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Word Up

They represent two different parts of Florida, but the MCs of Word Perfect stand in line together as they wait to enter the big show. Dirty Dem of Fort Lauderdale and Wiseguy of Orlando are trying to offer the rap world something more than the typical hip-pop, but these days their beloved genre is overcrowded. So they're forced to crawl along with everyone else, moving slowly in a very long line. They wait. They battle. They grind. Despite having tight rhymes and a stellar new release on the streets, Word Perfect knows they're just inching forward behind some gangsta rapper, his producers, the hype man, and the street team, and often if feels like the doors of hip-hop up ahead are shut.

But don't feel bad for them. This is their fight and they're not bowing out. Dirty Dem, a word-savvy 26-year-old of Colombian descent, says he's tired of battling the notion that underground hip-hop can't have a place within the mainstream and he hopes to change that. Meanwhile, his rhyming partner, the pull-no-punches, 21-year-old Wiseguy, thinks hip-hop is in a state of retardation.

"There's no substance," Wise says via phone. "Even if you look back a couple years ago, the successful artists — Jay-Z, Nas — they were actually using substance in their music. More and more, every day, we're not hearing that enough."

They would rather be part of a solution than a problem, but according to the supply-and-demand theory of mainstream rap, the odds aren't stacked in their favor. MTV plays some version of a "snapping" or "trapping" song because the TRL generation thinks they want to hear it. The main reason they want to hear it, get this, is because MTV has been shoving it down their throats and that's what makes it cool. The brainwashing is obvious, but when nobody cares to fight it, you can either whine or learn to buck the system in a different way.

"I'm not the ignorant MC that thinks that everyone should love underground," Wise says. "I'm not telling you what to listen to. It's just that I know that a lot of people still miss the type of music that says something or that can make you laugh or can make you think."

Part of what's different about Word Perfect is that they don't stick to just hardcore I'll-kick-your-ass-on-the-microphone lyrics. They aim for funny. They aim to make you say, "What the fuck?" But they're also not afraid to criticize a shitty political situation or mock rappers that act too tough. Their brazen style of hip-hop comedy is draped all over A Major Motion Mixtape, the group's latest endeavor, which is a laugh-a-minute romp through the sleazier side of life that's so honest, you can't help but feel something.

Both Dem and Wiseguy attended Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland but at separate times, so it wasn't until they both lived in Orlando that they met. There, they frequented the same battling circles and found they had some common interests, namely women and booze. They also shared similar views about hip-hop.

"We both like to freestyle," which not many rappers like to do, Dem says. "Whenever we get together, we even like battling each other." But what they found to be their great unifier is their desire to walk far from the beaten path. "From commercial hip-hop, we're the complete opposite," Dem continues, "Locally, everyone wants the super happy 1994 sound. When we come together we want original concepts no other group has done. We want to keep it original but also in 2007."

A Major Motion Mixtape is, in fact, a concept of its time. It splices together audio clips from half a dozen movies to poke fun at pop culture in an off-kilter way.

After watching Syriana, Dem thought it necessary to use his music to discuss the subject of the film. Dem wrote his verse in a day but had to wait a few months for Wiseguy to knock his out. When he was done, though, the powerfully critical "Syriana" emerged. As poignant as that track is, earlier in the mixtape they spent nearly three minutes serenading their favorite porn stars; not your common combination of talking points.

"Dear Porn Star" was Wiseguy's idea. It was originally slated for Wise's upcoming solo album, but the guys felt it added something to the mixtape. "We just made it about our individual favorites," Dem says. The background vocals in that song, he says have "that extra touch of cheesiness."

Nasty, raunchy, and sometimes cheesy, their music is always unfiltered. It comes out the way most people wouldn't dare speak in public. It borders on vulgar, but it portrays an honesty that hasn't been heard since The Marshall Mathers LP. Unlike the well-known Eminem, though, Word Perfect hasn't caught the attention of the PC police.

"[People] don't take it too seriously," Dem says about using terms like internet ho. "They let it roll off their back. I've never felt any backlash as far as people saying, 'You don't treat women well.' I think we deliver it in such a way that people can't even be mad at us for talking that way about a woman."

There are other ways in which they mean to be taken quite seriously, however. Battle rappers, Dem says, "have this horrible stigma that they can't make music." So for the mixtape album, they enlisted some of Florida's hottest producers and rappers. Res, a local MC and producer, helped WP with the technical aspects of recording and added lyrics to "Greatest Flow on Earth." Doc Sus, now an up-and-coming producer in NYC, produced the album's signature cut, "World Famous." Bonus, of the local group Brokensound Blvd, pitched in on the hard-hitting "Unstoppable" and produced the aggressive "Raw." But the oddest and most rewarding help (for the listener with a dark sense of humor, at least) comes during the album's skits.

"That's all Chris Titone," says Dem of his friend and fellow Stoneman Douglas alum. "He's kind of a genius."

"Crazy" is one of two skits anchoring this mixtape to a steady position of unapologetic crudeness. In the other one, "Internet Ho Blocker," they get as far from political correctness as possible without being handcuffed.

But the guys of Word Perfect aren't laughing yet. They have no delusions of grandeur. Besides investing in the group's work, both Dem and Wise are working on solo projects and cross their fingers that those future albums plus A Major Motion Mixtape will help open doors that are currently closed to most underground MCs.

"I hope to not be living in a box," says Dem with a modest chuckle when asked about the future. "I would like to be touring. I would like to be working on more projects, with different artists... making a living off of hip-hop."

They hope their careers will catapult off the Best of Both Worlds concert at Murphys Downtown on August 25, which will pit Word Perfect and Brokensound Blvd against rock bands Horizon Fall and Remain Calm.

"It's original. It's conceptual. It's presented in a different way," Dem says of a Word Perfect show. "Hands-down, in South Florida, we put on the livest show for a hip-hop duo. It's high energy. It's high impact. [It's] the best $5 you're gonna spend — and another five to get the CD."

He laughs, yeah, but he knows with enough five-dollar increments he'll be able to quit his day job someday, and Word Perfect can take a seat among hip-hop's ruling class.