View From the Front Row, 10/20/11
Last night, I rolled out to 330 Ritch in SF with one of my homies to catch the legendary Freestyle Fellowship live in concert. This was a rescheduled show from when Freestyle Fellowship cancelled their SF show back in August, and while I remember that one being promoted well, this time somebody dropped the ball. You'd figure that with tickets only 10 bucks, a major act like Freestyle Fellowship would pack a smaller-sized venue like 330 Ritch, but the crowd was maybe 1/4th the capacity of the club if we're being generous. I've seen some really fun shows at 330 Ritch, most notably Hopie's "Raw Gems" release party in September, but I also have to give the place a respectable thumbs down for this one due to the sound quality (or lack thereof). The number of mic malfunctions and lack of proper levels for vocals or beats in the monitors definitely detracted from the show overall.
The first act to perform was Opski Chan of San José's Isolated Wax crew, who was accompanied by Megabusive on stage as a backup. From what I can tell, Opski Chan is a good MC with some fine recordings under his belt like many of the folks on Isolated Wax, but I thought his set was a bit of a disappointment. He has some clever lyrics and good flows in his songs, but it almost felt like he was performing his tracks on autopilot at this show. He had a plenty of friends and supporters from San José in the crowd cheering him on after each song, and I was cheering for him as well, but he still seemed kind of bored on stage and uninterested in winning anyone over. Maybe Opski-Chan was disappointed by the small turn-out or fed up with the sound system and just decided it wasn't worth giving it 110%, or maybe he's not a frequent live performer and felt uncomfortable, but either way I sensed a lack of connection with the crowd. Can't blame this one on the sound system unfortunately, because when Megabusive grabbed the mic and dropped a guest verse on one song, he really killed it and showed off his charisma on stage. If I hadn't heard some of Opski Chan's recordings beforehand, I wouldn't have left the venue converted.
Another San José group, Sub Ren, came on to play next. I hadn't heard of them and neither had most of the audience, but they put on a pretty good set that had me smiling and grooving along to their tunes. They didn't get as many cheers from the crowd as Opski did, but they had a certain energy and momentum to their live show and knew how to carry themselves on stage. Opski Chan had the upper-hand in terms lyrics and concepts, but Sub Ren had some pretty dope mellow hip hop beats to rock over and their heart was clearly in their performance. The homie who I went to the show with was very bored with Sub Ren's set, so maybe you needed to be up in the front row looking to party for the songs to click. Another San José rapper, Rey Ressurection, joined Sub Ren on stage for one of their final numbers, but the two MCs of the group held it down just fine without him. Nice opening act.
The scattered crowd gathered to the stage as DJ Kilu got behind the boards to play some entry music for Freestyle Fellowship and get people hype. Aceyalone, Myka 9, P.E.A.C.E and Self Jupiter are all tremendous rap talents that have had a major influence on the directions that hip hop has taken over the years, so it's great to see that none of them have lost the touch live. Seeing these guys rock mics is bearing witness to some truly incredible feats of MCing, though the sound difficulties reached their peak during their set and occasionally marred some really great verses. I'd seen Aceyalone and Myka 9 kill it live many times before, but this was my first experience seeing P.E.A.C.E and Self Jupiter rock it, and they both lived up to expectations. P.E.A.C.E busted out an unbelievable acapella at one point that had his gruff voice shifting to all types of different musical pitches while Self Jupiter held it down and got into the crowd for his verse from "Pure Thought." I was worried that Freestyle Fellowship was going to play too many old songs and fumble them in the process, but the older tracks were all performed well and ended up being the highlights of the evening, with "Bullies of the Block" and "7th Seal" standing out in particular. It's just a shame that the sound quality was so poor, with mics losing audio and beats blasting too loud to properly hear all the verses. It got worse as the set went on, to the point where it was practically noise for the last few cuts. Open letter any venue planning on booking Myka 9 (my favorite Fellowship MC): his musical style of MCing is extremely complex and requires a very audible microphone and sound system. Out of the three times I've seen Microphone Mike live, only once has the sound of the venue properly done him justice, though he's still been impressive every time. Anyway, Freestyle Fellowship had all the chemistry and know-how you'd expect, and did their damn thing.
Overall, I felt like this was a decent show that could have been a great show. The fellaz in Freestyle Fellowship are undeniably impressive live, but the sound quality and overall atmosphere of the poorly promoted venue dragged the experience down a couple notches in my book. I'm very glad that I got to see these legends perform together, but doubt that this show will stay cemented in my memory a year from now.