War of words
Ventura County hip-hop in the international arena
By CJ Marshall 02/13/2014
He steps onto the stage in front of a raucous crowd. The scene is more like the weigh-in than the fight, full of the animosity and testosterone to match. The only scales present are the judges and the audience, hanging on the words of these fighters — determining their value as barbs and punchlines trade back and forth. There are no topics off-limits, no words banned from competition, and nothing to save him from the embarrassment of defeat. This isn’t a friendly cypher for the heads to beatbox and freestyle among the brethren. This is the King of the Dot, one of the premier “Battle Rap” leagues in existence.
He looks into the camera and introduces himself. “J-Pro. Epsilon Project. Ox-City.” Every time.
J-Pro sees King of the Dot as a means to an end, an opportunity to put his group, Epsilon Project, and the city of Oxnard on the map. KOTD began in Toronto in 2008, and now competitors from all over the globe participate. With the league’s 200,000-plus subscribers and 11 million-plus hits on YouTube, he couldn’t have picked a better arena. Demolishing the opposition doesn’t hurt either. He’s used to it. It’s how he’s made a name for himself.
Jason’s love for the music saved him from the usual trappings of city life. He knew the direction he needed to take, and education was foremost on the escape plan. Keeping his nose in the books kept him out of trouble as he earned his degree from UCLA. The words from those books kept his skills sharp with an expanded vocabulary. Hip-hop culture, rapping (or emceeing) in particular, provided the creative outlet he desired. He paid his dues early on in the “cypher,” rapping freestyle alongside fellow Epsilon family members Dex and Kingsley, developing his skill and wordplay. Pro was always willing to test himself and those around him, which brought outside artists and challengers into the equation. His signature attitude and stage presence were born from these sessions, and as a result it has earned him crowd support away from home.
“People used to talk like they were the best, or be disrespectful,” he says, “I would bring them down to size. The aggression is not on purpose. It’s just who I am. I’m an emcee and I control the crowd. I wanted to be heard.”
J-Pro will be the first person to tell you he prefers the music to battle rap. There is a difference, and fans of one format may not be fans of the other. “It’s not emceeing” he says, “There’s wrestling, and then you have this sensational, entertainment side like WWE. That’s how I see battle rap.” Although he is a complete music artist, he has an itch that KOTD definitely scratches. He feels right at home in a competitive environment. “I draw inspiration from that spirit. Whether emceeing or b-boying (break dancing), you’re trying to be the best. You’re trying to prove yourself. That’s hip-hop.”
It may seem unlikely that an emcee from Oxnard could battle his way up and down the West Coast to qualify for Toronto, but not if you ask his fellow Epsilon Project member Antidote. “J-Pro has been wrecking mics like this for as long as I’ve known him. Now that platforms like KOTD exist, it’s more like Pro is just getting recognized for things he’s always done.”
J-Pro and Epsilon follow in the steps of 805-area artists who are making their mark in the hip-hop industry. Artists such as Oh No, MED, Madlib, DJ Romes, and Wildchild all hail from Oxnard and received worldwide recognition and success via the well-respected Stones Throw record label. Those artists and the countless others unnamed, unknown and unsigned are who J-Pro represents. He is also continuing his education at Loyola in Los Angeles, where he is currently studying law. “If I didn’t go out and do my best and work my hardest, I’d be doing my people a disservice. Oxnard is part of who I am. This is where I come from.”
For more information visit www.EpsilonProject.com and www.KOTD.com