Wednesday, November 30, 2011

November 2K11 in Hip Hop Terms

The Lowdown, 11/30/11

Playing a bit (read: a lot) of catch up here as per usual. October didn't really have that many stellar hip hop titles to offer, but November was pretty loaded with ill shit. Here are some of my picks o' the litter:

1) Doomtree - "No Kings" (Doomtree)

The second full length Doomtree release featuring every member of the crew is predictably solid, but not in the most predictable of ways. The two singles that leaked prior to the record dropping ("The Grand Experiment" and "Beacon") and the cover art had me a bit worried about whether DTR would deliver with this one, but I breathed a sigh relief as soon as the disc hit my stereo. The music on "No Kings" is not as immediately accessible as Doomtree's self-titled debut, and there aren't really as many standout songs as there were on the last one, but in some ways it feels like a more cohesive body of work. This album was apparently recorded over the course of a week-long retreat at a cabin in the woods, and a glance through the production credits reveals that most of the music was a collaborative effort between several of Doomtree's core beat-makers. So, what does the final product sound like? Envision a soundtrack for a rebellious group of punks in a futuristic world where gangs like theirs rule the streets (think "The Warriors"), and you won't be far off. This is a layered album meant to be played from beginning to end, but there are some anthems on it for sure. "Bangarang" has got the sort of focused Mictlan hook that's sure to get people chanting loudly at shows, "Team, the Best Team" features an interesting backdrop of Lazerbeak horns that grows on you with each listen, and Sims owns "Gimme the Go" along with every other song he's featured on on this album. "Little Mercy" showcases Cecil Otter's unique brand of lyricism and production skills extremely well, with a tight little Dessa verse thrown in the mix to compliment his style. My favorite track, "Bolt Cutter," features a beat that sways between hard-hitting electro vibes and delicate guitar strums, all topped off by an extra-catchy P.O.S punk hook.. I don't think this album's quite topping Doomtree's self-titled debut due to the sheer number of standout songs that joint had, but it's definitely one of the stronger and more challenging pieces of hip hop you're likely to hear in these last months of 2011. Check out the video for "Bolt Cutter" below, and lend this album your ears.

2) One Be Lo - "L.A.B.O.R" (Subterraneous)

One Be Lo's latest full-length album "L.A.B.O.R" ("Language Arts Based on Reality") is possibly my favorite One Be Lo release to date, not to mention one of the stronger traditional rap albums you're likely to hear this year. Apparently, the "L.A.B.O.R" acronym does not stand for "Loved Amongst Bloggers Of Rap," as I've seen this album largely hated on, ignored, or downright slept on by the indie rap internet hype machine. The publicity and fanfare for this album are so tiny, in fact, that there are major One Be Lo fans out there who aren't even aware that it exists. Boasting zero distribution and over 20 songs, I suppose one could mistake "L.A.B.O.R" for some of kind of One Be Lo mixtape, but that would be a grave error. This is a very cohesive and complete body of work. 100% new songs, segues and interludes, all tied together by a clever animal theme that One Be Lo applies creatively to a variety of off-beat topics. Granted, this album does have a couple of flaws... With 21 songs, it clocks in at 74 minutes, which is at least 14 minutes too long for any rap album. There are a couple of filler songs ("DESTINY (of the Phoenix)" in particular stands out like a sore thumb with its sub-par DJ Twelvs beat), plus too many interludes and sampled pieces of dialogue, an unnecessary intro skit, and even the occasional corny line or hook. But what makes "L.A.B.O.R" such an enjoyable listen is that despite all of this, One Be Lo simply belongs to a superior class of MCing. His voice, flow, cadence and rhymes are all straight-up immaculate even on the very worst of the songs on here, to the point where he can hold your attention on his own over the whole album without a single guest. That's no easy feat given the length of this beast (no animal pun intended). DWills handles the majority of the production and gives One Be Lo some extra solid boom bap to work with, with 14KT, Vitamin D, Nick Speed and Mike Posner all delivering great offerings as well. Scratches handled by DJ Abilities. Excellent stuff. You can stream the album in full via One Be Lo's Bandcamp Page below:

3) Señor Kaos - "The Kaos Effect" (High Water Music)

Very dope album from Atlanta MC and Binkis Recs affiliate Señor Kaos, presented by the always underrated High Water Music label out of NYC. My knowledge of Señor Kaos prior to this album was limited to a couple of guest spots he had on other High Water Music releases, which were decent but nothing that made me blink in amazement. This album, on the other hand, got some serious blink-age. Right from the get-go, "The Kaos Effect" seized my attention with the song "The Understanding," where Senor Kaos bears it all and impresses with his delivery over an extra dramatic banger from Illastrate. From there on out, we're treated to a number of solid tracks that could easily work as singles, with many songs highlighting Senor Kaos' effortless style and Illastrate's ill production chops. "Automatic Classic 2.0" finds Kaos dropping interesting lines left and right over a slow-moving Illastrate heater, "Restless" is smooth to the core with an admirable guest verse from J-Live, and "Did You Miss Me" features Binkis Recs in a lesson in lyrical beat-downs. Senor Kaos also knows how to get topical, with "Girls Rock Too" presenting an ode to women throughout history and "Spirit of Jax" offering an homage to his fallen Binkis homie of the same name. Great stuff, check out the super fun video for the song "No More" (produced by Marcotiks) below:

4) Big Quarters - "Party Like a Young Commie" (Lake City Browns)

Back in 2009, when Big Quarters dropped "From the Home of Brown Babies and White Mothers," I was completely sold on their material to the point where I deemed their album one of the sleepers of the year. Well, the follow-up from the duo of Brandon Allday and Medium Zach is finally here, and it's another impressive collection of songs with a seasonal Fall vibe that's sure to make you smile. The sound of"Party Like a Young Commie" is a lot different than the lo-fi excellence of their last one, with a more polished sound to the beats along with some strengthened hook writing. One listen to the live instrumentation of Medium Zach's instrumental "When the Head Connects to the Body" and it quickly becomes clear that these two are out to make some grown man rap music. That's not to say that they don't have a little fun with jams like "C'mon" and "Perfect Match," but the songwriting here is very mature and introspective for the most part. I'm always impressed by how Medium Zach and Brandon Allday manage to make their music sound so unique, as there's something very distinctive about the way they handle their verses and their choices of music. Lots of cool mellow vibes on this one, check out the backyard BBQ video for their song "Perfect Match" below:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Richie Cunning, Pep Love & Melina Jones at the Elbo Room, SF

View From the Front Row, 11/16/11

Wait wait wait, two Rec League-related show reviews in the span of a single month? What is this, one of the recommended blogs on Routine Fly's website or something? Naw, but for reals, if I'm showing a concert bias here, it's only because these crazy San Francisco motherfuckers know how to throw a really live show. And this jam, which occured on 11/11/11 and which I'm late in reviewing here, fit that bill pretty damn well.

When I rolled up to Elbo Room and saw a line out the door, I knew it wasn't going to be your average handful-of-people type turnout event. Lines outside the Elbo Room were an unheard of phenomenon to me until this show, and the spot was packed with one of the biggest crowds I've ever seen there before the music even started. Lots of Rec League regulars were in the spot, with some additional family members and 11/11 bar-hoppers thrown into the mix.

Melina Jones was the first person to perform, and she put on a good warm-up set that had her having a lot of fun on stage and getting the crowd properly hyped for the music. I wasn't too familiar with her stuff but had heard of her through her collaborations with the underrated Bay Area producer Deedot, whose soulful boom bap production is a good compliment to Melina's style. Her rapping had a cheerful melodic quality to it that was fun to rock out to live, though she indulged in a bit too much call-and-response banter with the audience between songs. Still, she was having fun and so was the crowd, which was surprisingly full of people who had traveled a good distance to see her. Melina's set got off to a bit of a bumpy start when she asked the DJ to rewind the intro music he was playing so she could rock a verse over it, and it took a bit of time for the DJ to catch on to what she was asking, but aside from that the set was smooth sailing. Fun opening act that tested the noise levels that the packed house was capable of.

Pep Love of Heiroglyphics came on to rock it next, and he kicked a smooth set that showcased his laid back natural style and cadences. It was strange to see a veteran MC like Pep Love right in the middle of a bill of modern lesser-known rappers, and stranger still to see the crowd's rather apathetic reaction to him. To be fair, while Pep Love definitely rocked steady with his flow, he was not as fun an act to watch live as some of the evening's other rap types, plus he hasn't released any new material in a minute. You'd think that the Heiro emblem on the show flyer would be one of the major draws of the event, but apparently the crowd was mostly there for either Richie Cunning or Melina Jones. Pep Love's set started decently and got better and better as it went on. He worked his way through tracks from "Ascension" as well as some funky new material from his upcoming album due out in 2012. His performance felt like the polar opposite of Melina Jones' show - all rapping and songs with little to no crowd interaction. It was still a nice set of songs from a skilled rapper, and I was surprised there weren't more hardcore fans in attendance chanting along to his lyrics by heart.

Richie Cunning closed things out as the evening's headliner, and he shut shit down with the best set of the night. I've seen Rec League and Richie Cunning live countless times at this point, but it's great that the group sets and solo sets differ and that they can continue to switch things up with each show. Richie had the energetic masses eating out of his hand, to the point where his performance of "One Dollar Wonder" had at least six people tossing dollar bills on stage. He covered a number of his illest songs, including a couple of tracks not typically played at Rec League's group shows like "Work It Out" and "Pure Imagination." Of course, some of the standard Richie heaters like "1906" and "Richie Cunning's Day Off" were covered as well to great effect. A few new songs were also aired to the appreciative crowd, including a joint produced by Domino of Heiroglyphics that had Domino himself come up on stage to introduce the song in order to get folks properly hyped for it. Apparently, Richie Cunning and Domino have a collab album in the works, and the track that was played sounded fresh with some hilarious Richie quotables. Of course, no Elbo Room 11/11 party would be complete without a few Rec League collabo numbers, and Rob Rush, QM and Haji P joined Richie on stage for a few crazy party songs. Richie even played "The City" as an encore, repping San Francisco to the fullest. Good times, major props to DJ Bad DJ for holding down the mix and interludes despite being drunk since before the show had started!

All in all, this was a party of epic proportions that proved once again that Rec League are the guys you want to dance away your special occasions with.

Subtitle "Black Jack Parsons EP"

Expanding the Backpack, 11/16/11

Another pick from the slew of free releases that established underground artists were handing out on 11/11/11 is this new EP from LA oddball rapper Subtitle aka Giovanni Marks, who returns after a long hiatus with this messy, concentrated dose of noisy weirdness. Dubbed "Crev Wave" in the genre section of the download, the music contained within follows an ADD pattern of minute-long songs that incorporate a lot of dense electronic production and Subtitle's trademark mumbly monotone flow. Though I haven't dug all of Mr. Marks' projects, he's an undeniably original musician and has put out some incredible pieces of music, including the criminally slept on Lab Waste album with Thavius Beck which maintains a very high spot in my personal echelon of LA hip hop releases. Subtitle's "Black Jack Parsons" EP is produced entirely by Giovanni Marks himself, and is being offered for free via Nocando's Hellfyre Club label. An interesting pairing for sure... I'll be checking for Subtitle's "My So Crev Life" full length, which is due to drop on Hellfyre Club next year. Check out the EP below:

Subtitle - Black Jack Parsons Free Download

1. In_gage
2. Retrospective in Crev
3. A Makers Rocks
4. (I Can't) I Can't Be Disturbed
5. Disco @ Los Golobulus Phreestyle
6. Whipp'd 0002
7. Pulled Paper (feat. Chrome Drops)
8. Scales (Juugo)
9. But Still
10. #____
11. Out_gage

Monday, November 14, 2011

Scab Party "Scab Party"

Expanding the Backpack, 11/14/11

So, it seems that 11/11/11 offered up quite a few free download-able albums from respectable hip hop artists. Hands down the weirdest and most unpredictable of the bunch is Awol One's new project "Scab Party," which deviates from hip hop altogether in favor of some bizarre lo-fi punk singing aesthetic. Entirely produced and sung by Awol One, one can only scratch their heads and wonder what color pill sent the renowned Shapeshifter into such an utter state of mindfuckery. Scab Party's self-titled album is far from easy listening, to the point where it may even induce some hair-pulling and ear-plugging amongst Awol's more sensitive listenership. I'd be lying if I said I was feeling this 100%, but it is sort of fascinating to hear how weird Awol sounds doing this style of music. You can download Scab Party for free at the Brain Vein Music Bandcamp Page, or stream the album in full below. Poke it, pinch it, but don't pick at it too hard. And phuckyer blog!

1. Said Lady
2. Can Still
3. California Sun
4. You Can't Take This Away
5. So Dangerous
6. Don't Sweat It Though
7. Live Here Anymore
8. Thousand Dead Hipsters
9. Face Full of Cocaine
10. Welcome to the Battlefield
11. Thunderbeast Speed
12. So Popular
13. Phuckyer Blog


Friday, November 4, 2011

The Grimm Image Halloween Bash featuring Of Mexican Descent, Candy's .22, K-the-I???, Avatar, Sully & Verble at the Airliner, LA

View From the Front Row, 11/4/11

A little over a week ago, I had the chance to attend the Grimm Image Halloween Bash as part of my late October LA vacation. I'd be lying if I said that I didn't partially plan my trip around attending this special monstrosity of an LA rap show, as it had one of those dream line-ups that you can only get on your knees and pray for in the Bay Area. The show didn't end up being as perfect as I'd hoped it would be, but it was still a spectacle with some interesting highlights that got me thinking a lot about LA's hip hop scene and the community within.

As a precursor to this review, I should mention that there was some sort of bad omen hanging over me for my entire trip to LA, and that curse worked its way into this show without question. For starters, the line-up of the Halloween Bash shifted dramatically a few days before the event took place, with the Chicharones and Knives & Gasoline both dropped from the bill. The Chicharones were one of the main acts I went to see, to the point where my Halloween costume was based on Josh Martinez, but the promise of an Of Mexican Descent reunion show was still exciting as was the Candy's .22 slot. Unfortunately, the drive to the Airliner proved to be the most stressful drive of my entire LA trip... Hours of gridlock traffic, passengers who were performing at the show and needed to get there in a timely fashion, and even a mini merging accident that had me pulling to the side of the road and exchanging insurance information with people. Arguably the worst drive of my life that night, and when we finally reached the spot, half of my costume ended up not working and I abandoned the Josh Martinez impression altogether in favor of a generic airplane pilot look. The reason I elaborate on all this is because when I arrived at the Airliner and was unexpectedly put on the guest list, I was still in a pretty foul mood.

As a venue, I thought that the Airliner captured the essence of LA pretty well. Everything about it was noisy, crazy, and extremely fast-paced. It was also very spread out, offering three different locations to watch live music at in different rooms, and with everyone sticking to the room of their choice for the most part. The LA that this show offered was not the LA that I experienced at the I <3 Neila Benefit earlier this year, where artists and friends from all walks of the LA music scene came together to support their own. This show felt more fractured and private, to the point where many of the Grimm Image acts that went on had no more than a handful of people observing them, and even fewer that cared about their music. I guess I'll blame it on the number of Halloween house parties that must have been going on that night... As for me, I was front and center as usual, rocking out and cheering for every person who got on stage.

Onto the music in question. I missed one or two of the opening acts due to the time it took to get to the Airliner, including Los Feo Faces assuming they did in fact perform and weren't dropped from the bill as well. When I got up the stairs to the Grimm Image stage, Woes was hosting an intermission between sets, speed-rapping in his devilish Halloween attire. Woes seemed like a pretty skilled rapper and was good at keeping things moving between the different acts, though the night went by at such a fast pace that maybe a little breathing time would have been nice as well. Still, Woes didn't get nearly the amount of love he deserved from the crowd, and I thought he held his own in the cyphers that went on in the evening's later sets.

The first proper act that I saw take the stage for a set was Verble, who was accompanied by K-the-I??? as a backup and occasional rhyming partner. I'd seen Verble live once before, opening with Nabahe for a Matre and Ceschi tour in San Francisco, and I remember not being super impressed with his rapping that night. Verble was better at this show, however, largely thanks to the strength of some of the new material he's been working on with K-the-I??? Some of the beats that Kiki was supplying Verble with for this set were serious business... Very loud and abrasive in typical K-the-I??? fashion, but still something you could snap your neck and bounce around to. One thing that I liked about Verble as an artist was that he was clearly one of the most enthusiastic and excited rappers to be performing there that night, and it shined through in his rapping and in the way that he supported his fellow Grimm Image artists from the crowd. That bubbly enthusiasm also proved to be somewhat of a hindrance later in the night, but as far as Verble's set went, it made for a nice show.

Sully took the stage right after Verble and K-the-I??? had finished, and did his thing to a scattered but very attentive few. Sully is probably the rapper I knew the least about out of the Grimm Image artists that were performing that night, though I'd seen his name behind the production credits of some nice beats and know that he's collabed with everyone from Kurupt to Awol One. He played a number of songs from his upcoming "7 Deadly Sins" album, each of which was named after a different sin and dealt with said sin in a topical manner, though there wasn't any song that really grabbed me in particular. He also performed a few older songs from his "Eardrum Assault" album, including a song for the serious weed heads that had him grabbing a freshly rolled blunt from the crowd and blazing up on stage. I wasn't really feeling too much of Sully's MCing to be honest, but I did hear some pretty nice beats and there were a couple of heads in attendance who were bugging out to his tunes. He clearly knows what kind of music he wants to make and there are people that want to hear it, so more power to him! I'll probably give "7 Deadly Sins" a listen when it drops.

Avatar headed up to the stage once Sully was done, and flipped another strong set of his trademark aggressive flows and punk-inspired hooks. Avatar actually let me crash at his spot in Inglewood for my trip to LA, and if there's one thing I learned from observing him in his natural habitat, it's that the man has a serious home studio work ethic and is patiently sitting on some bangers. He performed a number of said bangers during his set at this show, along with some dope songs from his album with Dynamo like "Tear Jerker" or "Our Day Will Come." Raw beats and raw rhymes. The frustrating part about Avatar's set was that he had the smallest number of people watching him out of any of the acts that played that night, and getting those self-conscious few to cheer or even applaud for him was a near impossible task. The supportive crowd at Avatar's last show in Half Moon Bay with Knives & Gasoline seemed colossal by comparison. Shame, because Avatar poured his energy and soul into his songs and came with a damn good set. What's up with that LA? No love for your own?

K-the-I??? got back on stage next to kick a set of solo jams. Unfortunately, my LA curse was still in full effect, because it turned out that Kiki's computer was in the hospital and that he had to rock older joints off his iPod instead of showing off his new instrumental broken beat set. I was a little disappointed just because of how many good things I'd heard about K-the-I???'s beat set from his buddies Bleubird and Sole, but Kiki still did a great job barreling through intense rap verses from his "Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow" album. I'd seen K-the-I??? play the album in full at the Elbo Room in SF a couple years back, but the Thavius Beck beats haven't lost any of their thump and watching K-the-I??? kick his unique off-kilter styles of rapping is always impressive. Some highlights of his set were "400 on the BPM" (perfect over club speakers) and "Lead the Floor" (always super intense live). A lot of the post-Halloween-party show-goers started peetering in midway through K-the-I???'s set, so his reception was also much more lively and appreciative than any of the previous acts, which was nice. Good set, let's hope that his computer makes a rapid recovery.

The Grimm Image section of the Airliner was filled with people by the time Candy's .22 got on to play, and they put on a very interesting set that was slightly more varied and improvisational than what I'd expected. Candy's was one of the acts I was most excited to see live, as I'm a big fan of the weird styles that Stereo13 and Barfly have to offer and the "Girl and Her Gun" album that they put out this year is my shit. I'd seen Existereo live many times before in the Bay Area and in LA and he's never disappointed, but this was my first time bearing witness to Barfly and the collaborative music that these two make on stage. It was definitely an odd and awesome spectacle, with Barfly's strange drunken rant vocals balancing Existereo's precise flows and cadences well. They kicked things off with the strange sleeping anthem "Zzzz," which started their set on the quiet tip, only to bounce into "Switchfoot" next to get things hype. Verble joined them on stage to fill in for Mickey Avalon on the track "I'm the Man," incorporating Mickey's name into his lyrics and fitting the mix of the song well. They also switched the beats on some of the songs to add some improvisation into the mix, breaking out a slow synth number for "Cool With Me" that prolonged the hook while 2Mex joined them for a verse. One of my favorite tracks they played was an unreleased number that had a verse about Barfly getting calls on his phone from people and a hook about the Heartbreak Hotel or something along those lines... Stereo13 mentioned at the end of the song that the it was "so fresh, it hasn't even been laid down in the studio yet." By the end of their set, things turned to an MC cypher on stage with lots of LA rappers trading verses, and Stereo13's styles stood out the most in my opinion. Very good and interesting set from these two, about as strange as one would expect and unconventional even by left-field hip hop standards.

The crowd that had formed in the Grimm Image room of the Airliner merged closer to the stage as Of Mexican Descent got up to do their thing, with Deeskee taking over for DJ Leviathan behind the boards. 2Mex and Xololanxinxo were clearly alight with the prospect of warming fans hearts with whatever old beats they could dig up off their laptop, and they put on a great show. It was pretty inspiring to see these two mainstays of the LA hip hop movement perform songs they hadn't played in years as if it they'd made'em yesterday, and the whole set felt like a true throwback to the old school dedicated to the heads who'd been listening since day one. From their "Exitos" album, OMD played "I Am Still," "Money is Meaningless," and "All Turn Native" amongst others to massive applause. They also played "Night and Day"(!) minus the Circus verse and even "Opium Scorpion" off of Mum's the Words' first album, the latter of which had 2Mex clowning about how folks wouldn't be up on that shit. While the collaborative songs were very well-received by the crowd, the tracks that seemed to really get folks excited were the Mindclouders songs that 2Mex chose to perform, including "Paranoia Sheik" and "Odyssey Honestly." Xololanxinxo also decided to take things way back, going pre-OMD with his Concrete Jungle song, which showed off his interesting musical stylings well. No "Atlas" from these two champs unfortunately, though Jizzm wasn't present so the song wouldn't have been complete anyway. Verble and Liferexall also got on stage to rap with Of Mexican Descent for a couple songs, with Verble overstaying his welcome a bit and dropping some distasteful line about being "the best thing since Of Mexican Descent." He was clearly excited to be sharing the stage with a bunch of LA rap legends, but shouldn't have insisted on hogging the mic quite so much while he was up there. Enthusiasm does have its drawbacks, I guess. Anyway, Of Mexican Descent left their fans feeling satisfied, and also mentioned the likelihood of a new OMD album emerging in the future. Crossing my fingers here.

The whole show went by in a speedy blur of eccentric rap verses and colorful costumes. There was no real place to take a breather between musical happenings, and even when the Airliner shut its doors and the LA musicians congregated out front, the whole thing felt like some surreal hallucinatory dream. Caddy One, who's birthday party was downstairs during the time of the Grimm Image events, was being interviewed by some camera crew about the meaning of being a superhero rapper and was dressed in a full cape and costume. Existereo bid farewell to his homies, donned a breathing mask, hopped onto his bad-ass chopper and soared off into the night at ridiculous speed. Somewhere in the background, the buzzed rap homies and the Russian gal they found were in need of a ride home in my car. It was hard to find much grounding at the Airliner that night, and the scattered moments and images that it left in my mind were not some of the highlights of a memorable year of live music. But there were parts of it that are hard for me to shake, and the experience gave me an interesting encapsulation of all the craziness that the sprawling city it took place in had to offer... 'Till we meet again, Los Angeles.

Of Mexican Descent, performing "Money is Meaningless" in 2011:

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

2Mex, Mine+Us & DJ Hoppa, and Icy Lytes at Hermosillo Club, LA

View From the Front Row, 11/2/11

Recently, I took a little musical holiday from my musical workplace to go hang out with some homies and see some shows out in the City of Lost Angels, Los Angeles CA. There was some sort of bad omen surrounding me during this trip where crazy shit would go down at everything I tried to attend, but in the case of the "Holograms on High" tour featuring 2Mex with Mine+Us & DJ Hoppa, the crazy shit was more of a source of amusement than frustration. This show took place at an event called El Social in a little Mexican bar known as Hermosillo Club, located in Northern LA a good distance from the spot my sister was staying at in Newport Beach. I picked my sis up and we both rolled out to bear witness to an ill show that found the talented MCs in question rocking the spot for maybe 6 attentive listeners.

Right off the bat, high marks go out to 2mex for being such a fun dude to chat with and vibe off of. Since my sister and I were two of the only people who drove a distance specifically to see this rap show, 2Mex relayed a bunch of really entertaining tour and music stories to us before the thing started. He even took us into the back of his van and played us some new songs from his upcoming album with Nobody, which he'd just gotten the master of and was excited to share. He told us about the songs where he channeled Prince and the songs where Nobody told him to rhyme like Young Jeezy. Sounded like some dope crunk shit from where I was sitting, looking forwarding to hearing the final product in full!

By the time my sister and I stepped back into the venue, Mine+Us & DJ Hoppa were on and were probably a few songs into their set. This was my first time seeing these dudes on their own, with my only other experience being a set with their group Broken Complex at Slim's in San Francisco, and they put on a really ill show for the tiny crowd of onlookers. Mine+Us was one hell of a funny and entertaining performer, breaking into "filthy" renditions of the Running Man and the Roger Rabbit after one song and ranting about how folks could join him for the smoking of some crack rock in the back alley after the show. But far from being just a comedian, Mine+Us rapped through his songs with the ease and energy of a skilled showman, delivering some excellent verses and nailing it on tracks like "Thinking About My Momma to a Funky Beat" and "Memorias De Mis Putas Tristes." DJ Hoppa held down the mix well for his part, smoothly transitioning between tracks and knowing when to rewind one or cut the beat off to let Mine+Us do his thing. Really fun set from these two, check'em out if you get a chance.

2Mex came on next and laid down his signature LA chop shop styles while DJ Hoppa continued to hold it down behind the boards. 2Mex mentioned beforehand that he was gonna rock the Hermosillo Club as if he was on the main stage for Paid Dues, regardless of the size of the crowd. He stayed true to his word and killed it with a full set of sick tracks, mostly taken from his recent full-length 'My Fanbase Will Destroy You." Just to keep the handful of people in the crowd guessing, 2Mex switched up the beats on a number of his tracks, offering fresh interpretations of his songs including an awesome rendition of "My Intro Will Destroy You" over a Zavala beat from the "Canciones Modernas" LP. Out of the tracks that were played straight, "Press Your Luck" was one of the most impressive to witness live, as the sheer amount of control 2Mex exerted over his vocal cadences was pretty amazing. There was a point in the set where DJ Hoppa threw on a really girly pop club beat and 2Mex started rapping and then freestyle singing for the hook, clowning about how Thursdays are karaoke nights at Hermosillo Club. Hoppa responded in turn by cutting off the beat for the end of the song and letting 2Mex freestyle sing acapella, which was hilarious to watch. Though I was afraid he wouldn't play it for such a small crowd, 2Mex finished his set with the ever popular Weezer-inspired "So Many More Words," which he gathered the tiny family of 6 fans in a circle for to scream the "say it ain't so" hook. He topped things off with a searing 3+ minute acapela that left those who witnessed it smiling. Great set, shame there weren't more people there to watch it!

But the night's festivities didn't end there. True to the bad omen surrounding my LA visit, there was one other act that was added to the line-up at the last minute that went on after 2Mex. The group in question, Icy Lytes, was a latin hip hop duo with one guy and one gal pounding out extremely high energy dance music with a pop electro kind of direction to it. Now, anyone that knows me knows that I'm just about the least self-conscious person you're likely to run into when it comes to dancing at hip hop shows, and that I'll dance in the front row to music I'm feeling regardless of whether there's 2 or 200 people there. But Icy Lytes was one of the few exceptions that left me in the downright awkward zone. These two were busting insanely elaborate syncopated dance routines and tossing countless genres of dance music into the mix while keeping things super uptempo for maybe 3 people who were watching them (myself, my sister, and 2Mex). The gal in the group flaunted a constant crip walk and pretty much tossed off a layer of clothing with each song. It got to a point where when the guy in the group knocked over a mic stand by accident, these two lunatics started running circles around it and jumping over it. Maybe in a sweaty dance club with a ton of people high on E this spectacle would have worked, but at the Hermosillo Club with nobody there it was about the most uncomfortable thing imaginable. The music wasn't exactly setting my spirit free either, but at least it was fascinating to watch in a painful sort of way, and gave us three spectators something to chuckle about.

Despite a little too much dance energy near the end of the night, this was a very good show and further proof that you don't need a million people to have a good time at a concert. It actually ended up being one of the better shows I went to in LALA Land, though whether that's a statement about intimate shows being better or about LA not coming through with any other good shows this season is up for debate. It's too bad there weren't more people at this one, I'm sure they would have enjoyed it.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Fist Fam, Rec League, Grand Invincible & BPos at the Elbo Room, SF

View From the Front Row, 11/1/11

Backtracking a bit with the View From the Front Rows due to the volume of shows I've been attending recently, but I felt that this one from a week or so ago was definitely worth documenting. Last Tuesday, I forfeited the opportunity to see Prof in order to support the Gurp City homies at their "Panama Jack" Tour Jump-Off/Release Party in San Francisco. There was an all-ages Grieves show at Bottom of the Hill a short distance away, which had a packed crowd and a huge line around the block for it, so I was worried that the turn-out for Fist Fam and them would not be spectacular. Fortunately, the Elbo Room ended up getting fairly crowded with awesome people, including lots of true heads and longtime Gurp City supporters, and the show ended up being a grand old time in typical Rec League fashion. Hell, I even convinced some of my Understudies homies at the Grieves show to pass on the jailbait for a few minutes and check this show out.

BPos were the first group to perform, and they kicked their brand of traditional Cali boom bap well. They started things off by dedicating their set to Occupy Oakland, as the OPD had just broken up the encampments with tear gas and rubber bullets, and BPos' conscious lyrics seemed to speak to the movement well. D-Wiz, Goodword and Johnny Venetti were not as rowdy a live show as some of the other acts on the bill, but they had their verses down flat and barreled through their tracks with a very polished and energetic set. They started fashionably late and didn't have a very large crowd watching them, but it didn't seem to affect the quality of their performance any. Nice opening set.

There were a number of technical difficulties related the functioning of laptops and Serato before Grand Invincible came on, and though the wait was annoying the delay was ultimately worthwhile since the crowd grew substantially during the downtime. When Grand Invincible got the sound working right and were ready to play, they completely nailed it with my favorite set of the night. I'd seen Luke Sick and DJ Eons perform before at a Rec League & Lodeck show a while back and thought that their set was pretty good, but this time around everything just felt way more on point. Luke Sick's gruff vocals and confident laid back delivery felt effortless compared to a lot of the evening's MCs, and the simple loop-based beats complimented his style perfectly. Grand Invincible killed it on songs like "Crucifixion of Your Self" and "The Way We Revolt," but some of the best moments of their set came with unreleased joints that I hadn't heard before, which sounded like some serious heat. A really great performance that showed off Luke Sick's original style and that got me fiending for the new projects from Sacred Hoop and Rhyme Force Most Illin'!

Speaking of Rhyme Force, Rec League were the next to get up on stage and do their thing, all sunglassed out with 3D Star Wars shirts and shit. The details get a little blurry around this point (proof that this was, in fact, a Rec League set), but I do remember it being a damn good time. Some highlights included the always awesome "One More Shot," the Maclane-produced "What's Good," QM's drinking anthem "Party Hard," and the crazy hot bars of Richie Cunning's "1906." Surprisingly, this was one of the only Rec League shows I can remember where Rob Rush didn't perform his crazy shirtless "go time" dance routine, though I do remember one or two Rhyme Force Most Illin' verses. I'm guessing the dance song had to be cut due to time running super short near the end of their set, otherwise a petition needs to be started to bring it back cus' that song tends to be an awesome spectacle to see live! Typical illness from these guys, still one of the funnest shows you're likely to see from any Bay Area hip hop act.

Fist Fam were the last act to perform, and they brought their rowdy Southern twist to the evening's Gurped out sounds. Unfortunately, there were a lot of major technical difficulties during their set, which detracted from a couple numbers and made for a slightly less crazy show than usual, but overall it was still a good performance. These guys are one of the largest groups out of the Gurp City collective, boasting at least 6 regular members to their name, so the stage tends to get crowded with MCs eager to rip the mic when they play. Their songs were mostly fun and dance-able with some awesome Southern style hooks, with stand-outs including "How Can I Miss You?" and the hometown friendly sing-along anthem "S.F. Bay." Sadly, their strongest song "Screamin' Out the Grave" ended up skipping and they had to pass it over... listen out for that one next time you see them live, cus' it tends to be nuts. Equipto of Bored Stiff and one other dope Bay area MC showed up as unexpected guests and stepped on stage to kick some freestyles once Fist Fam's set was a wrap. They played for about ten minutes before the venue shut the sound off at 2 in the morning.

All in all, this was a super fun show. The best I've seen from the Gurp City guys since their epic 111 Minna art gallery performance with Z-Man and DJ Quest, which still stands out in my memory as a really amazing time. Check out the video of one of the more recent Grand Invincible numbers that impressed me below: