EDITOR’S NOTE: Marcus Mitchell, aka local Hip Hop artist and inspiration Skandal Da Ruckus Man, passed away this week after a battle with leukemia. In tribute, here is an interview with Marcus from March 2005, written by CityBeat contributor Mildred C. Fallen, from our archives. Check next week’s issue of CityBeat for more remembrances of the fallen Cincinnati music supahero.
To dub Marcus D. Mitchell a “big man” doesn’t necessarily state the obvious. In some cultures, “big man” also translates as a local personality who speaks on behalf of his people, commences rituals and parleys with other “big men.” And facing foes, big men fight for honor.
In 2000, Mitchell, better known as Skandal (or Skandal Da Ruckus Man), flew to New York to freestyle on BET’s 106 and Park and contended with other unsigned MCs on HBO’s Blaze Battle. Today, the self-described juggernaut of Supapowers has been reincarnated as an industry ghost writer and producer after someone attempted to rob him of his ambition last spring.
While he was away, thieves carted away his studio equipment and masters. Although his property never resurfaced, he feels he knew the thief’s motive.
“Damn monkeys!” he declares, still affected. “Whoever stole it was doing it to get at me personally, because they didn’t touch anything else in the house, not even money. It was Easter Sunday, at that! Man, they know they goin’ to hell!”
Depressed and unable to produce tracks or record vocals, Skandal bounced back after supportive colleagues bartered their efforts.
“A lot of cats just saw the opportunity (to barter) and was like, ‘You ain’t got no equipment? Man, I been wantin' to do beats with you for years,’ ” he says.
Producers Fame and DJ Scott pitched in and donated many of the tracks heard on Vet Game, his first in a series of mixtape compilations to be distributed through the internet. Presented by Hall of Justice Entertainment and co-sponsored by Supapowers cohorts CJ the Cynic and Da Kid, Vet Game tongue-lashes antagonists, reprimands local radio and guides listeners of a tour of the Queen City, pointing out its idiosyncrasies.
Rounding out the compilation are appearances from Trina Holidai and Michelle Hollis, Piakan, Science, Donte (of Mood), Hi-Tek and J-Wiz.
“As far as the bangers, look for ‘Get Stole On’ and ‘Spell My Name Right,’ both produced by DJ Scott. ‘The Wrong Nigga’ talks about the break-in on Easter, when I was at Mom’s gate eating a plate,” he says. Thunderous vocals set violators straight as they detonate: “Y’all ain’t do nothin’ but put Skan/Back to ’96 with the hunger pangs.”
Reloading, “The Big Payback” unflinchingly fires direct hits at local black radio and venue promoters for lack of support. On the other hand, he shouts out Big Kap of New York’s influential station, Hot 97, for giving “For the Queen” 30 spins in a week, and says the exposure opened doors for him to sell songs to other artists, which subsidized his upcoming CD, Vigilante World.
“People don’t understand; you’ve got to invest in yourself before that big record deal comes,” he explains.
“For the Queen” traces Skandal’s roots back to Woodward High School “Bomb Show” performances and huddling in rhyme-ciphers against out-of-towners on Fountain Square.
“Before all the fightin’ and shootin’ started, we defended this city against all outsiders,” he says. “It was like something out of the movie Highlander.
“(Cincinnati) always had a beast,” he continues, naming warriors who fell into obscurity. “Regan used to be the most feared in a MC battle; he passed the torch to me and Clips (J-Wiz). Now Ill Poetic is the beast.”
“I used to really, really admire (Skandal),” says Ill Poetic, a solo artist and half of the duo Definition. He met Skandal following the Blaze Battle. “He was battling at Top Cat’s and I was amazed that Zone (the other half of Definition) knew him. He was just one of those people I kept hearing about.”
Although the HBO Blaze Battle episodes are available on DVD, Skandal laments, “Ain’t no honor in battling anymore, so now songwriting is where it’s at. There’s money in it. Cats who are known for their battle rep often aren’t known for making hit records.”
Skandal hopes his upcoming release, Vigilante World, will change that.
“I got the formula,” he says. “The problem is that nobody is rockin’ the (Hip Hop) heads and the streets at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with making good music that people who don’t make music can jam to.”
Having hosted local battles, he observes that today too many MCs lack originality and rely on trading insults to win battles.
“(There) was a time when you could murder ‘em with style,” he says. “Now, you only get response from the crowd when you say a punch-line, which is what I don’t like about battling anymore."
Skandal cites crowd-judged battles and MCs who deliver pre-written raps as the demise of the art form. He also emphasizes that styles differ from region to region.
“A lot of New York rappers spit written (verses) in battles and call it a ‘freestyle.’ And in the Midwest we call freestyling right off the top of the head,” he explains. “We used to listen to the New York style, not knowin’ they was spittin’ writtens in a freestyle, and we thought New York was just ‘cold wit’ it’ off the head.”
But since New York MCs assumed the precedent for battling, Skandal says he and his friends used New York as a benchmark in the beginning until they crafted their own niche.
Endearingly, he refers to his friends Supapowers as “stand-up guys I’d take a bullet for.” But of everyone, his mother is his best friend.
“She gives me an insight to things that you can only get from experience. I’m a true mama’s boy and if anybody got anything to say about it, come holla at me,” he says.
His weightiest ambition is to appeal to the female market and he’s slimming down because he feels that MCs like Notorious B.I.G., Big Punisher and Heavy D were merely lucky to be seen as sexy.
“They were rarities,” Skandal says. “When you’re fat, I don’t give a fuck, people are biased. I wanna have the whole package, not just the skills. I wanna have the whole market on lock.”