals include writing children's books and starting a charter school based on the elements of hip-hop.
"Performance is a catalyst for everything else," says Dz, revealing the main idea that connects the dots between his musical past and future.
Hip-hop as a means to an end is also an idea that has loomed large for Brody Rose, founder of the influential website madisonhiphop.com. Rose will also be leaving town next month. He is moving to Washington, D.C.
"For me it's about promoting positivity, unity and friendship," says Rose. "I wanted to show that it was okay to respect other people."
Madison hip-hop will be at a crossroads next month following the departure of two of its giants. On Friday, July 28, at 9 p.m., Rose and Dz will jointly celebrate their years in town with a farewell party at the King Club. It will be a night for reminiscing, largely about the Madison hip-hop scene's coming of age in the past five years.
Dz, who grew up in Beloit, says he first came to Madison in 1997 to fulfill his father's dying wish. "For some strange reason, he had the insight," says Dz. "I thought Madison was corny."
That impression stayed with Dz for some time. He left Madison in 2000, returned in 2002, and remembers meeting Rose at a less than inspiring Liquid Lyrics rap show.
"I remember looking over at Brody and saying, 'Who is this cat up on stage trying to rap?'"
In a recent interview, both Rose and Dz discussed the challenges local hip-hop artists faced at that time, given the genre's link to high-profile incidents of club violence. When a shooting pierced an open-mic event at Stillwaters on State Street in March 2003, hip-hop's image was damaged.
"I remember being there that night," says Rose. "That incident was not hip-hop." From there on out, Dz recalls Rose repeating a phrase to anyone in the press who would listen.
"He always told them, 'Hip-hop doesn't shoot people; insecure people shoot people.'" Rather than talk the talk, Rose and Dz dug in with projects that reshaped the image of the Madison scene.
Dz's primary musical project has been the Rob Dz Experience, a hip-hop band whose 2005 release, Soul Anthems, teems with Christian-influenced rap songs.
Rose used his graphic-design skills to bring marketing sophistication to local hip-hop via his website.
About the same time, Dz and Rose joined up with Mr. Parker (of Smoking with Superman and, later, dumate) and DLO to form the improvisational rap group Golden Age. The group created spontaneous raps and beats from audience suggestions, traveling to places such as the University of Michigan for performance workshops.
Together with Roberto Rivera's Elements of Change, the members of Golden Age formed a core group that represented the new brand of socially conscious Madison hip-hop.
How far has the scene come in the past four years? Dz says, "I remember me and Brody being up on stage with Common at the All Campus Party last spring and thinking to myself that it really was a new day for local hip-hop."
Dz says he'll miss Rose, but doesn't doubt that the two will remain close. "He designed my album - he'll probably be in the delivery room when I have my first baby."