Saturday, November 27, 2010

Souls of Mischief, Candlespit Collective, Broken Complex & Uephoric at Slim's, SF

View From the Front Row, 11/27/10

The other night, I went and saw Souls of Mischief, Candlespit Collective, Broken Complex and Uephoric at Slim’s in San Francisco. My second show in a row at Slim’s after a long hiatus from going there, and it was worth the venture though a little pricey at 21 dollars a tick. Most of the crowd was there to see Bay area legends Souls of Mischief, who are very talented and worthy of their large following, but my main motive for going was to see Broken Complex, who put out one of the stronger debuts of 2010 and who I’d never seen live before. The BC crew rolls about 8 or 9 members deep, so I figured that passing on the opportunity to see them all kick it live would be missing out.

Slim's was not even halfway packed when Uephoric got on stage at 9:00 PM. One point I have to give in Slim's favor is that their shows always start at exactly the time they show on the flyer, though in Uephoric's case it meant performing for only a handful of people standing in the front row. I'd never heard of Uephoric, but he put on a pretty cool set and seemed to have his heart and head in the right places. When his laptop initially failed to start up, he kicked a fresh beatbox acapella about how he got started in hip hop, and was skilled enough to hold the small crowd's attention. As far as actual tracks go, his songs had a relaxing California type feel to them and his set breezed by pretty quickly. Nice opener.

Broken Complex, who somehow failed to be mentioned by either the host or Uephoric when they asked people to make noise for the other acts, came out next to wreck shop. Their set was really great, but disappointing to me at the same time. On the up side, all of the MCs present ripped it with the stylistic energy and drive you'd expect after listening to their full length. Plus, they were all rowdy as hell and supportive of each other on stage. Mine+Us, Max Star, and Uncle D stood out particularly well for their personalities, live antics, and intense verses. They also performed "Stay High" and "This Life," which are two of my favorite songs off their album. On the down side, I was disappointed to find that two of Broken Complex's key members, Populus and Sirah, were absent. This left some gaping holes in tracks that would have otherwise been filled with some of the group's most impressive verses. I also noticed that many of the MCs subbed their regular verses on songs for whatever verses they felt like kicking, which was kind of clever but also frustrating when I wanted to hear a favorite verse on a certain song only to get something completely different (this happened with Cleen's verse on "Stay High," for example). Still, it was a damn good set that didn't quite get the audience appreciation it deserved, despite getting a better reception that Uephoric's performance. For the finale, Uncle D dropped into the crowd, put his arm around my shoulder, and jumped around with me to the song "Don't Hate on my 808." Fun shit for sure!

Candlespit Collective, who were responsible for the organization of the evening's events and who had quite a few friends in attendance, came out next and put on a solid set. The collective consisted of MCs JB Nimble and Livin' Poetry accompanied by producer/MC Cyberclops, none of whom I'd heard before though Livin' Poetry I had heard of through his connections to a number of local MCs. Anyway, JB Nimble and Livin' Poetry were both very animated and enthusiastic on stage, with Cyberclops bringing an ill old school vibe to the beats and kicking an occasional guest verse. Out of the three of them, Livin' Poetry had the illest style, with a deep gravely tone that balanced out the higher pitches of the other MCs nicely. They added a few other entertaining elements to their set as well, with JB Nimble and Livin' Poetry getting into a mock argument rap exchange at one point and Cyberclops crafting and debuting a new beat over the course of the set. Good stuff, I picked up their album afterwards and it's well worth checking for.

The crowd started chanting "Heiro" in anticipation for Souls of Mischief as the DJ set up the appropriate equipment, and when they came out they got a huge reception from the diehard fans. All four of the Souls were present and accounted for; Tajai, Opio, A-Plus and Phesto all did their thing and showed that they haven't lost it after all these years. Super live set that had half of the fans grooving it up and the other half lighting up some really serious weed - a deep whiff of that second-hand nearly knocked me out! Souls of Mischief performed a number of their classic tracks, a couple classic Heiro tracks, and a few solo songs for each individual member. Naturally, they topped things off with an ultra hype rendition of the all-time classic "93' Till Infinity" that had the whole crowd jumping, and even came out to perform an encore after that. Really good set that showed off the strong chemistry found between those four. Good show.

Broken Complex:

Monday, November 22, 2010

Complex Ways to Break Your Neck

The Lowdown, 11/22/10

Broken Complex's self-titled album isn't broken, unless you count the necks that will snap while listening to the complex stylings featured on this impressive debut.

It's rare that a crew of so many lesser-known rappers stands out as being unique, but that's precisely what Broken Complex have accomplished with this labor of love. Consisting of producer DJ Hoppa and MCs Mine+Us, Populus, Sirah, Max Star, Cleen, Laz, and Uncle D, the entire collective comes with their A-game and delivers a memorable album full of great beats, great cuts, and really great rapping. More often than not, crews crowded with lesser-known MCs end up sounding largely generic on the rapping front, but the seven rappers of Broken Complex all stand out with their own distinctive styles and personalities. Mine+Us & DJ Hoppa have been on the grind for a minute now, as have Sirah and Cleen, and their excellent performances here mark some of their best work to date. I don't know who the hell Max Star is, but he murders every verse on this album with a crazy amount of swagger and confidence in his vocals. Laz and Uncle D are probably the weakest links of the crew in my book, but they're never wack and have a couple of key stand-out moments, like Laz's punk rocker gone hip hop verse on "Don't Hate on my 808" or Uncle D's affirmation of birth on "One Minute." Perhaps the biggest surprise of the album is Populus, who I'd previously dismissed as not being my style but who is arguably the star player on this full length, kicking the largest number of memorable verses. DJ Hoppa offers up a super solid gang of simple, jazzy boom bap beats for all of the rapper types to kill it over, and it works wonders. There are a few questionable hooks and a weak guest verse from Copywrite (though he does offer up a great hook), but overall this is a great album with a fun "friendly competition" sort of vibe running throughout it.

One of the best hip hop debuts of 2010. These guys are touring the left coast currently, and will be opening for Souls of Mischief in San Francisco at Slim's on November 24th. 90% sure I'll be attending. :)

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Doomtree & Rec League at Slims, SF

View From the Front Row, 11/16/10

Last Friday, I drove out to San Francisco with a friend to check out Doomtree and Rec League at Slim's. Doomtree has been my favorite indie rap group for a minute now, with outstanding releases from every member and stellar work as a group, not to mention a reputation for putting on great shows. I've seen them individually and in groups many times at this point, but this "Wings + Teeth" tour is the first nation-wide tour to feature every member of the group in the same spot, which was some cause for excitement in my book. Rec League have also torn down the spot wherever they've performed and are one of the Bay Area's finer live acts in my experience, so things were looking extra strong in the line-up department for this gig.

It had been a while since I'd been to Slim's, and generally my experiences there haven't been the most favorable. The place was packed and the crowd was difficult to maneuver through, but the stage was less high than I remember it being and the sound was good. Rec League came out as the opener and killed it, as they tend to do in concert, though the Doomtree-centric crowd seemed to need a couple of songs before they were convinced. Rec League's party anthems did end up catching people's attention once the dance vibes got going, and folks who weren't having fun yet were driven to cheer along when Rob Rush did his shirtless solo track/dance-off routine. Haji P, who I hadn't seen live before, was also in attendance repping Rec League and did some really fun tracks of his own. It felt different watching them in the throng of such a packed crowd, but I was glad to see other people in attendance enjoying the performance. Rec League handed out a gang of free CDs to all the lucky folks hanging around the front row as well, which certainly went appreciated.

Doomtree kicked off their set as a collective with solo performances from their heavy-hitting producers Paper Tiger and Lazerbeak, both of whom put out pretty strong solo albums this year. Their warm-up act was the weakest link of the evening's performances, as the bass was cranked a little too high to do justice to Paper Tiger's solo numbers and Lazerbeak's warbly indie rock vocals seemed a little off in a live setting. Things were quickly remedied by the appearance of the rest of the Doomtree squad, however, at which point things started getting really live. Out of the collective, P.O.S and Dessa have the strongest and most devoted followings at this point - P.O.S from constant touring and skill, Dessa from widespread critical acclaim and talent. There was a not a point in the evening when people weren't fiercely cheering for these two, though all of the MCs were very well received and had the crowd going nuts. Mike Mictlan was definitely a live wire on stage, though in my experiences seeing him live his abundant energy and drive are sometimes poured so hard into a single song that he can lose steam quickly. Fortunately, the pacing of the evening and the way that the MCs alternated from song to song prevented this from happening, and Mike's performances of "Oh My God" and "Slow Burn" were amazing. Cecil Otter also did his thing and has perhaps the most interesting fanbase to watch out of any of the Doomtree crew - a following smaller than that of Dessa or P.O.S, but one in which all the fans chant along to almost every line of his songs (myself included). He didn't do "Black Rose," which is my favorite track of his to see live, but he did kick "Traveling Dunk Tank" with P.O.S as well as a new song from his upcoming album that sounded incredible. Out of all the Doomtree MCs, Sims was one of my favorite performers at this particular show. He really brought his A-game in terms of energy and style, and kicked mostly new songs from his upcoming Lazerbeak-produced album "Bad Time Zoo" that sounded amazing. Dessa and P.O.S were both on point, of course, with Dessa's awesome spoken word fast-rap love verse and Hallelujah song wowing the crowd as usual. There was also a moment where she let her hair loose where you could just hear all the male indie rap fans heart collectively skipping a beat, haha! P.O.S played some favorites like "Drumroll" and a number of crew songs, including the awesome "Low Light Low Life" with Dessa and Sims as an encore.

Another great show from Doomtree all around. Here is some footage from the front of new songs by Cecil Otter and Sims, both of which sound amazing:

Cecil Otter:


Saturday, November 13, 2010

Artsy After Parties with Open Mike

The Latest Greatest, 11/13/10

Much to the dismay of art rap naysayers worldwide, Open Mike Eagle will be dropping a follow-up EP to his album "Unapologetic Art Rap" via Mush Records on 12/21/2010. Appropriately titled "Art Rap After Party," the 5 track EP features more progressive stylings from one of the more interesting voices of Project Blowed's Swim Team/Thirsty Fish collective. Included is the track "Haircut," which I've seen him perform several times live and which always makes for an entertaining song in concert. The entire EP is stream-able for your listening pleasure on the Mush Records website.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Ecid, Noah23, Jordan Miche, Edison, Beastmaster, Paulie Think, a. Hymnz at Retox Lounge, SF

View From the Front Row, 11/12/10

A few nights ago, I rolled out to the Retox Lounge in San Francisco to check out the "Attack of the Vampire Mermaids Tour" featuring Ecid and Jordan Miche of Minnesota's Fill in the Breaks collective, Canadian vet MC Noah23, and a bunch of random local opening acts I hadn't heard of. This tour had "nerd rap" written all over it, from the title of the tour to the names of the opening acts, and I like my fair share of nerd rap so it seemed right up my alley! My younger sister happened to be in the area as well and decided to come with me to observe some true rap geekery at work, which made this show extra fun.

First, in regards to the Retox Lounge: this was my first time there, and it was a pretty awesome intimate venue that was everything one could have hoped for for an obscure indie rap tour like this. Located in the tiny basement of a bar on 20th st. and 3rd ave. near the water, the close-knit atmosphere of the room was only augmented by the awesome choice of decor. Old airplane seats were positioned around the room, complete with headphone jacks and stewardess buttons, and an aiplane wall with little sliding windows was set against the wall. In-flight entertainment at its finest!

A. Hymnz was the first opener to go on, and his set started with a slew of technical difficulties typical for this sort of small-scale rap show... it was almost comforting to watch in a "this is some underground shit" kinda way. Once Hymnz got the mic feedback in order and the beats functioning, his set went pretty smoothly. His raps seemed very emotionally founded, with lots of rhymes about family and childhood over plucky guitar-type beats. He mentioned that one of the tracks he performed was a collaboration he'd done with the amazing Ceschi Ramos, which didn't come as a surprise since the styles of music are similar. A. Hymnz's vocals didn't always stand out over the quality of his beats, but he was a decent opening act nevertheless.

Paulie Think was the next act to take the stage. I'm not sure if had to do with his name, his stature, or some review I'd read of his stuff before, but for some reason I was worried that he would be a hard opener to take. I was 100% mistaken. Paulie Think brought a very entertaining set filled with really fun songs that spanned a variety of styles, and actually put on one of the better performances of the evening. His lyrics and personal interjections had a healthy dose of humor to them that got the crowd in a good mood, and the music side of things swinged from super-scientific electro to reggae-styled riffs to crunk party beats. His cadence and personality were entertaining to witness, like a nerd turned crazy rapper, and he put on a damn good show. He also happened to be wearing a Ceschi shirt... lotta Ceschi fans were in the building, apparently.

Beastmaster, who wins the award for "most overt nerd rap moniker of the evening," played next and put on a pretty decent set. He lived up to his name by coming out wearing beast gloves and a monstrous beast baby on his back. Many of his songs seemed to touch upon animals and beasts in true nerd rap fashion, though his music was somewhat flat in comparison to his extravagant appearance. At the end of his set, his group consisting of Edison and one other rapper whose name I didn't catch came out to perform a track. They only had time for one song due to time restraints, and had to pass a single mic back and forth between them which made things tricky, but it was a good number. The best MC of the three of them was definitely Edison, who really delivered a passionate verse and gave it his all. Somewhat surprising, since Edison seems to mainly be known for his production work... some folks just tend to excel at both fields I guess.

Speaking of Edison's production work, the SF producer followed up Beastmaster's set with a solo beat set that showcased his skills as a producer. It ended up being super impressive and a great change of pace from the evening's slew of super-scientific rap verses. Edison used two flashing button machines similar to the style that Daedelus tends to break out, and showed off not only his dope beats, but also the ways that he can modify and build off of them in a live setting. It definitely went appreciated, and Edison struck me as one of the more talented dudes in the building that evening.

There was an intermission after Edison's beat showcase in which the out-of-towners set up their laptops and beat machines, and during which a great deal of the crowd dispersed. Like many tiny indie rap shows, the audience was comprised mainly of music artists and friends of music artists, so the non-local acts didn't get as strong a turn out. When Jordan Miche went on with Ecid backing him on the MPC, there were maybe 5 people in the spot including my sister and I. Both Jordan and Ecid took some hits off a joint that was being passed around, and then Mr. Miche got into his music. Jordan Miche strikes me as a pretty interesting rap type, and his new free EP has some surprisingly dope songs on it, but somehow the tracks didn't translate as well to a live setting as I thought they would. The performance went off without many hitches, and Ecid was playing a bunch of his beats live to compliment Jordan's stylings, but nothing about the set felt terribly impressive. It may have had to do with the crowd largely dispersing though.

Noah23 went on next and did a pretty cool of sing-songy type rap songs, many of which were from his upcoming album on Fake Four Inc. called "Fry Cook on Venus." I'm not that familiar with much of Noah23's music, but I have heard his named tossed around in indie rap circles for the better part of ten years and he has a ton of albums and material under his belt. The new tracks he performed all seemed to be very song in the production department, and featured some really ill beats from Factor amongst others. He also sang some comical song about wandering around the jungle and had the handful of people in the audience sing an off-key hook. Pretty nice set that had me interested in hearing his upcoming album.

Ecid finally took the stage once Noah had finished, and put on a good set of lyric-heavy tunes. Ecid clearly puts a lot of thought into his writing, and it shows in the way a number of his lines and verses stand out. He was the act whose material I was most familiar with, as I own two of his solo albums as well as his collaborative album with Awol One, and I was the lone fan chanting along with the hooks in the front row though the mini-crowd did seem to reappear for his set. One thing that surprised me about his songs live was that while I thought that the tracks from his "100 Smiles and Runnin" album would stand out more in a live setting due to their funky Arsenic beats, it was actually the tracks from his experimental concept album "Red Beretta" that worked best on stage. Something about Ecid managing to control extremely wild and experimental beats with his verses seemed more impressive than his straight-forward hip hop songs. Still, tracks like "Big Things" (featured below) were predictably great. Fun show all around.


Monday, November 8, 2010

Jordan Miche "@!^* You EP"

Expanding the Backpack, 11/8/10

New free EP from Jordan Miche, one of the core members of Ecid's Minneapolis hip hop crew Fill in the Breaks. This is pretty much my introduction to Jordan's music, and I must say that tracks like "@!^* You" and "The New Era" highlight some very clever lyricism and stylistic prowess that offer a fairly original approach to the genre. Ecid handles the production side of things, and brings an avantgarde jazz atmosphere to the project that compliments Miche's stylings nicely. This download is offered in promotion of the Ecid/Noah23/Jordan Miche "Attack of the Vampire Mermaid Tour," which is currently making its way across the US and which will get a San Francisco show review here shortly. A physical version of this freebie with a bonus Ecid & Jordan Miche EP "Dead Trumpet Demos" is also available for sale on the tour. Download the EP HERE and check out the show dates listed below.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

JFK, The Insects, Black Mask, Joe Cutter, Outwitz, Slop Opera at Rocket Room, SF

View From the Front Row, 11/7/10

The other night, I rolled out to the Rocket Room to check out JFK's "Gone Till November" tour with The Insects and Black Mask. There were less people at this show than there were at the Sapient show that I saw at Rocket a couple weeks back, but overall it was a liver concert that definitely delivered in the fun department.

The first act that went on was a dude called Testosterone, who was hard to take seriously since 80% of his set was technical difficulties and he was far too drunk or high to really care. It did result in a few entertaining moments, such as him singing shower songs acappella, but it was a little painful to watch never the less!

The next act, or series of acts, was a crew called Slop Opera which was comprised of several mini-sets from different members/sub-groups of the collective. I had my fingers crossed for a better opening act than Addamantium the Plumber, who I had to endure as an opening act the last time I went to the Rocket Room. Well, I shouldn't have jinxed it. The crew got on stage and, wouldn't you know it, Addamantium the Plumber was pretty much the central member of the group... guess he must know someone who runs the venue or something. To his credit, Addamantium was slightly better this time around, though not by a large margin. Maybe it was the leftover stuffed Halloween spider prop that the crew set out on stage that made it a little more entertaining. Out of the other people in the crew, the most impressive was a sub-group called Immune, which had one rapper in it that did some interesting vocal stylings to make up for the other rapper in the group, who I found rather generic. The group Outwitz seemed to be affiliated to Slop Opera as well, and had probably the biggest group of friends in attendance of any of the performers, but they didn't really stand out to me in any particular way. Not bad, just a little bland.

The next person to take the stage was a rapper by the name of Joe Cutter, who I single out from the other local openers because he stood out with some pretty solid material. I'd never heard of him before, but apparently he comes from a group called Thunderhut out of San Jose and is down with Mestizo's Machina Muerte label as well as the whole Grindtime battle rapper scene. Joe Cutter's lyrics and flow were a step above the other acts that had gone on, and while some of his punchline-centric songs felt a little grounded in the annoying battle circuit mentality, his beats were really tight and made up for any shortcomings. I should also note that an artist that was part of The Insects had started doing a live canvas at this point while the music was going on, and it was looking dope.

Black Mask were the first non-Cali-based group that performed, and they were pretty good. JFK liked these guys' material enough to take them on tour across the country with him, and while none of their tracks felt particularly original to me, there was a certain party-oriented atmosphere to their songs that provided a nice change of pacefor the show. Maybe it's just that there were three of them on stage chanting hooks, but the live atmosphere did seem to pick up a bit. Black Mask also offered the crowd free CDs, and I highlight this because their CDs were a far stretch from the typical slimline CDR samplers you get given by artists at shows. They were professionally manufactured CDs, shrinkwrapped with glossy digipacks and a track featuring the Chicharones. Good way to improve your fanbase! Tour openers take note.

Now up until this point, several of the performers had entertained me but there was no act that had really wowed me and made my evening. The Insects quickly remedied that. Based out of Arizona, rapper Brad B and producer Foundation have put a good amount of work in over the years and are widely respected amongst their peers. Their recorded material hasn't always been my cup of tea, but I heard that they were better live, and what I heard was clearly an understatement. Right from the get-go, The Insects brought an insane amount of skilled chemistry and live energy to their set, and they proceeded to murder every track with no quarter. In addition to having beats sure to shake any live venue and incredibly strong MCing, what really stood out to me was how original their songs were structured, with many experiments in rhythm and refrains that paid off very well. Super impressive performance that got me crazy hyped, plus they're really nice guys to boot.

JFK capped the evening off with another excellent set that was a worthy follow-up to The Insects performance and just about as good. I was a little worried about how JFK would fare live since his Grayskul rhyming partner Onry Ozzborn ain't too great a live show, despite being a great recording artist. Fortunately, JFK was every bit as rowdy and energetic as his solo material would have you expect, and he killed just about every song he played. Some highlights included an extra-rowdy rendition of "One of These Kids," a medley of brief Grayskul verses covering just about every one of the official albums, and a remix of "Passed It" that incorporated an extra-chill Molemen beat for the weed talk. One great part about seeing JFK live is his vibrant personality. He's a live-wire that's bustling with energy, but he won't hesitate to suddenly calm himself just to keep you guessing. JFK's brother was also there as a hype-man for the set, and was interesting to watch just because of how similar the two of them looked. The whole thing ended with a massive freestyle cypher featuring all the MCs, in true underground hip hop show fashion. Terrific concert, thanks to JFK and The Insects... this tour comes recommended!

Some videos from the front:

The Insects:


Saturday, November 6, 2010

Swimming Laps Around These Sucka MCs

The Latest Greatest, 11/6/10

This dope cypher video of the new school Project Blowed collective Swim Team has been circling the various rap blogs and message boards, so I thought I'd give it a share. These guys are defiinitely some budding talents, and they make that apparent in their verses. Everyone brings it, but the crown goes to Alpha MC here with the way he kicks things off. MIA - Rogue Venom and Psykosis, where they at?