Hot Monkey Love Café is the only all-age venue in the county that has offered a weekly hip-hop open-mike night. MC Tran Kwell (Scott Finnestad) has been going to the College Area hangout since it opened four and a half years ago.
"I started freestyling there when I was 17," Finnestad says.
One of Finnestad's MC idols, Killah Priest, was in town last week to appear with Wu-Tang Clan at Street Scene. Finnestad wouldn't be attending because he couldn't afford a ticket, but he still saw Killah.
"I got a call that Killah Priest was staying at our friend's house. They said if we could round up enough money, he'd play for us.... My mom let me borrow $200, and another fan gave us $100."
At 8 p.m. on July 31 (the last night Hot Monkey Love was open at its 5960 El Cajon Boulevard address) a deal was made. Two hours later, Killah Priest appeared and did seven songs over the beats he brought on CD. About 50 kids saw the show. "But there was a core group of about 20 who were really, really stoked on him being there," says Finnestad.
Despite his affinity for the genre, Finnestad believes any local venue is "playing with fire" when it hosts a hip-hop crowd.
"The commercial world of hip-hop has really distorted what real hip-hop is all about. It's really unhealthy for society. A lot of young teenagers are strictly concerned with all the bling. They care more about looking the part of a rapper instead of actually delivering a positive word. They are ruining it for hip-hop artists who have an open mind. These are people who are more concerned with getting a hit -- getting rich instead of helping people."
After a litigious fight with her neighbor, Hot Monkey Love owner Alma Felan anticipates her business's relocation to the corner of 68th and El Cajon Boulevard. The building most recently housed a church but was once a music store called Ozzie's Music.
"I think Rolando [the neighborhood] is much more open-minded.... I hope to be open by August 20. We went from 2000 square feet to 5000 square feet."
Because parking problems created conflict, has Felan addressed the issue at the new location?
"We are trying to negotiate with the Bank of America next door. We also have a couple of neighbors who will help out."