By Alex Distefano
By Daniel Kohn
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By Nate Jackson
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Photo by Joe NavranDJ Daniel used to be the one nice guy you'd see spinning records at some of Orange County's most reptilian nightclubs, but lately, every Sunday night, he has been dumping the limousine-loving bling-bling headspace of those rooms for the consciousness-raising rhymes and scratching of underground hip-hop. Along with partners Joey Bag O' Donuts and Alex D. Jon, Daniel produces Detour at the House of Blues in Anaheim. Since its May debut, Detour has quickly become one of the greatest hip-hop clubs in OC history —certainly one of the few that give guttersnipe OC DJs and MCs a chance to play a major venue on a regular basis, says Reason, an MC for Long Beach band the Art of Fact.
"We usually perform at holes in the wall," says Reason. "Our exposure's gone up 300 percent."
Crews such as the Art of Fact, Yorba Linda's Speech Impediments and Orange's Verbal Threat get to share stages with well-known hip-hoppers such as Wildchild, an MC with the critically acclaimed Lootpack crew. They also get to perform in front of 700 to 1,200 people, easily the biggest crowds of their careers. Those audiences, along with the House of Blues' dramatic stage lighting and fist-pumping sound system, were once out of these OC crews' leagues. But now that the trappings of professional show business are within their grasp, they feel free to inject a little street into the Mouse House. Whether it's the B-boy Dragon twisting his body into unimagined shapes while breakdancing during Verbal Threat's show or the Cal Logic crew's recent charmer of a concert opener—"Who in the muthafuckin' house wants to get fucked-up tonight?!"—Detour proves that hip-hop is mainstream enough to make it at Downtown Disney.
It's a little jarring, says the Art of Fact MC Talent. "It's weird when you come here," he admits. "There're all these families."
The hip-hop invasion of Downtown Disney was something that crossed the House of Blues' radar, too, says Daniel. "The only thing they were concerned about was the graffiti factor," he says. "House of Blues has great art on their walls, and they were afraid people would bring Sharpies and mark them up."
Markers, pens and other writing instruments are confiscated at the door by House of Blues security, according to DJ Daniel, but there have been no fights. That's good because a fear of violence precedes the hip-hop movement, says OC promoter Cocoe. "Hip-hop's got a reputation for roughness. People get scared because there could be fights, but people got to get educated if clubs are going to go off. It's got to be promoted right, and security has got to be cool."
Cocoe, who has produced the intimate, underground hip-hop club Abstract Workshop in Costa Mesa for the past five years, also says this nasty perception of violence contributes to the relative dearth of hip-hop venues in OC and elsewhere, even though the genre represented 13.8 percent of all CD sales in 2002, according to the Recording Industry Association of America—second only to rock music in popularity.
Another big reason for the absence of local hip-hop in large clubs is the nagging question that strikes fear into the hearts of all live acts and show promoters: Can they draw a crowd? House of Blues bookers wondered about that when Daniel first approached them with a pitch to let Verbal Threat do a record-release party at Detour, which, until Memorial Day, was just a regular dance club.
"House of Blues and their partners didn't think [it was] going to do well," Daniel says. "But I kept pushing for it. When 1,200 people showed up, and their reaction was, 'Wow, okay, maybe Daniel has something,' that's when I actively started to look for hip-hop acts."
All of this is a bit strange because Daniel doesn't fit the hip-hop entrepreneur stereotype. He's not a gold-wearing gangsta of the bling-bling nor a socially minded granola bar of the underground. The way he talks himself up, he should be in the cast of Friends.
"I'm a happy-go-lucky kinda guy," Daniel says; he's wearing a baseball jersey emblazoned with the word GIRAFFE. "I got a lot of female friends. I'm the non-threatening male. I don't know if it that's good or bad."
A lot of clubgoers, such as Malia Kramer of Newport Beach, have another identity crisis about exactly what sort of hip-hop Detour represents. "It's not underground; it's not mainstream," she says. "Everybody knows about it, so it can't be underground. But they introduce new artists." Then she whirled around and disappeared into a crowd of hip-hop fans gyrating on the Detour dance floor.Detour goes off at The House Of Blues, 1530 S. Disneyland Dr., Anaheim, (714) 778-2583. Every Sun. (Unless pre-empted by a concert), 10:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. $10. 21+.