Last night Hip Hop looked down on some of her children proudly, as Phonte and 9th Wonder joined forces on stage at the Black Cat. They were joined by underground royalty Rapsody, The Away Team, Median and HaLo. The show was everything that I want a live hip hop performance to be. Each artist held their own without a whole bunch of fluff. The show flowed extremely well. Once they got started it really didn’t stop. When one artist finished their set, they intro’d the next and on they came. The artists collectively represent a variety of lyrical styles. Throughout the style differentials however, they all gave the audience real hip hop. Not hip-pop, and not bull$#!t.
HaLo was the first artist to come out. As he welcomed the crowd to the “Phonte – 9th Wonder Experience” he got the crowd involved in a tri-faceted call and response: First, he gets the crowd to do the two step. As they’re two-steppin, he gets them to engage in a good old fashioned vocal call and response, and then gets them to wave their hands, all at once. I’ve been to a lot of shows. I’ve never seen anyone else do that. And you know what, it was a genius move. Quite honestly I’ve never seen that great a concentration of the crowd so engaged at the very beginning of the show…ever. In addition to the fact that he’s got a commanding presence- I mean, like I said, I’ve never seen anyone else do that. Points in my book. Instantly.
Median is up next. Of all of the artists, I think that lyrically median may’ve been the nicest. I first got hipped to Median hanging out on the Foreign Exchange’s website. To top that off, dude had on a Ron Burgundy, Anchorman, T-shirt (Ron Burgundy is my idol on the low). Fellow Justus League-ers The Away Team also showed up and showed out last night at Black Cat. Made up of Rapper/Producer Khrysis and Sean Boog, the Away Team solicited and acquired the response from the crowd that marked the start of that high-energy vibe that real hip hop is famous for. Rapsody (who quite honestly I’d never heard of) was up next. The petite lady is undoubtedly making a name for herself through spittin real lyrics that stay true to the fact that she is a woman, without exploiting sexuality. It was a refreshing change from the standard female imagery that Hip Pop is breeding now. Her set also marked the moment that 9th Wonder came on stage to take over the wheels.
The first thing 9th did, when he took command of the one and the two was take the audience on a little walk throughout some of hip hops finest audible moments. Giving the crowd just snippets of some of hip hop’s most well known track soundbites from the likes of Mobb Deep, A Tribe Called Quest, Snoop Dogg and Pete Rock & CL Smooth . 9th Wonder interestingly, without any formal introduction or anything, got behind the turntables and without doing anything fancy or over the top made the audience focus on the DJ’s performance.
And then the moment everyone had been waiting for. Tigallo, comes out to the sound of the ‘Star Wars’ theme. “DC How the f**k y’all feel?” he yells enthusiastically to the crowd. Watching Phonte, I realized that one of his biggest strengths lies in his sheer ability to perform. Lots of artists nowadays, a lot of hip hop acts in particular have no idea how to truly entertain a crowd. No antics, no pyrotechnics, no shock factor type stunts, just pure entertainment. As he moved through cuts off his newly released LP ‘Charity Starts at Home’ like ‘Not Here Anymore’ and ‘Dance in the Reign’, Phontigallo’s stage show was sprinkled with everything from storytelling about why he doesn’t smoke weed after what happened years ago leaving the waffle house to impersonations of Martin Luther King Jr. and advice to all the young ‘dumb-muthaphukas’ (his words, not mine) in the audience. Rocking with Median as hype man for a good part of his set, the two of them even traded freestyle rhymes over the others beat box rhythms. Such impromptu chemistry and high level comfort translates to the fans in the audience actually connecting with the artist, rather than simply enjoying the show. It makes you feel like you were truly a part of something. Not simply, in attendance.
Let’s also not ignore the historical value behind this collective touring effort of 9th and Phonte. After the Little Brother fall out a couple of years ago, many Little Brother fans such as myself, mourned the loss of a force of purity that breathed fresh air into the stale deflated lungs of modern hip hop. Phonte says that this tour and the project (9th did most of the production work on CSAH) happened as a step in his maturation process. “I had to grow up a little to do this project” Phonte tells the crowd during one of his narrative breaks. For all the fans out there, you couldn’t have picked a better time to grow up, Phonte. Or a classier way to do it.