|Debby Tewes is Asian
Writer in the Milwaukee area
Marlon Eric Lima
Beat the Odds
Marlon Eric Lima is a recent graduate at UW-Madison School of Journalism & Mass Communication; a First Wave Hip-Hop Theatre
Ensemble - Scholar; and a member of the National Society of Collegiate Scholars.
The Madison Media Institute even had a representative present with a booth, which was stocked with pamphlets and free flash
drives with information about the school downloaded on them.
UCAN has already begun organizing an education forum for artists, producers and managers on October 12th.
It was fitting that the event was hosted at a newly remodeled community center of Fountain of Life church, given that Densmore’s
story shows how music can be a person’s salvation amidst the hard times.
by Marlon Eric Lima
Heavy hip-hop music blasted throughout a hall of a remodeled church where sermons would be given the
next morning in the room next door. Blasphemy? Not at all. No doubt a priest would not find lyric-less
music with high production to be offensive.
On June 8th, the Urban Community Arts Network (UCAN) and Madison Media Institute (MMI) threw one of
the city’s “beat battles” in the new center for culture and community on Badger road. Twenty-four hip-hop
producers from Madison as well as Midwest cities competed with their music to win a cash prize as well
as networking and publicity opportunities.
For each one-on-one round, a song snippet from each competitor was played while producers vibed out to
their music in a variety of ways ranging from standing awkwardly to wholeheartedly acting out the song’s
production elements. The roughly 60 plus audience members could who had a better chances by
checking whether the music provoked the distinguished judges to give synchronized head nodding.
Among the 24 competing producers, roughly half were local, while others came from nearby Midwest spots such as Chicago, Indiana
and Minnesota. The final battle came down between a 17-year-old Madison local, Colin Callahan, and a Chicago producer named,
Benjamin “Bennie D” Densmore.
Although both producers started when they were 12 years old, Densmore’s 16 years of experience had given him the edge. By the
end, Callahan’s well crafted pop-style, which brought him to the final round could not outdo Densmore’s final song, which made
crowd members response enthusiastically for the vocal samples and organized production.
“If there’s one person in the crowd dancing, then I did my job,” said Densmore in a post-interview.
UCAN President Karen
Amidst the excitement of victory, Densmore maintained a sense of humbleness from his life
experiences. According to Densmore, his music efforts have been met with biased rulings from beat
battles in other cities and poor treatment from a radio station.
These experiences have influenced his strategy of entering with intentions of having fun and not
worrying about other competitors, which seemed to be a useful for him.
“Every time I have fun I started winning battles,” said Densmore. “It’s music, it’s supposed to be fun.”
“Over the years I was going through a lot of problems; going through shelters,” said Densmore
reflecting on how music has helped in his life. “I tried my best to find studios to get my mind off that
The community environment at the event was friendly throughout the roughly 5-hour event. Music
enthusiasts networked and exchanged cards. In between the battle rounds performances were held
by local musicians such as rapper Michael Medall.
The trap music subgenre of hip-hop proved to be the most common style played at the event, which
reflects the growing trend of hip-hop and beat battles. However, other styles appeared such as
Callahan’s pop influenced sound and an older producer’s boom-bap music.
The judge panel consisted of Madison’s local DJ Pain 1, who has produced for artists across the country, and MMI associate dean
and seasoned producer and engineer Chris “Godxilla” Taylor. Organizers also brought out guest judge, Ivan Rivera, who is a
manager of the multi-platinum, Grammy winning production group J.U.S.T.I.C.E. League.
Before the beat battle started the judges held a Q and A, giving
advice to the aspiring music producers such as how to manage a
professional image in business.
“If you don’t get out of bed, it won’t come to you as nothing but a
dream,” said Taylor in support of having a strong work ethic with
one’s music craft.
“[The Urban Community Arts Network] is always looking to bring an
element of education into the picture,” said UCAN President and
main organizer of the battle, Karen Reece.