Saturday, August 22, 2015

DirtFaceX HHI 2015 Review #HHI2015

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What another incredible year I had at this year’s Hip Hop International (HHI).  I met up with some old friends, made some new ones, and of course, saw some amazing routines!  And while the competition was fierce, there was always a strong community/family-like atmosphere throughout the entire week. I’m not a performer and I certainly felt very welcomed by everyone.

This was my third year attending HHI. But was the first time the event was NOT held in Las Vegas, so it was sort of new for everyone.  This year, it was in Valley Center located in Southern California.  Before the trip even started, finding an affordable place to stay was a bit difficult, seeing that the Harrah’s Resort was pretty much in the middle of nowhere and a room there costs $200-$300 per night.  Luckily, I found a nice, cheaper motel to stay at in Escondido (25 min drive away).  I noticed many of the international crews did that as well.  Other than that though, I absolutely loved the new location.  The ballroom was much bigger (I heard it holds 500 more people than the Red Rocks venue) and just the change of scenery was nice.  The “Chill Down Lounge” was located outdoors and was very accommodating to all guests.

Angel Gibbs from 8 Flavahz

My first night there, I attended the finals of the USA Championships.  Being a New Yorker, I was a bit saddened to see the East Coast wasn’t represented at all.  All the crews came from California, Arizona, and Nevada with only one crew coming from Florida.  I’m not sure why it’s like this, but perhaps traveling/lodging expenses is a reason.  I didn’t take any pictures or videos that night, but from I saw, I fully agreed with the judges’ decisions that night.  In the Varsity Division, Kaba Kids and Ill Habits jumped from 6th and 5th positions and won themselves Bronze and Silver medals.  And in the Megacrew division, Elektro Academy jumped from 5th position to snag themselves a Bronze medal.  The night ended with chants of “A-Z! A-Z! A-Z!” for the two megacrews representing Arizona which then turned into chants of “U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!”  Next stop… Worlds!

The next night was Welcoming Ceremonies for the World Championships.  Representatives from each country (over 50) went up on stage and introduced themselves- many displaying a dance routine in front of a packed house.  Of course, reps from New Zealand performed the Haka. There were many disappointed fans in the audience because they didn’t take off their shirts (haha!), but it didn’t bother me! At one point, reps from Gabon was introduced.  I’ve NEVER heard of that country in my life before, so it was kind of funny to have learned something new.  Later on, I tried chatting with some of the Gabonese dancers there, but they didn’t understand English.  After opening ceremonies, many dancers left to either sleep or practice more for the upcoming days.  I hung out at the Chill Down Lounge for a bit, but was upset that there wasn't any karaoke going on.  In fact, every day they announced that there was karaoke at the Chill Down Lounge, but every night I checked and there wasn't. What's up wit dat?!?

The World Championships began the next morning with the Junior Division. My favorite routines came from Japan (J.B. Star Junior, Proceed, and Next Jr.), New Zealand’s and Royal Family’s Bubblegum, and the Youngsters from Canada.  Had I known that the Youngsters came from the same dance company as Flip, DM Nation, and All.Young.All.Stars, I would’ve recorded that preliminary performance.  Scores were announced, and again, I 100% agreed with the judges.  After a short break, preliminaries for the Adult Division began.  After the first three performances, it was obvious that the skill level was WAAAY higher than that of the Junior Division.  I’m not certain why, but there was a bit of a delay as the judges huddled together on the side to discuss something.  The highlight of the night for me was with India’s Kings United crew.  India's support team was pretty small and the crew was introduced to a practically silent crowd.  But they performed their routine, and in the end, received a HUGE ovation.  Those boys came there to win.  My other favorites from that night were both Filipino crews – Rockstars & Romancon and the girls of Gossip from Canada.  The event ended pretty late, so after scores were announced, I pretty much headed straight to bed.

The next day began the Preliminaries for the Varsity and Megacrew Divisions.  The competition was stiff this year.  I noticed the room filled up for the Royal Family’s Duchesses and Sorority- and they did not disappoint.  I could honestly watch that Sorority routine for days!  Other notable performances were from USA’s Miniotics, Season 5 from Guam, Canada’s FLIP, Kana-Boon! from Japan, Legit Status from the Philippines, Masque from New Zealand, and the Brotherhood Varsity from Canada.  After a short break, the Megacrew division began.  From top to bottom, pretty much every performance was REALLY good.  Korea’s Lock N LOL Crew had everyone smiling with their clever, educative routine that ended with a message spelling out “TO BE CONTINUED…” – meaning they planned on seeing us in the semi-finals.  And also a really fun routine from Trinidad & Tobago’s TNT – they incorporated a huge hip-hop puppet on stage that had the whole crowd laughing. 

Duchesses of The Royal Family

Legit Status
After the first 25 crews performed, we took a 15 minute break.  By the time we got back, the room was filled to capacity with anticipation to see New Zealand’s Royal Family make their triumphant return to the HHI competition.  The entire room went bonkers, and rightfully so – it was such an amazing, high energy performance.  After a few words from Parris herself, RF exited the stage and nearly the entire crowd followed suit.  It took nearly another 15 minutes for everyone to exit and for the next crew to hit the stage.  The competition continued throughout the night with 25 more crews. Near the last several performances of the night however, I was getting a little sleepy.  It had been another long day and it was absolutely FREEZING in there.  Since I couldn't pay much attention to what was happening on stage, I decided to step out and get coffee.  Unfortunately, I missed some really great routines including the one from Canada’s DM Nation.  When they placed 2nd in the Megacrew division (right behind the Royal Family), I couldn't believe I missed it!!!!!  After all the scores were announced, I quickly went to bed again.  I was exhausted and we had another long day ahead of us with the Semi-Finals.

The room packs out for The Royal Family

I woke up the next morning a little late, and arrived just in time to see the top 5 routines in the Junior Semi-Finals. Americans celebrated for USA’s ChapKIDZ as they moved up from 2nd to 1st position.  Then, as soon as the Varsity division began, I quickly drove back to my hotel to take a shower and get some food.  Luckily, HHI’s Facebook page kept me updated on which crews were performing on stage.  I came back – much more refreshed – to catch the last half of the Varsity crews.  Right before New Zealand’s Masque hit the stage, I decided I was going to sit with all the Kiwis in the crowd and cheer and chant in support for their crew.  I was having a blast!  I even started a huge “MASQUE! MASQUE! MAQUE!” chant that got over pretty well.  When they finished, I moved over and sat with the Philippines and cheered and chanted for LMN and Alliance.  I nearly lost my voice I was yelling so hard!  And I pretty much kept that up till the very end of the Varsity semi-finals.  I was having a great time and many people even personally thanked me for their support.  That's one of my favorite things about HHI - the crowd participation.  I love that each country has their own chant and even if you're not from that country, you still chant-along.  AJ and Mookie (the hosts) do a fantastic job with keeping the crowd entertained too with their jokes and crowd waves.  Check out the 'choreographed wave' they started doing this year.  It was so much fun!

The Adult Division began, and once again, I dipped out to walk around and meet up with some friends.  I got back in time to cheer for the last several crews of the division and for scores.  The Prophecy from the USA was able to move up a couple spots and place in the Finals.  Also, Germany's Keraamika moved up three positions.  

Crowns Up!
When the Megacrew Semi's began, I made sure I wasn't going to miss ANY of the action this time.  Korea's Lock N LOL changed their routine up a bit with a different message at the end that spelt out "TO THE FINALS...".  The room (including myself) went bonkers for that. I finally got to see Canada's DM Nation and boy was that a treat!  Those girls bring the fierceness and intensity matched by no other crews.  After them, The Royal Family performed (again, to a packed room) to another standing ovation. And after them, the crowd remained in their seats in anticipation to see the defending champions from the Philippines, The A-Team.  But as we were waiting, DM Nation had walked into the room and were showered with love and applause.  It was an emotional moment as many of the girls were touched by the crowd's gesture of appreciation.  The defending champs hit the stage and it was obvious that they came to take back their crown.  The competition this year was intense and it seemed that no matter what decisions the judges made, not everyone was going to be happy.  This was certainly proven to be true during score announcements.  After the A Team was announced for 3rd position, everyone was waiting to hear if Canada's DM Nation pulled ahead of The Royal Family.  But to a HUGE surprise, the crew announced for 2nd position was Korea's Lock n LOL crew!  It seemed that EVERYONE in the room was confused now.  The thoughts racing thru my mind at the time were "What if Royal Family didn't place???", and "Maybe HHI felt it was unfair for RF to be in the competition and took them out".  Then it was announced that the Royal Family placed in first position and jaws dropped wide open.  DM Nation did not place and were not moving on to the World Championships.  It was a very confusing - and dare I say, hostile - situation.  As the Royal Family made their way to stage, I believe I heard some "BOO's" (NOT FROM ME!) but they were quickly turned into chants of "D-M! D-M! D-M!".  More than half the audience turned their attention away from the stage and chanted in support of DM Nation - who were standing in the back corner of the room.  Announcements were being made, but they were easily drowned out by chants of "C-A!... N-A!... D-A! WHAT?!?".  It's important to point out that the dancers of DM Nation DID NOT chant- they kept it classy and mostly kept to themselves.  I looked on stage and felt sort of bad.  It was supposed to be a time of celebration for the crews that placed, but it seemed to be overwhelmed by the controversy.  Even as everyone was exiting, support for DM Nation continued.  Outside the ballroom, everyone was still talking about how DM Nation should've placed in the Finals.  Crewleaders of DM were being showered with compliments, love, and support from dancers and spectators.  And just outside the gate, Parris Goebel was even seen having a private conversation with DM's choreographers - I was too far away to hear what was said.  It took about an hour after the show let out, but the controversy began to die down.  At this point, there was nothing anyone could do.  The judges made their decision and it was final.

Courtesy of Pacific Rim Photo Press
As I stated before, I am not a performer.  I am not a dancer.  So I certainly don't qualify to a be a dance judge.  But I'm still confused by why they didn't place.  I saw several comments that DM recycled this routine from a WoD competition in 2014 and that's the reason they didn't do well.  But that doesn't make any sense at all.  HHI World Championship judges are from all over the world.  The likeliness that all 9 judges had watched, recognized that routine and penalized the crew for 'sort of recycling' is a bit ridiculous.  The World of Dance competitions are totally seperate from the Hip Hop International Championships.  And to further make my point, season 5 ABDC Champions Poreotics won a SILVER medal in 2010 with a routine that resembled their 'Hip Hop Nation' and 'Disco Challenge' routines. So HA!

The crew competition was over for now and the next day was dedicated to World Battles.  In the past, I’ve always used to this day to take a break from HHI.  This year, I met up with some friends and spent most of the day at the beach.  We made it back in time to catch the 1-on-1 B-Boy and 2-on-2 All-Styles Battles.  I thoroughly enjoyed everything I saw that night, but the All-Styles 2-on-2’s had me jumping out of my seat!  Congrats to Kannon & Sett from the USA for beating out some amazing teams!

Courtesy of Pacific Rim Photo Press

Sunday was the very last night for HHI 2015.  About an hour away from the Harrah's Resort, the new home of the World Championships was at the Viejas Arena at San Diego State University.  I absolutely LOVED this new venue! Definitely much better than The Orleans Arena in Vegas.  The rows are a little bit more stacked on top of eachother, as opposed to spread out.  So while it still seats a lot of people, it's much more compact and intimate- perfect for large, loud crowd reactions.  Also this year, The Finals were hosted by Mookie!  He's been such a fantastic host throughout the two week competitions and he knows EVERYTHING that's been going on.  Without Mookie, there is no HHI.  He is absolutely the most perfect host for the World Championships.

The show begins with a fun Introduction of Nations ceremony and we get started right away with the World Championships.  Be sure to check out our YouTube channel and Facebook page for all the pictures and videos I took.  I noticed that some of the crews added/changed their routines a little bit for the Finals.  It seemed everyone was leaving their hearts out on that stage.  Before the Medal Presentations, The Living Legend of Hip Hop Award was presented to Ken Swift.  After a few kind words from the B-boy icon, the winners were announced.  Here are the results:

Junior Division


SILVER - Next JR. - Japan


Varsity Division

GOLD - Kana-BOON! - Japan
SILVER - Legit Status - Philippines

BRONZE - J.B. Star Varsity - Japan

Adult Division

GOLD - The Bradas - New Zealand

SILVER - Romancon - Philippines

BRONZE - Kings United India - India

Megacrew Division

GOLD - Lock'N'LOL Crew - Korea

SILVER - The Royal Family - New Zealand

BRONZE - A-Team – Philippines

Probably the most surprising result was that The Royal Family did not walk away with the Gold.  But I was still genuinely happy for all the crews and dancers who competed- even the ones who didn’t win.  As I said, I’m not a dancer (and I’m certainly not a dance judge) so I can’t really comment on any of the judges’ decisions.  But if I was “Fantasy Judging”, I would’ve had The Royal Family take Gold, DM Nation with Silver, and A-Team taking the Bronze.

Well, that’s it!  That was my week at HHI 2015!  As people were filing out of the arena, I congratulated some of the medalists and even took a selfie or two.  I can't say this enough but I had so much fun this year. I met some awesome people and was truly entertained throughout the whole week.  I already can’t wait for next year!
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