Verbs' Hip-Hop Open Mic Carries the Torch for Project Blowed
“I’m like Wolverine,” Verbs says of his ubiquity in L.A.’s hip-hop community. “I’ve been on all sorts of teams.”
Photo by Danny Liao
If you frequent rap shows in Los Angeles, you’ve probably seen Verbs. He’s the stocky, gregarious guy sporting a Zissou-red beanie and a vest checkered with enough flair to earn him a managerial position at Chotchkie’s. If you missed him, chances are you weren’t looking hard enough. He’s the Where’s Waldo? of L.A. rap, ubiquitous and somehow blending in while standing out.
You and he probably have at least one mutual friend on Facebook. “My friend circles are so big now. Places I’ve worked, things I do, high school, college, rap homies, weird DIY collective homies — it’s like Venn diagrams all over the city,” Verbs says when we meet at the Koreatown residence he shares with 13 others. A quasi co-op, the house features two nonfunctioning telephone booths, an outdoor disco ball and a pinball machine in dubious working order.
“I don’t know why we have two telephone booths. This is all just an accumulation of shit. Some people do art department. We have karaoke one Tuesday out of the month. It’s lit,” Verbs says enthusiastically.
Born Kyle Guy, the 29-year-old rapper and part-time bike courier has been an avid member and organizer in the city’s subterranean music scene since he frequented infamous rap night Project Blowed in the early 2000s. Today, the aforementioned karaoke night is one of several monthly events in which he has a hand. Human Rap Party, the Leimert Park Art Walk, All Scene Eye, Grey Bananas, Bananas — you’ll find Verbs at all of them.
“I’m like Wolverine,” he says. “I’ve been on all sorts of teams for no reason.”
Bananas, however, is paramount. Verbs started the event, which takes place on the third Tuesday of every month in Leimert Park, after touring with venerated L.A. indie rapper Murs. Housed inside KAOS Network, a small performance space owned by filmmaker Ben Caldwell, the shows offer an open mic for nascent rappers and a practice space for the established. In a city seemingly brimming with music events of every ilk, there’s nothing like it. It’s an integral piece of the L.A. rap puzzle.
Verbs' Bananas open mic is an integral piece of the L.A. rap puzzle.
Photo by Danny Liao
Open Mike Eagle, Anderson .Paak, Nocando, Speak, Quelle Chris and Homeboy Sandman all performed at Bananas early in their careers. Last year, Kendrick Lamar popped in to watch the proceedings. No matter who attends, or how many, Verbs makes very little for his efforts, always splitting the profits with Caldwell, and often providing performers with money for gas or food.
“I like what it does for the people who come. Maybe that’s the biggest payment. I feel like there’s a lot of responsibility for me to continue doing them,” Verbs says. “Even though it’s not monetarily satisfying, I like making people happy.”
Verbs himself has appeared on songs with .Paak, Eagle, Murs, Nocando and more. Yet despite his omnipresence and renowned affiliates, his solo efforts (such as 2012’s The Progress EP 3: Manifest Awesome) haven’t garnered significant attention.
“I kind of get bummed out. A part of me is like, ‘Am I jealous?’ It’s not really that I’m jealous. I’m [just] sad,” he says when comparing his career trajectory to that of his peers. “But I know all the things I need to do. ... It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I like to say that a lot. Take it a day at a time and hope for the best.”
For now, Verbs plans to find time between shows to record a new project. No matter how it’s received, he knows L.A. rap wouldn’t be the same without him.
“All of the shit that spawned from the shit that I’ve done, I feel like it could affect things for years to come. I guess that’s why I do it.”