View From the Front Row, 6/25/11
June has definitely been a strange month as far as live hip hop goes. While May offered up more full-fledged rap line-ups than I could shake a keyboard at, June was more like a tiny smattering of short but sweet sets by artists that I enjoy. A little Rime Force Most Illin here (on the 3rd floor of a Bank of America building, oddly), a little Megabusive there (closing out a poorly timed night at Club 6). There were some real quality performances, but they were spread out to the point where I found it tricky to do a complete write-up of anything on this here blog. But fear not, for the most recent show I went to at Red Devil Lounge was not only a complete rap show, but also the funnest full-fledged rap show I've been to in a minute.
While Rec League are my dudes and have never put on a bad show, the act that caught my attention and made me wanna roll out was F. Stokes, a Chi-town rapper known for his work with Doomtree's Lazerbeak. In fact, when this secret show was originally announced, it was just advertising Justus Bends and F. Stokes... Rime Force Most Illin' and Rec League were the extra-secret surprises of this secret show, and only announced their presence the night before it went down.
Part of the reason that this show rocked so hard was the crowd. There was lots of love between fellow hip hop heads and it was one of the least self-conscious crowds I've been a part of in a minute, with plenty of folks dancing and filming and laughing and drinking and just plain enjoying themselves. It was also the bartender Anna's birthday, and a lot of the acts and people in attendance were celebrating and showing her a huge amount of love. There were dance circles and excited cheering before any of the live acts even got on stage, largely thanks to the DJ (whose name I think was Bad DJ?) who was spinning strictly classic hip hop jams that had people chanting along.
Rime Force Most Illin' were the first act to take the stage, and they really set it off with a show loaded with energy and old school Cali hip hop vibes. Rob Rush (Rec League) and Luke Sick (Sacred Hoop) have got some nice chemistry going on in this new group, plus their hooks and approach are just as big a throwback to golden era hip hop as their collaborative stage name. Lots of ill flows, B-boy stances, rugged Cali vocals and chant-along hooks. Apparently, Rime Force Most Illin' might be showing up at more rap shows out of the blue to blow the roof off of spots as an unexpected opening act. And for the record, They Get the Most Props! Headliners better step their games up. Now holla like ya know.
After a short but thoroughly entertaining set from Rime Force Most Illin', Richie Cunning and QM got up on stage to support Rob Rush as Rec League. They put on an awesome show of drinking anthems backed by the occasional party anthem and dance anthem in traditional Rec League fashion. Richie Cunning was wearing medical braces on his pinky fingers from some accident that he refused to talk about, and he had the crowd hold up their pinky fingers for his performance of "One Dollar Wonder." The whole set was like a crash course in the way that Rec League brings it live, with lots of insane energy and stage presence making up for any hiccups in the verses of their relentless set. A Happy Birthday was sung to Anna, and Rob Rush rolled through his infamous shirtless dance routine that always drives the crowd into a frenzy. Rob's boss from the company he works for was in the crowd near the front, and was busting out crazy dance moves. A really ill performance from these guys, as always!
F. Stokes was on to play next, and he delivered a very strange but thoroughly enjoyable and memorable performance. Manned with only a microphone and a laptop, F. Stokes was determined to make a personal connection with the crowd and get them involved with his songs. He spit many of his songs acappella so that the crowd could hear every word, which was a risky decision after a hype set like Rec League's, but it worked well for the most part thanks to his excellent lyrics. F. Stokes really got into the crowd and showed a lot of people love over the course of his set. He went behind the bar at one point to give Anna a major hug, prompting the crowd to sing Happy Birthday to her once again. He had the entire crowd sit down so he could kick a personal verse over the instrumental to the theme music from "Titanic." He brought a rowdy dude from the crowd nicknamed J-Eazy on stage to be his hype man for "Hang On" since the guy was causing a scene and F. Stokes didn't want him kicked out of the venue. He also pulled me up on stage at one point to teach me how to "high five hug" in a demonstration to the rest of the crowd that had a number of people joining hands. And throughout all of these personal touches, F. Stokes rapped and rapped well. There were a few awkward moments, like when he attempted the impossible task of trying to silence the crowd by telling everyone to say "shhh" to the person next to them, but it was an awesome set overall that's sure to go down in the books for its uniqueness.
Justus Bends came on after F. Stokes as the headliner of the evening, which struck me as kind of strange since he was the one act I hadn't heard of. To be honest, I was caught-up in chatting with some of the heads in attendance during his set and didn't pay much attention to it... but then, a really good show tends to demand your attention, and there was nothing that demanded my attention in Justus Bends' performance. The only bit I remember was a nasally white dude on stage dropping the word "swag" in his verse, which made me tune it out more. Meh, can't win'em all!
Super fun show overall! Good times for sure.