This Sunday night in New York, one of the city’s most important hip-hop legacies closes a chapter as End of the Weak, the longest-running weekly hip-hop open mic, celebrates its 15th anniversary with its final show at Club Pyramid, its home for 14 of those years. Headlined by Pharoahe Monch, the night promises to feature many of the favorite MCs from the event’s 15-year legacy, a list that rivals that of any other weekly event in hip-hop history. But that’s only one facet of the worldwide phenomenon that EOW’s become.
Chances are, one of your favorite MCs has touched the stage at an EOW event at some point. Along with being credited as a major launching point for the careers of Immortal Technique, Homeboy Sandman, Scram Jones, Charles Hamilton, and Iron Solomon, the event’s regulars included indie rap royalty like C-Rayz Walz, Poison Pen, Pumpkinhead, and Math Hoffa. On top of that, EOW managed the rare allure of attracting some of the all-time greats to attend and perform, including KRS-ONE, DMC, Ice-T, Buckshot, and Talib Kweli. And that’s just the flagship American wing, one of 10 EOW chapters around the world.
The story of End of the Weak begins in 2000 when hosts Big Zoo, Vice Verses, and ProPayne, who were in two separate rap groups, were brought together by a mutual friend. “There was a DJ named Joey Ty who knew my crew Solid Ground and knew my partners’ crew I2I,” Big Zoo says. “He approached us and said he thought our crews would do a great job hosting an open mic. Totally his idea, totally out of the ether. He was struck with cancer, diagnosed a week before we were supposed to start EOW and became very ill very quickly.” Filling in for Ty on that first show was Scram Jones, who would become the EOW DJ for its first half-decade. Roughly the first year of EOW was actually at Baby Jupiter, a venue New York music fans better know today as Arlene’s Grocery. “We were originally looking for a place to showcase our own talent, and then it quickly evolved into a place where we saw incredible talent coming through.”
As End of the Weak continued to grow, it relocated the next year to Club Pyramid, without missing a week in the transition. The show’s week-to-week consistency was also challenged that year by the tragedy of 9/11. “It was very quiet,” Big Zoo remembers. “Super somber. We didn’t have a high attendance. It was a time of healing. There have been many moments like that. The passing away of MCs, 9/11, Hurricane Sandy. All these events throughout the past 15 years that have been traumatic or tragic. EOW has always served as a place where people could come vent, we could talk about what took place, and share our ideas and thoughts about it in a productive way.” To this day, in 15 years, EOW has not missed a single Sunday.
More than just an open mic, EOW has also been home to the unique competition known worldwide as the MC Challenge. Developed by Vice Verses and EOW manager James Calhoun during a 2001 game of chess in Brooklyn, the multi-round event tests participants’ skills with freestyling, a cappella performance, songwriting, and teamwork.
As Big Zoo says, it was actually the MC Challenge that allowed for EOW to begin pursuing a worldwide presence, starting with bringing it to Paris in 2003. “It’s been our biggest calling card and been our entryway into many countries. The idea was, rather than go to [another country] and bring a bunch of New York rappers doing their songs, it allowed all of their MCs to perform at that venue and allowed us to expand into the global company that we are now. DJ Snuff brought us out after we’d put some videos up and Paris was the first place we flew out to start an EOW chapter. We didn’t even see it that clearly at the time. We just saw dudes who thought like us and moved like us in Paris. It became a real brotherhood and fraternity, and we started a chapter in Paris. Then it spread to London and then wildfire across the globe.”
In addition to Paris’ incarnation, EOW has opened chapters in London, Czech Republic, Uganda, South Africa, Canada, Spain, Germany, and Brazil. These scenes and their respective MC Challenges have allowed for EOW to have an annual world championship, of which the only American winner, Kay M, qualified last month to compete for a second time at this year’s finals in Montreal in September. “It’s connected me with artists I thought I’d never meet,” Kay says of the MC Challenge. “It’s connected me with countries I thought I’d never see. It’s heartwarming, and it’s just super trill to go into a country where you’ve never been in and have people say, ‘You’re the guy who’s EOW champion.’”
For all the stars that the MC Challenge and EOW have made, there’s a loyalty that’s reciprocated, as seen from Kay M’s 2008-2009 run as champion on BET’s Freestyle Friday. “I remember the head of 106 and Park’s development team said, ‘What do you want it to say in your bio?’ and I wanted it to say, as a clever kid, ‘My influences are hip-hop and any MC who wants to bring an End of the Weak.’ I was just trying to sell myself rapping-wise, but really it was a way to sneak it in so that every single Friday it said End of the Weak and my way to show gratitude.”
It’s this level of love within the EOW community that’s helped the event get through even its toughest moments. “When Pumpkinhead passed,” current co-host Baxter Wordsworth says, “there was an internal discussion whether we should continue with the MC Challenge or even have EOW that Sunday out of respect. What kind of made the decision for us was so many people online talking about how they were going to be at EOW, and that was going to be a place to show their respects.” The show’s week-to-week consistency has been reliable for fans as well. Many at EOW have memories of a Marine who regularly attended, then had to serve four years in Iraq, but came right back to EOW as soon as he returned because he knew what every Sunday would bring.
That’s why this Sunday’s anniversary and final Pyramid show are so bittersweet for many involved. Rapper Majesty, who has co-hosted with Baxter Wordsworth and Ayy Pi since 2012, cites the reason for leaving Pyramid as EOW being ready to move on. “It just feels right at this point. EOW has a very rich history and a very long and powerful legacy. For us to continue to evolve and move forward, changing venues is a good idea. It gives us an opportunity to shake things up a bit.” After this Sunday, EOW will miss its first Sunday in 15 years as they take a month off before resuming at a new location that’s yet to be named. But while Pyramid was loved as a venue, Baxter Wordsworth reminds us that EOW isn’t about the location, but the people there. “You don’t want to become stagnant. Everything has to change. The idea is to bring EOW to the next level of whatever it is. You can’t go backwards. It’s a step up, not a step away.”