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"Nigga," Please

It's on? Hip-hoppists go pie a pie.
Brian Stauffer

Eminem's down with his niggas. Puerto Ricans like J.Lo and Fat Joe, and even that Asian kid in the baggy jeans, they claim posses of niggas. Thanks in large part to the marketing of commercial hip-hop, what was arguably the most destructive word in the English language has (rightly or wrongly) morphed itself into a term of endearment -- for blacks, sure, but for whites, browns and beiges, too.

House One, a Mexico City-born Hispanic and the leader of the local hip-hop crew Furious Styles, believed Darryl Khalid was his nigga. Until Khalid, a black choreographer and founder of rival dance troupe FootKlan, took offense to House's use of the word outside a Scottsdale nightclub almost a year and a half ago.

Now, House no longer calls Khalid a nigga, much less his nigga. Rather, House says, Khalid's just an opportunistic troublemaker playing the race card.

"Darryl's trying to get some fame right now, and he's trying to get it by coming at us," says House, who teaches a hip-hop dance class at Arizona State University, and gives private lessons to the kids of Valley celebrities, like Dan Majerle and Rick Schroeder. "We're not gonna play into it."

But House, whose real name is Edson Magana, according to ASU's dance department (although he refused to confirm that with New Times), is finding it increasingly difficult to avoid the tension he says Khalid has contrived.

Since that September 2003 night outside Jetz nightclub, FootKlan (at Khalid's behest) has crisscrossed the Valley -- from Glendale to Phoenix and even to Fountain Hills -- to issue challenge upon challenge to the Furious Styles crew for an old-school b-boy "battle." Not with fists or guns, but with popping and locking, helicopters and head spins.

"It's just about respect, man," says Khalid, outside downtown's Old Brickhouse on a recent Friday night.

Call it a modern-day West Side Story, only without the star-crossed lovers caught in the middle. This is how "real b-boys and b-girls, genuine hip-hop warriors" settle their differences, Khalid says, sporting a gold, velour jumpsuit and his trademark braids.

But to House, who spoke with New Times days later regarding Khalid and this supposed beef, Khalid's got ulterior motives.

"It's about getting publicity," says House. "Darryl needs some right now."


The rift between Furious Styles and FootKlan began with a contentious conversation between House and Khalid on a late summer night in 2003 outside Jetz in Scottsdale, spawning months of racial tension and bravado from both sides.

"We should be unifying the hip-hop scene here," Khalid says he told House that night. "If we all work together, there's no reason why all of us can't make money."

Both House and Khalid work hard to get their respective crews shows with local dance companies, national and international b-boy competitions and community service events, as well as sponsorships. A performance can earn each crew as much as $500 a dancer, according to House and Khalid, and sometimes even more, including travel expenses for competitions as far away as China and Japan. (Furious Styles, for instance, toured with the Australian dance troupe Tap Dogs, opening shows during a two-month gig in Tokyo back in 2002.)

Furious Styles, a small crew of about seven dancers, is "surviving" financially, according to House, performing halftime shows for the WNBA's Phoenix Mercury, appearing in hip-hop videos and soda commercials, and even doing bar mitzvahs and weddings. Meanwhile, Khalid and FootKlan -- about a dozen dancers strong -- have found modest success as well since their founding back in 1993, recently performing for the City of Phoenix and an anniversary show for local nightclub 'zine 944.

Khalid boasts that he's seen by a weekly audience of "1.5 million" TV viewers, on the long-running syndicated show Soul Train. Khalid, a.k.a. the "Boogie Monster," and FootKlan member Luciana Bell, a.k.a. "Shine," were crowned "Mr. and Ms. Soul Train" back in 1997. Khalid's younger brother, Kasiem, purportedly owns the national record for most consecutive head spins (47). And the troupe has also performed on the since-canceled Donny and Marie Osmond (the late-1990s version) and Keenen Ivory Wayans shows, as well as BET's Sprite Night and the Vibe Show in New York.

But local gigs, both crews' bread and butter, are in short supply. As a result, both crews find themselves stuck with gigs that don't seem very hip-hop.

House scoffs at a so-called "sponsorship" deal Khalid recently agreed to with a multilevel marketing company known as BodyWise. According to Khalid, BodyWise plans to sponsor FootKlan as it travels to local schools to market vitamins to kids, but only after Khalid and FootKlan put their own money into the program to purchase the products.

"Things aren't going so well for Darryl these days," House postures, despite the fact that Khalid and FootKlan generate other means of income for themselves, such as Khalid's Glendale martial arts studio and dance classes.

 

But as House sees it, Khalid's message of "unity" outside Jetz back in 2003 was really Khalid's attempt to piggyback Furious Styles' success.

House says he began to discourage Khalid's "con," using a prickly choice of words.

"Well, look, nigga," House admits he said to Khalid. House says, "That's the way I talk. I'm from Chicago. I musta said 'nigga' about 100 times in that conversation."

Khalid says he was upset after the first time he'd heard House say the N-word.

"I told [House] he didn't have to use derogatory comments like that towards other races. That's what's distorting hip-hop right now. You got artists sayin' 'nigga this' and 'nigga that.' That's not hip-hop. That's street hop," Khalid says, indirectly referring to the use of the word by such artists as Jennifer Lopez, Eminem, and Fat Joe, none of whom are black.

Standing outside Jetz, Khalid challenged House, his younger brother (and fellow Furious Styles member) Dino, and the rest of the FS crew to a $1,000 battle to be judged by legendary b-boys Crazy Legs and the Rock Steady Crew out of the Bronx.

But that battle never happened. House, Dino, and Furious Styles say they blew it off.

"It was never something that we really took seriously," says House. "We don't battle people just to settle a beef."

And House doesn't believe Khalid was sincerely offended by his use of the word "nigga," which both Khalid and 23-year-old FootKlan dancer Derrick Broussard, who's also black, admit they use themselves, "only behind closed doors," Broussard adds. "We know how to use it."

"This isn't about me sayin' 'nigga.' And if you print it, Darryl will call you a racist, too," House tells New Times.


It's a little after 11 p.m. at downtown's Old Brickhouse, the first Friday in December, and Furious Styles' anniversary party is going down.

But it might as well be high noon for Darryl Khalid.

Khalid and his FootKlan crew, along with members of Furious Styles -- most of them decked out in bandannas, parachute pants, oversize hoodies and sideways truckers' hats -- are face to face in the center of a circle of anxious onlookers as the Tempe band Drunken Immortals lays down the funk.

You almost expect Michael Jackson, clad in a red leather jacket, tee shirt and penny loafers (à la 1982's "Beat It"), to emerge from the crowd, break up the tension, and sing, "No one wants to be defeated." But this beef is too over the top, too downright absurd, says House, to be even a caricature of the melodramatic '80s video.

Maybe that's why House is nowhere to be found. At the moment.

As Drunken Immortals performs a slammin' cover of Kool & the Gang's "Jungle Boogie," black, Hispanic and Asian dancers from both troupes hop into the circle of mostly white spectators to battle each other.

"Miracles," from Furious Styles, pops and locks, flips and spins, props himself up and stares down Khalid. Onlookers are laughing, oohing, and giving Miracles their approval with generous applause that can be heard over the thumping sound of Drunken Immortals' set.

Khalid, in turn, has his eyes set on Dino, House's younger brother. Khalid breaks and hops, pops and locks himself, then smacks his back with full force on the dance floor -- all the while glaring at Dino. He bounces his body, from head to toe, to the beat of the music, in a full 360-degree turn, smiling at Dino as the crowd watches in disbelief, then lets out an even louder applause for Khalid than it did for Miracles.

"We just showed them up," Khalid says after Drunken Immortals' set ends and makes way for headliner Gift of Gab (of the hip-hop group Blackalicious). "We just beat them at their own party. I mean, that's embarrassing."

But you won't catch House or Dino giving Khalid such props. Which has Khalid fuming even more these days.

The battle is over. But the war apparently isn't.

While House and Khalid say they've had their fill of street fighting (House was raised in Chicago; Khalid grew up in Glendale among "Bloods, Crips, and Westside Chicanos," he says), both worry that if their beef can't be squashed on the dance floor, it will escalate to a point of no return.

"I guess the next step in all this is for it to get violent," Khalid told New Times last week, adding he's gotten no apology from House, nor the respect from Furious Styles he wants. "I don't want it to get violent, but if they step to me, well . . .

 

"The only way this is gonna end is one of two things: House needs to go and do his own thing. Don't hurt nobody's name. Don't mess with nobody's work. Or it's gonna end in violence," says Khalid, who recently told New Times that House had used his connections with local production company Street Jam to get FootKlan canned from a touring gig.

"And I'm not gonna go to jail for this person," Khalid adds. "I'm not gonna kill anyone for this person. I just want him to do his own thing. Everyone's depending on us to do the right thing."

"We have a lot more to do than worry about FootKlan," House tells New Times in response. "I'll do the same thing I've been doing, which is to completely ignore him. The only way it's gonna get violent is if we have to defend ourselves."

E-mail joe.watson@newtimes.com, or call 602-744-6557.


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