The Cherry Blossom Jam at DC’s Liv nightclub on April 7th began with spinal-thumping bass, but little vibration. All around me folks asked, “Can someone call the sound man? Hey, less bass, dude!” Somewhere during that bumpy start, Shine On Me’s Omrao Brown stepped on stage to announce to the crowd lots of DC rappers had been begging him to get on the bill. I think he meant to convey that instead of homegrown hip-hop, Cali’s best was surely worth the talent importing. Sadly, forgoing local artists for out-of-town “affiliates” of a genre–post-skate rap?–DC isn’t really digging (quite yet) didn’t excite the crowd.
Don’t get me wrong, opener Alison Carney was smashingly gorgeous in her feather earrings, black lace, Dashiki and neon makeup, and her voice is on point. Still, I was desperately trying to feel something funky or original in her sound, but I just couldn’t. I wanted to protest when my homie, Ace, shrugged at my comment, “She’s good, right?” and replied, “I’m sorry, all the R&B chicks in DC sound the same to me.” Great voices all, but are they memorable? Should we blame it on DMV producers for not supplying these gifted women with something substantive?
Alison Carney. Photo by Jati Lindsay.
Next up was the Odd Future affiliate, R.E.E.S.E., whose mixtape confessional reveals, “I’m not even no rapper, just a n*gga that skateboard. I grabbed the microphone and figured I could get paid more.” Energetic as a pogo stick, he instructed the crowd: “Swag the f*ck out!” between shouting “Wolf Gang!” ad nauseum. Ace turned to me, unamused, and bemoaned the obvious, “I did not come to swag … I feel like I’m in an episode of The Boondocks. I can just see the set list now: 10 p.m.: Swag. 10:05: Swag. 10:10: Swag.” He had a point.
R.E.E.S.E. Photo by Jati Lindsay.
But, then, what did we come for? Were the acts on this particular bill too disparate for the crowd’s narrow tastes, or was DJ Stylus right when he cautioned us all to stop playing ourselves with “taxonomy” and “just enjoy a musical dream come to life”? On stage, R.E.E.S.E. was more of a nightmare than a dream during his overly zealous but talent-lite, one-on-one performance for a loyal posse: two “fans” in the front row who knew every lyric and were cookin’ their hearts out. But, I’ve gotta give it to the kid, his mixtapes are worth a listen, even if I do need ole boy to step up his stage game.
Sipping an overpriced cocktail on the upper tier, my aerial view of the crowd revealed nothing but still bodies. By the time J*DaVeY’s accompanying tour artist, Def Sound, took the stage, not a single head was bobbing; not even one hand (or drink) was raised. The crowd cheered emphatically when the young swag machine announced his last song. To make a fully cringe-worthy exit, he asked if he could do one more. The audience shouted back, “Noooooo!” loudly and in unison. Rumor has it plastic spoons and forks were being distributed so the audience could “cook.” For real, though? I started to think: this emerging sound developed by R.E.E.S.E. & Co. is getting seriously lost in translation in the District.
Having taken to calling him one of my favorite rappers to put out music lately, I actually thought I was coming to see Blu, not J*DaVeY. There were just a few issues with that, though. First, with the exception of one or two known tracks, Blu performed a majority of new, experimental material that left the audience unmoved. His lackluster and underwhelming performance was further dampened by poor sound quality and, well, let’s face it. He was
slightly intoxicated. An inside source (whose band previously shared the stage with Blu) told me his rider has only one request: a bottle of Jack. I believe it. Had the mic stand not been there to hold him up, it would have been tragic.
But, as the tour name suggests, Def Sound and J*DaVeY brought their dope brand of New World culture, sans Eurocentric colonialist apologies. In fact, as Def Sound put it:
“We don’t want your girl, we just want her mind.”
His Twitter bio says it all: “Ghandi, Sammy Davis, Jr., and ODB All in One.” The Goggly-eyed and suited up Def Sound finally disturbed the peace of the still-bodied PDA zombies in the crowd when he entered, swapped the ordinary stage mic for his own vintage Rockabilly microphone, and fell to his knees. Showtime!
Def Sound. Photo by Jati Lindsay.
After Def Sound’s bizarre and captivating set, he sat in with J*DaVeY, who also exceeded all expectations. Rockin’ American flag hot pants (and matching stars n’ stripes cotton poncho), a magenta beanie and an acoustic guitar, the lithe lead singer opened with a quiet rendition of Nirvana’s “Teen Spirit.” Hello, hello, hello, hell-O! There were three musicians on stage–producer Brook D’Leau, guest Def Sound and Briana Cartwright (who performs under the name Jack Davey)–but Ms. Davey carries the show. She floats … and stings. She is tough as sh*t and her mic sounds hella nice.
We can all relate when Jack Davey sings:
“Click click/ I can’t find what I’m looking for/ I’m so lost/ just turn it off.”
from “What you’re lookin’ at” off of the forthcoming album, New Designer Drug (Summer 2011). We’re desperately seeking more out of life, while chasing the contagious cool these West Coast innovators are spreading. Aren’t we? J*DaVeY closed with a tribute Jack dedicated to Raheem DeVaughn, “You can have whatever you want.” Well, we want more shows like this where the lead singer offers to “give little miss Nikki Minaj a run for her money,” and delivers.
As the lines between genres bleed into one another, there are a myriad of misnomers attached to this Los Angeles duo. Some have called their undeniably fresh sound electro-pop, others say it’s “hipster R&B,” pop fusion. Are these self-orchestrators of their own national tour “R&B futurists”? I side with Stylus’s Who gives a damn? argument. J*DaVeY pushes boundaries while relying on the timeless comfort of what works: charisma, rhythm and poise. Simply put: they make (and perform) great music for all people. Their “New World” cultural experimentation and expression reflects our world, in which every human being with conscience and a Twitter account is now willing to light a fire and watch it burn. Now, go on. Catch your own cool.
* * *
For more information and tour dates, visit J*DaVeY’s website.