Last in a series -- ed.
Keke still commands attention.
On the final Kickback Sunday, a balmy September night at Numbers, the crowd has now swelled to unimagined heights. People are here, and MTV will be running a spotlight on the Screwed Up Click original the next day.
Confidence is at a high. Everyone wants to win, everyone wants to see themselves propelled to the top. Trail Blaze, calm and unmoving, shows plenty of fire during a rendition of the Raw Talent cypher but maintains a stoic presence throughout.
Individual sets appease Keke, propped up in the back near the risers wearing a customized black T-shirt fitting his Heart of a Hustla mentality. He clutches a cup of water, taking routine sips in between performers. Everyone is proving themselves, open to the cause and realization of the moment. Then KDOGG appears, swinging enough gangster machismo to awake not only his supporters but Keke as well.
He flashes a wide grin, geeked. "I got to talk to him later," he says.
The night winds down to its finale, a cypher consisting of those who had taken hope the top spot every week during the new competition. Cuddy Mayne, a linebacker-built Hispanic emcee from the group Real Individual Music offers a traditional format of coming off the dome, which draws oohs from the crowd.
Luke Duke rolls through his verse, eager to see victory, his free arm jerking spastically as a sign he's feeling his own words. Then another artist, then-newcomer D Simms, whose punchlines rattle off like a shotgun, each one ripping through with high chants from his supporters.
His set ends, the cheers punctuating the finish as Doughbeezy peers over, looking for the next artist. One passes, then it's KDOGG's turn. Having been beaten at almost every Kickback, the Headwrecka feels the moment and feels Keke's presence.
He launches into it, calculated, spitting a tale on par with pure defiance in front of the police. He's Billy the Kid reincarnated as a cigarette-dragging street kid.
The most stated mantra surrounding Kickback is that it has been a blessing, that many are thankful for the opportunity. Trail Blaze, who has possibly benefited more from the series than anyone else, is last. His grips the microphone and steps into it, more animated than usual -- his voice elevating to the point where it's hard to fully grasp his punchlines. He leaves everything on the stage, but walks off shaking his head.
Realization just sank in.
"If I lose, I won't be mad," he mutters. "I did what I had to do."
Every artist is called back onto the stage. Keke exchanges pleasantries with each artist and thanks them for what they've come with. Cuddy Mane, a Hispanic rapper who seems more like a linebacker than an emcee nods at the wisdom parted. Keke's announcement remains brief.
"I gotta go with D Simms." he says. The crowd erupts, Simms' supporters even leaping onto the stage in pure jubilation. Everyone on the stage looks around, glancing towards Keke and then doubling back to KDOGG whose eyes are low, believing another loss has beset him.
Keke then winds around asking, "Where KDOGG at? I can't forget about my boy, KDOGG."
On the last night of the competition, where the rules had been set for 24 weeks prior, two were given the chance to record with Lil Keke. Doughbeezy comes close to punching KDOGG in the chest for being so hype. Some are relieved and others only shake their heads, knowing they're going to have to until February to get their chance for a different outcome.
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Meanwhile, Kickback co-founders Teresa Waldon and Suzie Rivera are busy checking their phones, exhaling at the end of one year but ready to start another.
They're still compiling more "real results."