Taking Hold

In a postapocalyptic future world, a villainous cadre of B-boys has set up a factory in order to make bootleg CDs. The fashion of the age is retro-’80s, so the nefarious breakdancers all wear matching red warm-up suits. Their dance moves are their defenses, but they’re no match for the rhyme-slaying creation of a cybernetic scientist named Ataxic. In the space of a few minutes, the renegade genius (who moonlights as a Kansas City hip-hop DJ) builds a robot-armed, laser-eyed MC to defeat the dancin’ foes. The cyborg’s name: Reach.

Walking through the burned-out landscape while chanting verse, Reach interacts with a few of the world’s denizens — a woman in a tricked-out catsuit and a kid driving a motorized shopping cart — then infiltrates the B-boys’ factory. He vanquishes a few outside the elevator, rides it to the top, and foils the crew’s plans by popping a golden cassette into one of his augmented arms and pressing play.

This is the plot for Reach’s debut music video, which sets a visual concept to his prize-winning song “Comin’ for You.” In the summer of 2005, Reach entered the track in Scion’s annual Next-Up contest, a song battle judged this year by national figures DJ Premier, Green Lantern and Sean Cane. Next-Up is part of the Toyota subsidiary’s ongoing project to attract younger drivers through hot new music, especially hip-hop. The contest was free to enter and offered a $50,000 prize package, including a professionally produced video and live performances at Scion events around the country.

Reach was proclaimed the winner last November (“Mr. Brightside,” December 1, 2005). At the end of March 2006, he and Ataxic flew to Los Angeles for the video shoot. This Saturday at the Record Bar, the video debuts in all its Mad Max-meets-Missy Elliot glory.

In reality, Reach, whose real name is Stacy Smith, is a reluctant road warrior. His original idea was to shoot the video in KC; his concept for the clip was to depict a down-to-Earth sequence of events that included him writing the song, working on it with producer Miles Bonny and recording it in the studio at the end of the day. The cyborg plot is funkier and more original, but it lacks the connection to home that’s so important to Reach.

Initially, Scion did plan to shoot the video here with a director from Missouri, but the money people decided it was too expensive to send an entire video crew to the Midwest. The company chose a new director, Asif Mian (who has directed illusory videos for the Roots and Aesop Rock), and devised the sci-fi concept (as well as the plan to use a Scion xB at the beginning of the video).

Reach was disappointed when he got the news. He fought to keep the video local, but as the beneficiary, he wasn’t entitled to the final word.

“At first, I was really having second thoughts about it,” he recalls, “but I talked to my friends, and they said it was something I earned and something I should do regardless.”

Now that the video is complete, Reach realizes that the finished product is pretty special. Had it been filmed here at home, he says, “it would’ve been a lot more me, but at the same time, it probably would’ve been a lot more forgettable.”

He’s probably right.

Except when Reach is on the mic, he’s not the sort of over-the-top Busta Rhymes personality that you’d expect to get cybernetic on anyone’s ass. Onstage, he’s all smooth motion and energy, towel over his shoulder, summoning arms to wave and shouts to rise from the crowd. In person, he’s calm and stoic — you can’t tell whether he’s shy or relaxed or bored or just keeping it in.

But he’s no bore.

“Comin’ for You” is a badass track — and the fact that a song riddled with esoteric KC hip-hop shout-outs could win a national contest says a lot about Reach’s skills at songcraft and performance.

It’s a song about being a standout artist, about being a good person (If you been drinkin’, I’m takin’ you from your keys) and about being part of a strong network. In it, he mentions his friend Phil Shafer (better known as Sike Style, who’s organizing the release party) at least twice, along with the Guild, CES Cru and others in his scene.

That wouldn’t mean anything to some random person who’s thinking about buying a Toyota. But forceful, elegantly clipped lines such as I’m representin’ for peace, representin’ for truth should make sense to anyone, with or without a car.

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