Since canceling the long-running Scribble Jam Hip Hop fest almost five years ago, co-founder Nick Accurso and his fellow organizers have been inundated with requests to bring it back.
A very vocal group of Scribble participants and advocates have offered ideas on everything from where to put on the festival to suggesting organizers downsize the three-day interdisciplinary event. But Accurso’s not going backward.
“I’d rather let it die for what it was than create a new history that’s just so-so,” he says.
With the aim to continue the festival’s history of featuring the best new performers battling for the title of Scribble Jam champ in Hip Hop’s traditional four elements (DJing, breakdancing, MCing and graffiti art), Accurso is once again assembling his team with hopes that financial support from a Kickstarter campaign might be able to justify their efforts one more time.
Scribble Jam’s legacy follows the same trajectory as the online world that helped document its history. In the early-to-mid ’90s, graffiti artists were just beginning to record their pieces online via private chat forums, but hard-copy publications like Scribble magazine (which Accurso and fellow graffiti writer Jason Brunson operated from 1996-2001) were some of the first ways that artists captured and shared the ephemeral art form.
The first Scribble Jam was a promotion for Scribble magazine and consisted of little more than 40-50 people in the parking lot of local club Annie’s (the fest’s eventual longtime host), with cardboard on the ground for the dancers and a few walls to paint. Mr. Dibbs of the Cincinnati-based DJ collective 1200 Hobos approached Brunson and Accurso while they were painting a wall and suggested they put on a bigger event.
Dibbs’ name recognition and high-energy scratch battle performances helped get the word out, but he also brought in local radio personality G-Fresh from WAIF to help book acts. Kevin Beacham, future emcee of the event, happened upon the first Scribble and knew immediately that he wanted to be a part of it. He, Accurso and Brunson handled the visual art aspect, while others managed their respective areas of expertise, and the festival was born.
Between 1996-2000, the organizers say they just kind of “muddled along,” but around 2001, they started getting serious. G-Fresh left over financial disputes and Scribble organizers added promoter Tony Heitz and Five Deez member Pase Rock to the partnership.
During this time, local venues like Ripley’s, Shaky Pudding and Top Cats regularly hosted freestyle open-mic nights.
Cincinnati was also home to well-known DJ collectives, like the aforementioned 1200 Hobos and The Animal Crackers, which featured scratch battle elements in their sets. And Cincinnati had ties to widely-respected artists like Talib Kweli, Hi-Tek, Doseone, Atmosphere, MOOD, Aesop Rock and others, so the subculture had some serious legs to stand on as it grew.
“Around 2001, we started to take things serious,” Accurso says. “People just started to latch onto (Scribble Jam) because there was something for everyone that was into Hip Hop.”
Scribble was presented as the culmination of a year’s worth of Hip Hop events around town.
Once online platforms began really taking off in the early-to-mid 2000s, word of Scribble’s existence began reaching well beyond the confines of Cincinnati. People flew in from around the country, and, by 2005, Accurso says, “We were having 5,000-6,000 people show up and it was literally 60 percent (or more) who were from out of town.”
The organizers had a solid working format. Thursday night was an art show or centrally located meet-and-greet to size up the competition. Friday featured live performances by major acts like Big Daddy Kane and KRS-One. And Saturday was the main event — “battles” for top MC, DJ and breakdancer that, over time, featured future stars Eminem and Sage Francis. Scribble’s precedence as a racially inclusive festival has been widely duplicated, but the various battle rounds have not.
“There’s never been another Scribble Jam event in America because you can’t do it,” Accurso says.
And he should know. In 2005 Accurso and other organizers toured 13 cities, hosting mini-Scribbles with their own battle competitions, the winners of which were invited to the Cincinnati event for a final round. Because of the tour, organizers found a lot of invested artists throughout the country and, as a result, the talent of battle participants in 2005 and 2006 was at an all-time high. Funded mostly by ticket sales, the tour was initially successful.
“We risked $80,000-$90,000 in the hopes that we’d make it back,” Accurso says. “And up until 2007 and 2008 it worked.”
Though never big on relying on sponsorship money, the little that the event had largely disappeared thanks to the bad economy.
“Scion, Mountain Dew — everybody just lost their budgets,” Accurso says.
Accurso also attributes the stagnation to a waning time in Hip Hop in 2007. “Hip Hop was dying in that aspect a little bit,” he says, as audiences became increasingly disconnected observers compared to the engaged participants of earlier Scribbles.
When Accurso discovered crowdfunding site Kickstarter, he saw the potential to bring back the event, primarily by preselling tickets. Among other perks for those donating is an invite to join a private online community where donators can offer input about which artists should be booked. Organizers will directly plug into their community of supporters to help guide the event.
Here is the Scribble Jam Kickstarter campaign's pitch video:
As of press time, organizers had not yet reached 10 percent of their $100,000 goal.
“The verbal support is huge, but I don’t think people understand that if we do not raise the money, we cannot do the event,” Accurso says.
The Kickstarter campaign ends Jan. 6, 2104 and if the goal is not met, Scribble Jam goes back into limbo. Maybe forever.
“If the support’s not there,” Accurso says, “honestly, I never wanna hear another word about it.”
Visit the SCRIBBLE JAM Kickstarter page here and also visit facebook.com/scribblejam2014 for more details.