Last Wednesday, I went and saw Open Mike Eagle and Has-Lo's "Desert Viper" tour stop at Johnny V's in San Jose, CA. San Jose shows are generally a little out of my range as far as late night trekking goes, but Open Mike Eagle was kind enough to invite me to this event personally, so how could I refuse? This was my first time at Johnny V's (not to mention my first time frequenting San Jose nightlife), and it was a tiny but comfortable bar that was a major step up from the last venue I saw Mike Eagle play at. The anime "Ninja Scroll" was playing silently on their TV screen in what could have been a quiet homage to Mike Eagle's lyrics, and I ended up button bashing a bit of old school "Street Fighter II" with Has-Lo and Open Mike Eagle before the show. No fancy arcade machine, just an old school Sega Genesis that Johnny V's had hooked up to a TV with a couple of half-busted controllers. That much more fun when you can only half control your fighter.
This show took place as part of Johnny V's weekly Wednesday night cypher series, which is hosted by a cool DJ by the name of Audio Drew. The event drew a bunch of local San Jose rappers who wanted to get in on the open mic action, and I gotta say that I was a little surprised at how far the San Jose hip hop demographic leaned towards the "street" end of the rap spectrum. A lot of the dudes cyphering and rapping as openers were some well-built tatted-up thugs who you would not want to run into in a dark alley late at night, and Mike Eagle and Has-Lo were by far the two most down-to-earth and approachable MCs there. It felt like a gang fight could have broken out there at any moment, but fortunately all of the rappers in the place were friends of one another and the cypher that started the event off got rolling without a hitch. Lots of local rappers took the stage to playfully trade verses, with some shining on the mic and others bombing pretty hard. The cypher went on a little too long, but it did seem to be the reason that a lot of folks were there, so more power to the San Jose's unified street scene.
Decayed Mindstate (not to be confused with SF's superior Sequenced Mindstate) was the first group to play a proper set as an opening act, and they didn't do much for me. I was pretty surprised to learn that Isolated Wax's Haez One was part of the group when the three rappers announced their names, since I remember seeing him open for Megabusive at Club 6 in San Francisco and absolutely murdering his verses there. I guess I must like his solo stuff more than his group work, because the rappers in Decayed Mindstate honestly seemed like they were trying a little too hard to be hard. There was lots of aggression and menace in their music, kind of like Non-Phixion if Non-Phixion had emerged from the blocks of San Jose rather than the dark heart of New York, and that style of rugged paranoia in hip hop has never appealed to me. Their beats were pretty generic drone synth numbers as well, but their set was very short and didn't have me tearing my hair out or anything.
YDMC was the next rapper to take the stage, and he fared a little better than Decayed Mindstate despite not really having a whole lot of material that clicked with me. It was YDMC's birthday and a lot of the local rappers in attendance had come out to support him, so naturally his set was the rowdiest of the night and got the most love from the crowd. He had no less than three hypemen on stage with him, including his sister whose MC name I'm blanking on at the moment, and the whole set was very energetic and a little too loud. YDMC's whiny delivery would probably grate on my nerves if I listened to it for too long, but he was one of the more original voices in the cypher earlier, and the set was still fun to watch since he was clearly having a great time. One of the oddest moments of the night was when he asked how many people in the audience knew The Jacka, which elicited some excitement from folks but seemed commonplace to me since people bump Jacka all the time in my neck of the Bay. A Happy Birthday was sung to YDMC after one of his hypemen prompted it from the crowd, and everyone left the stage with smiles on their faces as numerous hugs were exchanged. Always great to see local acts supporting one another.
Has-Lo got on stage to play next, and was 100% honest with himself as he kicked some personal rhymes for the few folks paying attention. It was refreshing after watching so many rappers act like they belonged to the roughest side of the city. Hailing from Philly and repping Oddisee's fast rising Mello Music Group label, Has-Lo's laid back meaningful verses calmed the atmosphere of the venue after all the hard-edged opening acts. This was apparently Has-Lo's first show in San Jose as well as his first tour through Cali, and if I'm not mistaken Johnny V's was also the first stop of said tour. He was still testing the waters a bit with his track selections, and offered the crowd choices between a few different songs on occasion. Out of the tracks he played, numbers like "Fiber Optics" and "Forgotten Styles" worked well while heavier tracks like "Subliminal Oppression" fell a bit flat despite having great messages. A lot of the crowd dispersed after YDMC's birthday set, but YDMC's sister of all people was very supportive of Has-Lo's performance, quasi-hosting the set for him and frequently interjecting that people should listen to what he has to say and show him love. Overall, the performance was not the most exciting rap set I've ever seen, but it was a breath of fresh air compared to some of the other acts that played.
Open Mike Eagle was the last to take the stage, and he killed it with the best set of the night. One thing that occured to me while watching him play is how distinctive and original his stage show has become, as you'd be hard-pressed to find another rapper who performs in the same style. His smooth delivery is almost like a soulful version of spoken word live, and his witty lyrics tend to catch the audience's attention and elicit responses from people. At Johnny V's, Mike Eagle performed a couple of new songs from his upcoming "4NML HSPTL" album, along with a strong selection of older cuts. The new tracks had a heavy electronic feel to them courtesy of UK producer Awkward, with a few of'em sounding like some of the more noisy and layered tracks that Open Mike Eagle has rocked over. Out of the older songs, "Rent Party Revolution" and "I Rock" worked super well with their humorous lyrics and intricate flows. He also played the song "Everybody's Birthday" from his "Art Rap Afterparty" EP, which went over super well with the crowd and felt appropriate given the birthday celebration there that night. Open Mike Eagle
ended his set with the new song "5ree Thinkers" that shouted out Hellfyre Club and Project Blowed in the hook, then went into one of his traditional "Go Home" freestyle cyphers as an encore. Unfortunately the final cypher didn't go over quite as well as usual, since too many rappers in attendance took the stage to try to get a shot at the mic. Poor Has-Lo ended up getting cut off by a drum and bass song before he even had a chance to drop a verse. Still, it was a great set that capped off a very good show.
Here's a video of Open Mike Eagle rocking the track "Neighbors" from his "Rent Party Extension EP":