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A hip-hop battle that's all about peace and love

Seattle's 206 Zulu, the local chapter of an international hip-hop organization, celebrates its sixth anniversary with power and style: break-dancing, deejaying, a graffiti-writing expo, and more.
Graffiti artists create an outdoor mural on painted-over planks of wood at the Vera Project.

Graffiti artists create an outdoor mural on painted-over planks of wood at the Vera Project. Jim Gupta-Carlson

Fraggle Rock Crew members Fidget (Marcus Sharpe) and Naj (Anna Beth Nagy) sell shirts, hats, towels, and other items created by the crew's clothing line.

Fraggle Rock Crew members Fidget (Marcus Sharpe) and Naj (Anna Beth Nagy) sell shirts, hats, towels, and other items created by the crew's clothing line. Jim Gupta-Carlson

Local deejays and emcees entertain hip-hop fans during 206 Zulu's anniversary festivities.

Local deejays and emcees entertain hip-hop fans during 206 Zulu's anniversary festivities. Jim Gupta-Carlson

Every battle is a story. It starts with a swagger, builds power through dramatic tension, and closes with an exclamation point — a statement that the warrior is done, for now.

In the world of competitive break-dancing, the story’s told in 45 to 90 seconds. One night last weekend, 84 dancers organized into two-person crews sweated out their stories at the Cirque Events Center. Before them, 24 others competed in the street-dance technique known as poppin’, demonstrating their prowess in the rapid, robotic moves of that style.

The Mighty Four International B-Boy/B-Girl Competition (the "B" stands for "break") was the culminating event in the sixth-anniversary celebration of 206 Zulu, the Seattle chapter of the international hip-hop organization Universal Zulu Nation. The competitors were multi-racial, female and male. They battled for respect and for money: $500 in the poppin’ contest and $2,000 in the two-on-two.

Universal Zulu Nation was established by hip-hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa in the mid-1970s as a means of bringing together oppressed peoples, particularly of African ancestry. Its outreach today is worldwide and multiethnic, and its mission is to empower youth through a practice of hip-hop and to create positive change in communities through knowledge and education. Zulu Nation members break-dance, deejay, emcee, write graffiti, and educate, write, and mobilize people to support community development and political uplift through and around hip-hop.

The Seattle chapter formed in 2004. “The significance of having a Seattle chapter was that it was able to help unify different camps and crews,” says deejay and community organizer King Khazm, who leads 206 Zulu.

Seattle’s hip-hop community is small but highly diverse. Participants practice, perform, and teach hip-hop’s arts at a variety of venues including community centers, churches, schools, and all-ages and 21-and-over clubs. Often, participants would work alone and not interact with the larger community. “People started to see the importance of collectivity and being able to support each other on a larger level,” says Khazm. “It was just something that was needed, not just for the hip-hop community but for the youth who need something positive to go towards.”

The chapter now supports a radio show, a variety of educational events, and shows featuring hip-hop’s core elements: b-boying and b-girling, deejaying, emceeing, and graffiti writing. Its anniversary celebration included a hip-hop education summit for youth, a live graffiti writing expo, deejay and musical performances, and tributes to hip-hop heroes, including James “TalkSick” Sullivan, a 206 Zulu member who died in October after contracting swine flu and pneumonia. Attendees ranged from toddlers scribbling Crayola ink onto butcher block paper to 60-year-olds feeling hip-hop’s positive vibe for the first time.

Love and peace may contradict more popular perceptions of hip-hop focused on commercial rap music that glorifies consumerism, hyper-sexualizes women, and advocates violence. Zulu’s goal is to counteract that form of hip-hop. Many of Seattle’s current hip-hop community leaders grew up in the 1980s and 1990s, and recall break-dancing after school at Westlake Center, writing graffiti in empty spaces, and rapping at the Pike Place Market. Many were inner-city youth who found in hip-hop an escape from potential trouble and a mission for their life.

One b-boy — Marcus Sharpe, who goes by Fidget — for instance studied salsa, tango and a variety of other dances at Ewajo Dance Centre in the Central Area before embracing hip-hop at age 12. He and two other teens founded their b-boy crew, Fraggle Rock, at age 15, and now operate a record label, video production company, entertainment company, and clothing line. Three of Seattle's approximately half-dozen competitive b-girls — Anna Beth Nagy (Naj), Colleen Ross (Bean), and Mary Lee Nagy (Lee) — are among the crew’s seven Seattle members. Naj and Bean have competed in international competitions and Naj now travels regularly with the crew to national competitions.

“I turned to b-boying after I’d tried out every other dance,” says Fidget, “all in an effort to find myself.”


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