w/ Antonio Hill, Chase Fire, HECTOR380; $10-12, 6:30 p.m., Sept. 29, Vibz Uptown, 3155 Main St., Hartford, (860) 246-7390, vibzuptown.com
It's not often that you see a musician represent Connecticut on cable TV. But that's exactly how Hydro made his mark. After making a few notches on his belt by battling at the old Bar With No Name's open mics, the Hartford rapper landed a spot on B.E.T.'s Freestyle Friday competition earlier this year. The program, which is a segment of the show 106 & Park, features furious battles between unsigned MCs. As if pitting the cream of battle rappers against one another wasn't challenging enough, the network ramps up the difficulty by forbidding MCs from using swears or sexually explicit language. With some of the most frequently used tools in the diss arsenal off-limits, the result is some creative teardowns.
So even though Hydro eventually lost at the hands of New Jersey's Kay M, one of the hosts called it "by far … the best battle I've ever seen since Freestyle Friday has existed." In an e-mail exchange, I asked Hydro, who's in the midst of preparing a new album, whether he ever thinks back on his fight with Kay M and thinks of lines he wishes he'd used.
"Oh yeah," he writes, "as a battle rapper you're kind of a lyrical athlete, and as in any sport you analyze your performance and see where you could've done better. With that battle I regret nothing because I did my thing. … Both [competitors were] from NJ, so there was a large following for both. The crowd definitely gave them both a huge home-field advantage."
Now Hydro is more focused on making waves in his hometown. He's played several gigs at Hartford's Vibz Uptown, and has one coming up this Thursday. He's also hosting a fundraiser for Charter Oak Boxing Academy, an organization which he says gave him strength and discipline as a kid. Hydro describes the event as a "rock/hip-hop open-mic mashup," featuring performers from both genres. He even recorded a short jingle called "Don't Be A Bully" based on some recent experiences. A father of three, Hydro says, "My kids had some incidents at school. I was inspired by the bullying being inflicted on them, as well as on the boxers in the Charter Oak Boxing Academy program I graduated from. Also the rise in suicides by victims of bullying."
Hydro's priorities have shifted. Between raising his children and holding down a full-time job, Hydro is hard-pressed to sneak in moments behind the mic. He says he "records in bulk." When I asked him what he meant by that, he elaborated: "I often will go to the studio every couple of weeks and record for hours non-stop."
So how does he generate the lyrical material to take into the studio? "I use my tape recorder, similar to the one an attorney uses. I just pace around and let it flow. I also like to sip on some champagne or wine and just write, though the thoughts come so fast that I [often] revert back to the tape recorder."
"Do you still do any battling?" I asked.
"No," Hydro replies, "but not because I don't want to. It's funny; no one reaches out to battle me since my days as the Bar With No Name legend and Freestyle Friday champion. I've ended many careers before they got started. Quite frankly, people don't want to lose and be embarrassed. In this viral age, one bad battle on YouTube can hurt you."
If you miss Hydro's show at Vibz Uptown, you can see him on Oct. 9 at Sully's Pub, (2071 Park St., Hartford). His Charter Oak Boxing Academy fundraiser also features Logikil, Self Suffice, Brian Macy, Governor Magnum & other guests.