And now, for a very special edition of this month's non-stop View From the Front Row series. Anyone who's been following my blog may have seen my Help Support Neila post a few months back, where I touched upon Neila's talents as an MC and her recent hardships. Since then, I've come to know Neila not only as a dope-ass vocalist, but also as an outstandingly sweet and thoughtful person, who sincerely cares for others in the most genuine ways and spreads love to everyone regardless of circumstance. When I got invited by a rapper buddy to attend the "I ♥ Neila Benefit Show" in LA, it was a pretty difficult thing to refuse despite the distance. Not only because I ♥ Neila big-time, but also because of the stellar line-up of LA underground acts that were showing their support. The list of performers read like something you might see at the Good Life back in the day: A-Team, Of Mexican Descent, Omid, Exile, Speak Easy, etc. So, I did something I rarely do and decided to travel out to see the show on a whim, roping my younger sister who lives in Newport Beach into the equation as well. I had my little list of goals for this event, and it roughly read as follows:
- 1) Make the night a little more special for Neila by showing up unexpected and surprising her
- 2) Rock out to the music I love in the front row, as usual
- 3) Expose my sister to some seriously dope LA hip hop
- 4) Get some pictures with rappers I idolize/friends of mine
- 5) Document the event on my blog so that everyone can revisit it when they want to remember how awesome the whole thing was (a daunting task to balance with goal #2, but it's been done many times before!)
Anyway, enough with my little lists, on to the event in question. The I ♥ Neila Benefit show took place at a little venue called The New Gabah, which I guess is in the same place that the old Gabah used to be (you can't count on me when it comes to this info though... I'm no LA resident). I was a little worried that the venue would be a massive sprawling affair since the flyer listed two different rooms for DJs and performers, but it was actually as quaint and intimate a venue as one could have hoped for. My sister and I were two of the first non-artist people to arrive there, and I immediately greeted Neila with a hug. I don't know if "surprised" is quite the way I'd describe her reaction (if she was, she hid it well!), but she seemed happy about it and that was the most important thing. There was a merch table set up to raise money for Neila that featured not only shirts and music, but also a wide selection of kick-ass jewelery supplied by one of Neila's many talented friends. My sister ended up rolling away with a tasty pair of skull earings. Rad.
The music side of the evening started with a couple of Neila's friends DJing. One mixed together a bunch of Neila's favorite reggae songs as a dedication and another played some underground hip hop that got folks in the crowd grooving. These tunes eventually led to the first performer of the evening, Tha Conclusion, who took the stage to kick an extra-short set of aggressive hip hop. I'd never heard of Tha Conclusion before, but I appreciated his theatrical choice of stepping on stage wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask. Music-wise, I thought that his material was closer to something that Ill Bill might spit than anything Project Blowed-related, which caught me off-guard and made for kind of an odd start to the evening's performers. Still, he poured his heart and energy into his songs for Neila. Props to him for doing his thing.
Spare Parts 4 Broken Hearts, an all-gal rock band who I'd never heard of before, came on next and killed it with an extra live set that got the majority of the crowd bobbing their heads and cheering for more. The blaring guitars and bass progressions worked great, but hats off to the drummer of the band for really getting loose and swinging around her drumsticks like they were some kinds of medieval flails. LA emcee Zane One occasionally got on stage to kick a verse over the propulsive rock backdrops, which worked very well for the most part and offered some dope variety to the mix. My only qualm with the set is that I forgot to bring my earplugs, and like all rock sets it was extremely loud. Ah well, I probably won't need that much of my hearing when I'm 70 anyway! Neila dug the set so much that she got on stage to tell the crowd how great she thought it was, and from that point onward she sort of started co-hosting and announced the performers with Avatar.
Omid set up his equipment during the last few songs of Spare Parts 4 Broken Hearts' set, and went on right after they finished. He delivered a great set of psychedelic beats focused around Indian music, with lots of cool echoing vocals and bugged out sitar effects. There were not a whole lot of people up front watching him play his beats, but the atmosphere of the venue had changed to one of communal bonding as more and more talented LA musicians arrived at the spot in support of Neila. Amongst those in attendance were Matre, Gel Roc (why wasn't I introduced??), Riddlore, Existereo and a bunch of dudes from Grimm Image Records. As Speak Easy started to step up to perform, Omid dropped a really crazy beat that involved some strange children's music sample getting chopped to bits, and Bleek flipped out over how dope it was. Legendary LA beat-maker... meant to get a pic with him, but he left too early!
Speak Easy, possibly my sister's favorite rap group of the evening, were the next up to play and I was looking forward to seeing their set. In my opinion, there are certain groups that are just meant to be seen in a live setting to fully experience their tunes, and Speak Easy's drunken bar anthems fit the mold of a 21+ venue very nicely. Avatar is also a really nice dude in person and I'd never seen him perform live in this group before, so I was curious to see what he'd bring to the table. The set started off with Bleek trying to tell a story about how he and Avatar first met Neila despite Avatar and me both warning him against it, and when he finally got through trying to tell it it amounted to something like "So, they said you should meet this girl her name's 'alien' spelled backwards," which fell super flat in a seriously funny way. The hilarity ensued from there. Drunken pub anthems were played, beer was consumed, and the microphones were rocked. Speak Easy's set was unfortunately cut pretty short due to things running behind schedule, but they still managed to get "St. Patty's Day" in there at the end and it was good times. Very fun set, with both MCs on point.
Exile, who many of my friends adore beyond all reasonable measure, was up next to perform and got a good surge of people up to the front. I've seen Exile do his thing live before with Blu and wasn't really too impressed, but I've got to say that I was blown away by Exile's set this evening and thought that he brought 110% to the table. For starters, Exile introduced one of his new MC partners, whose name was Jonas if memory serves me right. Those who've followed Exile's work ethic know that this man does not fuck around when it comes to picking MC talent, and this Jonas guy was live as hell on stage, jumping and weaving and barreling through his verses like a true pro. Even with Jonas' excellent stage presence, the highlight of Exile's set was his solo finale, where he tilted his production equipment up for people to see and banged out some super impressive beats. He even flipped a sample of someone saying "Neila" and stuttered it out of his machine in a super ill way, which had the lady of honor and everyone around her laughing in amazement and bugging out. Super great set... I'm still fiending to hear a collab between him and Adad!
At this point in the evening, word had gotten around that a bad case of double-booking had caused 2Mex to be absent, leaving the Of Mexican Descent reunion no more. Hearing that was the biggest disappointment of the night for sure... for some reason, I'm cursed when it comes to trying to see super-groups live! Never the less, all was not lost as Xololanxinxo stepped up to the stage to perform an improvisational solo set with a live saxophonist backing him up. If there's one thing you've really got to appreciate about these LA underground rappers, it's their ability to improvise stylistically and come up with new shit on the spot. When I saw Busdriver a few months back, his set was saved from catastrophe and turned amazing because of the ways that he built off of the hiccups in his set and used them to his advantage. I feel like Xolo was on some similar shit here. He obviously hadn't had time to plan out a full solo set, but he improvised and he made it happen. I'm not sure how much of the set was freestyled and how much was written (I know I heard some joints from "Names" up in the mix), but I am sure that there was some LA underground love in the house, because Existereo, Riddlore, Verble and some others all got up on the stage to assist Xololanxinxo on the rhyming tip. Seeing how Existereo is one of my personal favorite rappers out of LA and how CVE kills it, I had very few complaints in this department. Some true Project Blowed shit that captured the atmosphere of communal love that was up in the spot at this point. A great performance that was better than the Xololanxinxo set I saw on his headlining tour with Neila and Avatar in SF a few years back.
If Xololanxinxo brought an unexpected sort of dopeness to the table, then the A-Team pretty much brought exactly the kind of dopeness I was hoping for. Aceyalone and Ab Rude took the stage like the superhero MCs they are to the sound of the A-Team theme music and just threw it down, with Riddlore sticking around to assist them with some amazing verses. These fools haven't missed a beat live since the 90s, and they played mostly classic joints! Highlights included: "Me and my Main," "Rally Round the Home Team," "Deep and Wide," the list goes on... Riddlore even kicked some classic solo jams, getting folks to chant "Fee Fi Fo Fum" to his dope in the auditorium joint! There were points where the DJ equipment malfunctioned in absolutely horrible ways and Acey and Ab just kept holding it down acapella, refusing to let any type of technical difficulty stand in their way. Neila was grooving out and getting hype in the front for the songs, chanting along to the lyrics and throwing her hands in the air. One point which brought a smile to my face was when Abstract Rude was kicking his verse to "GB in Your Life" and started tossing Neila's name into it, which made her smile huge and gave her a serious kick. Anyway, bottom line is that Acey the Faceman and A.B Barracus held it down super hard for the Blowed with their set. The best performance of the evening in my opinion.
It was after 2 when the A-Team finished up, and the crowd had diminished a bit due to the late hour and the venue staff shutting things down. But what had not diminished was the atmosphere of love and support that lingered in the air, and the heartwarming feeling that the benefit had been a great success. It was awesome to see so many people come out to support such a good cause for such a dope show, and I'm happy that my sister and I could be part of it. Hopefully, this run-down does the show justice for those who were there and fulfills goal #5, despite goal #2 consuming the majority of my time!
A few video snippets to close things out with. They're short and the lighting ain't good, but figure I'll share away for memory's sake anyway:
Speak Easy "St. Patty's Day" snippet:
Snippet of Riddlore kicking a verse during Xolo's set over live sax:
A-Team "Deep and Wide" snippet: