There is a simple but often neglected rule in hip-hop: Pay your dues! Simple as that. It doesn’t matter who you are, how good you are (or think you are) or how much your friends like your demo—if you’ve only been rapping for a year-and-a-half, you’re not a real emcee yet. Period.
There is a second and even more neglected rule in hip-hop: Show respect to those who have already paid their dues. If there is someone who has been rapping for 10 years, it doesn’t matter if you don’t like their newest song or the way they dress. It doesn’t matter that Atmosphere is your favorite rap group and that you think all hip-hop should sound like their new album. Hip-hop in Reno wouldn’t be here today if someone wasn’t here laying the groundwork yesteryear.
Element has been building the Reno scene since 1993.
“That’s the key point,” says Demond Dowdy, who goes by Dialect on the mic. “Most groups out here started two weeks ago.
“That’s where my frustration is at right now—there is no appreciation,” he says. “It’s prejudice in its rawest form. The more they don’t understand it, the more the universe is gonna take them to it.”
Dowdy, who raps and produces, along with rappers Michael “Metaphysical” Russell, 30, Kyle “Hot Steez” Eastern, 29 and Carl “C-Dash” Gold, 34, make up Element.
A lot changes in 15 years.
Back in 1993, the group explains, any hip-hop presence in Reno was in the form of gangster rap. Guys were sporting khakis, Converse Chucks and black shades—the L.A. gangster style of the day.
“It was funny, back then they called us East Coast cats,” says Russell. “Because we were on some B-boy, hip-hop stuff.”
Back in 1993, East Coast hip-hop groups like A Tribe Called Quest were on top of the game while West Coast groups like Souls of Mischief were struggling.
Element, who got picked up by Digital Underground (the same group credited with discovering the late Tupac Shakur) in the late 1990s, has traveled the world on tour and performed with everyone from Outkast to Flava Flav.
Flav even gave Russell one of his trademark clock necklaces after a show.
Element is still in Reno because they want to be here.
“The people who have the [most] longevity in the game, they didn’t have the winning lottery ticket,” says Dowdy, regarding past opportunities for his crew to make it in the mainstream circuit.
Element doesn’t resent the Reno scene today. They encourage it to continue growing, and they speak well of many of the local groups
“What I see in Reno, people want to take it in a different direction,” says Russell. “And that’s fine.”
Their sound has evolved in 15 years. It’s not the same raw B-boy shit from back in ‘93. It’s not the same radio-friendly rap they were doing in the late ‘90s. But they have a dope new album out, Variety Pack, and each of the emcees have solo projects coming out soon. Russell’s new one, The Art Department, is dope. Straight fucking B-boy rap on half the tracks, hyphy and dance tracks make up the rest.
Reflecting on their decade-and-a-half in the game, Eastern says, “Everybody does know that we started this scene. We can consider ourselves the best.”