In the previous entries of this series and probably for any that I'll do in the future, the key reason that I selected each person was because of being really impressed with their talent. No doubt, in each individual there is also some sort of mentorship factor that made them particularly special to me, but the root is generally their talent and my memory of it.
The "Legend" of Champagne is more based on just that...legend. She was one of the most respected, possibly the most respected, MC in the Junction City, KS* area in the mid 80s. However,I don't have any recollections of her rhyming. I may have only heard her rhyme once...maybe. However, her skills were constantly spoke about in my circle of friends and associates.
Another, important factor in her mystique is that she is from New York. Back in the day that held a lot of weight, just about anywhere I suppose. Champagne was pure New York; the look, the style, the fashion, the accent, the attitude, the walk, and just in overall presence.
She was a few years older than me and so we never really ever hung out. Although we did have a similar connection to the House Rockers Nation, which was the premier DJ Crew in the area. The founder/leader of House Rockers was DJ Pill** and had recently taken my group, 3D Crew a.k.a 3RD Dimension, under his wing as his young proteges. However, even with that we didn't get the opportunity to hang with a lot of the crew much, as we were still kids for the most part.
People were constantly talking about how ill Champagne was on the mic. When people talked about her they had this excitement in their eyes that was just a good a confirmation of her skills as hearing it for yourself. I remember thinking, every time I saw her, that I wanted to hear her rhyme. Yet to me she was like a goddess, a celebrity, so I didn't feel right to just walk up and request for her to perform some personal show for me. Truthfully, I was intimidated by her and didn't want to risk her dissing me or lord forbid, her taking it as a challenge and calling me out for battle. I was just building up my rep as a top contender in my own weight class, I didn't need the heavyweights verbally smacking me around...ha.
With all that mind, a viewed her like royalty. Seriously, even trying to imagine her doing "normal' things seemed weird. She was a senior when I was a sophomore and trying to visualize her in a classroom doing math or whatever else just seemed strange. I have this one memory of seeing her in the lunch room for the first time holding a lunch tray, just like me, and that just seemed abnormal...ha.
Obviously, I held her in high regard. I know what immediately pops in peoples head, because she's a woman, is that I had a crush or physical attraction to her. Admittedly, besides that fact she was good looking, all of those things that I describe about her above made her this powerful woman and that is definitely attractive. Still I didn't see her that way. My fascination with Hip Hop prevailed over any lovesick fantasies on this one.
I only have a handful of memories of specific interactions with her;
My group, 3D Crew, was performing our first real show ('85) and it was a performance battle at the Youth Center. We had the legendary DJ Pill as our DJ. By now, we had lost our 3rd MC, Capri, because he moved to Germany (that's the military life for you) so it was just my cuz, Eddy a.k.a Burning Hot T.N.T and myself, Amazing MC Coolie. We started our routine with this piece that was referencing/paying tribute to Jimmy Spicer's "Adventures In Super Rhymes"***. I looked to the side and noticed T.T.T****, a older MC/B-Boy from New York also I think, biting his finger as if to call us biters. Worse yet, he was with Champagne. As a young upcoming group, you do not want two of the most respected elders on the scene thinking you are a biter! I'll never forget having this strong feeling in the back of my mind of wanting to pause the show and go explain to them it was in tribute. Thankfully, I didn't do that. We stayed on task and knocked out a pretty flawless performance. By the time it was over, pretty much all of the audience, including T.T.T and Champagne, were giving us props, so we earned their respect the best and most rewarding way possible. We ended up winning the contest and that is what got us officially invited to join House Rockers Nation.
Another time, I ended up running into Champagne when walking past her house on the way to see T.N.T. I don't remember for sure, but I think it may have been right after that show above and so I was now on her radar so to speak, so she made a point to speak to me, which was a nice ego boost. We ended up having a conversation about her time in New York. I must have asked her what she missed the most about New York and she told me a few things, but the thing that stood out the most was about New York Radio. I was already aware of the amazing things taking place on the New York airwaves due to my dubbed copies of Mr Magic's Rap Attack on WBLS. However, right around this time is when 98.7 Kiss Fm was rising into power as a direct competitor to WBLS with Kool DJ Red Alert & DJ Chuck Chillout. Champagne was the first to tell me how you could go to one station and they'd be dissing the other and then go down the dial and the other station would be responding. The idea of that raw essence of Hip Hop was amazing and inspiring. Honestly, I know she gave me specific details about some things (something about a Craig G freestyle/battle), but I was so in awe with the complete idea of the two battling stations and was lost in thought trying to visualize it, that I lacked focus on the details. I really appreciate her telling me those stories. I'm pretty sure that is the only conversation we ever had beyond basic greetings and so forth.
The only other memory is one involving the accompanying picture here. That is on my last day of school at Junction City High School before moving to the "Chicago Area" (North Chicago/Waukegan). I only have about 2-3 pictures from that day. I didn't have a wealth of close friends at that time really. Everything was focused on my music; writing rhymes, show rehearsals, popping and breaking. I already had photos of my crew so there was were just a couple of photos***** I wanted capture for my memory before I left. Champagne was the #1 priority. I made sure to track her down, ask her for the photo and thank her....basically for being herself...ha.
Unfortunately, since I moved I haven't had any communication with her. I don't even know her real name, she was always just Champagne to everyone. I would love to know if she stayed with the MCing thing. I would really love to get my hands on some tapes of her from back then. Somebody has to have something...
*Junction City, KS might not seem like a Hip Hop mecca, but trust me there was an impressive range of talent there. As I've stated before, that's one of the great things about the military lifestyle. You would have all these people moving in from East Coast and West Coast and bringing the influence of their city with them!
**DJ Pill was the first name and story I thought of when starting this series. It's one of my favorite stories and most important pieces to the evolution of my love and skills in Hip Hop. It will be the next story in this series!!
***We took the Jimmy Spicer line, "(Our) DJ, he gets down, mixing records running around" and then added-on our own words using the same melody for a acapella intro.
****T.T.T eventually became a friend of the 3D Crew. He was in the Ft. Riley Breaking Patrol with me and T.N.T and was ill with the Popping skills. He was also affiliated with the House Rockers Nation. The T.T.T quote that always stands out to me is, "Wear Lee jeans because they are the ones that fit, if you ain't got Lee's then you ain't go sh*t". Ironically, my partner T.N.T later asked him if we could use the line as a tribute to him, for a show we were doing, which, in hindsight, probably wouldn't help someone think we weren't biters...oh well, we were young. :)
*****The other key photo I wanted was of NikeSki. A real cool dude who just moved to town who was a ill Human Beatbox! I'm going to have to do a story on him soon. I have a couple tapes of him throwing down that are fresh!