May 3 2011 04:42 PM

Which of these new hip-hop events suits you?

The Gaslamp Killer (left) and Pigeon John

San Diego’s not exactly known for its thriving hip-hop scene. Despite being the eighth largest city in the United States, many national hip-hop acts skip it; there just doesn’t seem to be enough dudes in hoodies or fitted caps nodding their heads and mean-mugging in the corner to justify a visit. But perhaps that’s changing. A recent influx of new hip-hop events suggests that beats, rhymes and life are on the come-up in San Diego. Here’s a handy guide to help local hip-hoppers navigate the options:

Critical Beatdown
Every first Thursday @ Kava Lounge
2812 Kettner Blvd., Middletown,

One of the most popular showcases in town, Critical Beatdown, takes a page from L.A.’s renowned Low End Theory night to showcase DJs and producers who traffic in experimental, instrumental hip-hop inspired by folks like the late, great J Dilla. Eclecticism is key among this trendy crowd: Headliners like Tokimonsta and residents DJ Pound, Mike Gao and eLan are likely to play their own original tracks—expect experimental electro with murderous glitches and above-the-clouds strings—along with classic cuts by Wu-Tang Clan and even some Vietnamese folk songs or sitar jams. If you get there late, be prepared to park as far as five blocks away and possibly pay a higher price for admission if the venue is already packed and there’s a line out the door.

For hip-hop heads who: push the limits of technology—from drum machines to iPads—in making beats

Urban Underground Weekly
Wednesdays @ Kava Lounge
2812 Kettner Blvd., Middletown,

A hip-hop nerd’s haven, Urban Underground Weekly (which was shut down three years ago because of a shooting and recently revived) is one of the city’s best showcases for national acts and local talent alike. Past shows have featured unsung rap heroes like Cormega and Ras Kass along with locals like Orko Eloheim and Parker & The Numberman. In addition to regular shows, promoters JiJi and DJ Leviathan have hosted beat battles for local producers and often reserve time for hungry MCs to start ciphers (open-mic circles where rappers show their freestyling skills). The series is hosted by a rotating cast of MCs, many hailing from L.A.’s avant-garde Project Blowed scene, so underground mainstays like 2Mex are likely to treat you to freestyle rapping (usually over stop-start cyber beats) in between sets.

For hip-hop heads who: aspire to become professional artists

The Bus Stop
Every first and third Wednesday @ El Dorado
1030 Broadway, Downtown,

If you like your hip-hop leaning toward the jazzy samples of Pete Rock or the boom-bap of Gang Starr, this is the rare occasion when the music inside a club caters to you. The Bus Stop, another prominent showcase that recently made a comeback, brings fresh cuts from world-class DJs like Exile and HouseShoes. The scene here is vibrant: One recent night, mini-break-dancing circles formed as DJ Rhettmatic, a member of the Beat Junkies hip-hop crew, mixed a medley of original samples from classic hip-hop songs. If a rapping schoolteacher like J-Live just happens to cap off a performance by rhyming while scratching and mixing his own song—the hip-hop equivalent of a one-man band—be prepared to collect your mandible up off the floor.

For hip-hop heads who: appreciate the turntable as a standalone instrument

Lyrical Skoolyard
Random Thursdays @ Boar Cross’n
390 Grand Ave., Carlsbad,

This North County-focused series runs at random intervals, but it’s been picking up steam. Lyrical Skoolyard is very much like Urban Underground at its core—catering to the “real hip-hop” crowd by bringing slept-on vets like Keith Murray and members of Living Legends to anchor a slew of local acts—but it tends to run smoother and be a tighter package. The transitions between sets are especially entertaining: Resident DJ Charlie Rock spins a mix of boom-bap classics and similar underground cuts, while sojourn, who describes himself as the series’ “host / teacher,” freestyle raps with uncanny skill and drops obscure rap trivia about the songs. Then there’s the over-achieving soundman, Wiley, whose dogged work ethic brings out the best in even the most amateur acts.

For hip-hop heads who: want an advanced hip-hop history lesson, which may include references to Ced Gee or liner notes from The Roots’ Do You Want More?!!!??!    

Write to

Correction: This article originally reported that The Gaslamp Killer performed at a Critical Beatdown night at Kava Lounge. That's not exactly the case. The show he performed at was promoted by Critical Beatdown organizers and included resident Critical Beatdown DJs, but the show was not an official Critical Beatdown night. We apologize for the error.