Alive and well
A small convoy navigates its way from Sparks to downtown Reno on a late Saturday afternoon. Hip-hoppers are in full attendance—b-boys, graffiti artists, music and video producers, promoters DJs, and of course, rappers. Filming for the “I Am Hip Hop” music video featuring Mecca, J1Three and Bamboo the Fresh had begun only a few hours earlier at the home recording studio of J1Three, co-founder of rap group Venomous Ink. The final scene is a live performance at Virginia and Cheney streets, during the Battle of the Artists, an event hosted by Twisted Minds to give local painters an opportunity to showcase their skills.
After a few minutes of meeting and greeting between the groups of artists, an MC calls the rappers to stage. The beat drops and hands go up. Mecca leads, and the crowd serves testament to his lyrics: “Hip-hop ain’t dead, it lives in Reno.”
Mecca Hernandez, 32, began his local hip-hop career just over a decade ago when he left a “bad life” behind in Castle Hills, a residential neighborhood in the Bronx—an environment that ultimately led him to 18 months in jail at Rikers Island.
“I gave everything up—everything that had to do with bullshit and drama. I wanted shit to be different,” he says. “And since that choice, I have been a better person and I have seen a better outcome for the things I’m trying to do.”
During his time in New York, Mecca first began writing for creative writing contests at his school. “I always wanted to be somewhere else rather than where I was,” says Mecca. But it wasn’t until he heard “Children’s Story” by Slick Rick and learned to recite the verses that he realized he was able to write his thoughts and stories to a beat. As a result, ever since he was 13, he has written poetry and lyrics, and has collected most of them in a briefcase, some pages worn so thin they’re almost transparent.
Today, his writing has evolved into a constant desire to make good music—“like a sickness with no remedy”—all while raising his two sons, supporting the local hip-hop community, and performing with the group, Venomous Ink, which includes Mecca, J1Three and Elsewhere. The group has recorded 100 songs in three months, and is currently in the process of working on another album that should be out this year.
“We’re dedicated,” said J1Three.
Music is not just about dedication, however, and versatility and delivery are key when it comes to hip-hop. Fortunately, Venomous Ink’s precise style and lyrical complexity remain true to the genre’s roots. Laying their lyrics over a wide range of beats invites a diverse group of appreciative listeners with various preferences. And in addition to the crisp beats that make you bob your head, each artist contributes their fair share of clever metaphors and witty wordplay.
That, combined with the smooth ’70s samples over rhythmic basslines and drums, to slower tempo synth-based instrumentals for an R&B tone, to the harder 808 drum kicks over hypnotic loops, has put their songs in heavy rotation on some local stereos.
Hip hop is indeed alive, and doing well in Reno. And at the end of the day, Mecca, along with countless other hip-hop heads, wants to see the entire scene flourish. The “I Am Hip Hop” music video shoot evinced the strong sense of solidarity among Reno’s hip hop community. The scene is growing, as well as the amount of talent on the field.
“I always look at it like Horton Hears a Who,” said Mecca, “[Reno’s hip hop scene] is the little world that’s on that little speck, and before we get destroyed or never be heard again, we all need to come together and make a big-ass noise so the rest of the world can hear us and recognize we’re here.”