Live ‘n’ Direct Tour 2005
Farmingdale, Long Island
August 15, 2005
Boom Bap Project, O.C., Non Phixion, Hieroglyphics
Fresh off getting momentarily lost due to the utter uselessness of
attempting to follow the thirty-five steps Mapquest directions provide,
I arrived Monday night at Farmingdale’s The Downtown just in time to
make sure that the “three hour parking limit” of some municipal lot was
most likely inapplicable at night, to scope out the nice venue, and to
peruse the merchandise table.
Then the Boom Bap Project came on, and the goodness began.
As soon as Boom Bap stepped on stage, their professionalism was
evident. This is one of the advantages of touring: the groups that
perform the most do it best. And these guys were tight, and they were
on. Over the next forty minutes or so, two lessons were pounded in my
head over and over again:
a) I’ve been too hard on Seattle, and perhaps it should deserve some
credit. Or rather, there’s at least one good act coming out of there,
right now, and they’re called Boom Bap Project.
b) I learned, once again, to give the Rhymesayers Collective some credit.
I should explain: during the school years, I spent a good chunk of my
Twin Cities (Minnesota) hiatus seeking out any hip-hop I could find,
and there was this crew, the Rhymesayers, led by Atmosphere (whose MC
was some dude named Slug), who seemed to have some monopoly on opening
for all the hip-hop acts that came to Minneapolis’s premier club. They
were okay – passable – but I couldn’t help finding them annoying and
amateurish. I learned to like some of them, but found Slug’s style
grating – the fast-talking, quick vocal variations to emphasize rhymes
– just seemed like a white-boy style (even though I read somewhere that
Slug is apparently not white) that I couldn’t grasp onto. But he had a
rep, and he worked at one of the best record stores in the area, and he
worked his craft hard. At the end of my years there, he had attained
quite a local following, and had, I noticed, quite noticeably improved
vocally and lyrically. By the time he worked a deal with Fat Beats
(later doing record collaborations with Murs), his following was
national, and he seemed to be working hard to bring his crew up.
Begrudgingly, I accepted his business savvy, but really, it took MF
Doom signing with Rhymesayers and releasing the awesome MM…Food last
year to convince me he was doing good work. And now, one of the major
reasons Boom Bap Project was touring was to promote their new album,
Reprogram, on Rhymesayers, which, not begrudgingly, I’m going to buy.
If the album is half as good as their performance, it’ll be worth it.
But perhaps I should pay more attention to the show: the DJ (DJ Scene)
was on point, filling in the fast-paced, staccato verses of MCs Karim
and Destro with hard-pumping but simultaneously jazzy beats. These guys
were filled with the independent spirit of the tour, often invoking a
“fuck the industry” message that, while veering dangerously close to
becoming tired and repetitive, nevertheless made sense here: these guys
were doing something that – if not especially new or original – was at
least interesting while remaining entertaining, returning to a
stripped-down hip-hop mentality of two emcees trading lyrics in front
of a battle DJ. Destro had a flow that sounded a bit like Slug’s at
times, and it sounded good, enough to make me wonder why I didn’t like
that style in the first place. These guys rocked the crowd so well that
they threatened to upstage the following acts, but that was nearly
impossible, because the next act was O.C.
After a laudably brief interim between sets – time enough for me to get
my lone beer for the night and not much else – O.C. rushed the stage
and began his incredible set. Amidst an industry predominantly
propagated by twentysomethings, it’s always exhilarating to see a 30+
dude rock it well. And O.C. Rocked It. That he was the only man on
stage aside from his DJ – an aspect of his live show he made us all
know was entirely intentional – made rocking it like he did all the
more impressive. I have to admit that I am unfortunately included
among those who slept on O.C.’s releases since the 1994 Word … Life
album, but have been officially convinced. The next record store trip
is, apparently, going to have quite a taxing effect on my wallet; O.C.
showed me what a sucker I was to doubt those albums. Still, often I
found myself wondering: is he going to break out into that 1994
underground/independent anthem, “Time’s Up”? The song is so often
played – and so often cited as his singular contribution to hip-hop –
that I would’ve understood if he had grown tired of it. And he showed
everyone that his other material was good enough that one song never
defines a good artist.
O.C.’s set consisted of some old fan favorites (some two dudes next to
me knew all – all – the words to every one of those), some awesome
freestyles and a cappella, and some new material. I’ve always felt
concerts are made more special when performers give the fans a taste of
what they’re working on or what’s coming next, and it sounds as if his
next album should be something special. (That next album, by the way,
will be released on the Hiero Imperium label – big news for Hiero,
since he’s the first East Coast dude to sign with them.) O.C. had some
lessons for younger performers, including not filling the stage up with
hype men and respecting the stage, that his engaging performance only
served to exemplify. He had the crowd at his fingertips, proved that he
was indeed – as he claimed – the Roy Jones Jr. of rap, gave nothing but
love, and received nothing but love back.
And then, at the end, he did “Time’s Up,” which was just awesome. And then his time was up.
After another short break, Non Phixion took the stage. I’ve never been
a big fan, but figured maybe I just haven’t given them enough of a
chance, and so tried to be open-minded about the set. But I just
couldn’t get into this one. That shouldn’t be a knock at them, because
there were definitely a bunch of people in the front who were really
into them, and one has to respect that. So I left the front part of the
crowd for the back, and let the kids enjoying it have their fun.
Compared to the other acts, the members of Non Phixion – Ill Bill,
Sabac, and Goretex, backed by DJ eclipse – rap a lot louder. They were
all pretty hoarse on stage, which they acknowledged as a setback of a
rigorous tour schedule. The lyrics that I heard – paranoid, destructive
stuff – were fine with me, but I just couldn’t get into the yelling and
metal guitar-sampled production. Maybe that’s because I’m not a big fan
of screaming rap (but, damnit, I like M.O.P.), and I’m definitely not a
friend to mosh pits (one was indeed formed), so like I said, I sat back
and let the kids have their fun. And I liked the DJ Premier track, I
liked their “Black Helicopters” single, and I liked the Pete Rock
track. If Primo and Pete Rock liked these guys, why shouldn’t I? Maybe
I just have different standards for white MCs, or maybe it’s my issues
about being white myself, but I didn’t get the impression that members
of the group recognized the disconnect between using superlatives like
“realest” and being white in the world of Black music, despite the
class-related nature and broad scope of what hip-hop has become.
There’s a discussion there – too long for here – but to proclaim that
this is “real” hip-hop, while simultaneously incorporating white
aesthetics like mosh pits and crowd-surfing, just seems short-sighted.
But then again, I haven’t bought the album and haven’t studied these
guys; all I saw and heard was that no discussion or debate – internal
or external – was exhibited during the show. The group definitely
seemed sincere in their craft, but I still just waited in the back,
resigned to the conclusion that maybe I just didn’t get it.
Or perhaps I was really just waiting for Hieroglyphics to get on stage.
For another moment, indulge me back to those Twin Cities days: I felt
we up there in the Cities got the heads up earlier than the East with
respect to the reemergence of Del and his crew around 1997, flocking to
their shows and bolstering their album sales. My collection became
inundated over the next several years with everything Hiero I could
find. Recently, the crew released a bunch of solo albums from their
individual artists, enough to make me a teeny bit afraid that they were
on divergent paths, but this show dispelled any doubt: they are, to use
the Wu Tang metaphor, Voltron. They come together, split off to do
their own projects, come together again, and split off again, but
always remain a crew. Throughout the set, you could sense the love
between these artists when any one of them with solo material performed
one of their own songs, while the others stood around, mouthing the
lyrics. The showcasing of the solo work just made the crew cuts even
better, as each member worked off the others’ spirit of collaboration.
And they looked like they were having fun, and so were we.
This was the first time I saw Hiero together since my time in the Twin
Cities ended in 2001, and since the solo projects of Pep Love and
individual Souls of Mischief members were released. The interim
lyrical, musical, and personal growth in those years – of all the Hiero
members – was not only reflected on stage, but seemed to be embraced by
each other; this is not a crew that wants its members to conform to a
specific aesthetic, but seems bent on exploring whatever creativity
emerges. But I would feel remiss not to mention that Tajai’s lyrical
evolution since 1993 is the most noticeable of all the old crew, and
that Pep Love, the youngster of the group, has become a lyrical tour de
force since his emergence on 3rd Eye Vision, and it’s been a pleasure
to watch him grow in those years.
And Del, well, Del is special. I’m a bit of a Del addict, so compared
with his own solo shows he seemed subdued here, but that was
appropriate. During the set’s solo performances other Hiero members
often gathered around the featured performer in a rough semicircle,
while Del removed himself a little beyond the circle, or even in back,
less a retreat than a recognition of the success of his pupils. He is
the godfather here, and he seemed content to watch his progeny rock it
than to try to outdo them. His own solo performances were obviously
phenomenal, like they always are, but he was careful not to hog the
stage. Because everyone was great.
See this show. When I came back to my borrowed car, I was pleased to
notice no ticket on the windshield, but even if there was, it would
have been well worth it.