Music Showcase 2013. Outside at Riot Room. Hip-hop and DJs. Go!
Nobody wants the early slot. The sun's still out. The crowd is thin, sober and unlikely to dance or even be very responsive to what you're doing onstage. But Reach is a pro. He has been in the rap game for over a decade, and he seemed unfazed by the fact that he was essentially performing to a patch of concrete at 7 p.m. Oh, it wasn't entirely empty for his set. There were a handful of folks with their backs against the patio wall, their drinks resting on Red Bull tables. The patio bartender smoked a cigarette and bobbed his head. But it was far from ideal. Reach just rolled with it, thundering around onstage, barking out bars that veered toward the socially conscious. (There was a backpack resting on one of his amps.) It wasn't all super-serious, though - on his last track, Reach rapped over a beat that was mostly just Jay-Z saying Tom Ford over and over again. Then he asked everybody to get out their phones and vote for him for Best Hip-Hop act. You gotta respect that kind of hustle.
Info Gates is on the opposite end of the rap spectrum from Reach - and, no, not just because he's white. His aesthetic is more juvenile, more delinquent. His worldview is a decadent one. On one song, he rhymed shitter
, then fuck it
with flush it
. He rapped about mixing milk with bourbon. He rapped about breathalyzers. He rapped about roofies. He did a Nicki Minaj monster growl. It was never not entertaining.
Info Gates - whose debut, Everybody Knows Everything, was released earlier this year - can definitely hold his own alone onstage (Barbaric Merits manned the decks behind him), but the set really picked up when he brought some special guests onstage: Les Izmore, then Ubiquitous from CES Cru, then Godemis from CES Cru. Info Gates has produced a lot of CES stuff in the past, and the three of them have an obvious rapport. Closer "One Bomb State" was the highlight of the night for me. Both Godemis and Ubiquitous took turns going about a billion miles an hour on the mic, and Info Gates would chime in periodically on the last word of the couplet. Everybody was concentrating really hard and nailing the timing - kind of a Beastie Boys type of vibe. Here's a link to "One Bomb State" - it's a great rap track.
Info Gates drew a big crowd out to the patio that I hoped would stick around for Gee Watts, but a lot of people who went inside to check out Not a Planet during the switchover ended up staying in there. So Watts - if you're unfamiliar, here's a recent feature
we did on the dude - had to contend with a mostly indifferent crowd. Watts isn't an especially seasoned performer (he's 22) but he made do. Perched on a stool at center stage, with his DJ, Jesse Brown, backing him up, he delivered an unfussy survey of his songs, many of which appear on his recent mixtape, Watts Up
: "W.A.T.T.S. Riot" (on which he trades a verse with Kendrick Lamar), "Quiet Place," "Premature Hate." He had an hour to fill, and probably not enough songs for it, so a couple of times after songs he explained some of the lyrics and their meaning. (This included a bit of preachy God-talk, which surprised me a little.) On his last song, "Nasty," he got off his stool and walked the stage. "Y'all like 'Nasty'?" he asked. "I'm gonna do 'Nasty' a bunch of times straight, like how Kanye did 'Niggas in Paris' three times in a row at his shows." He only did it once; I'd have probably watched it twice, though. Three would maybe have been a stretch.
Stik Figa ain't such a stick these days, and he proved it a few songs into his set by pulling up his shirt and doing a two-hand belly grab for the crowd. But Stik's set did nothing to alter my belief that he's the best rapper in the region. He performed two of my favorites: "From the Top" and "Whaddupwidit," plus a few I didn't recognize. At one point, Izmore came up and joined Stik for a track. At another point, Outkast's "Elevator" was teased. He also jumped off the stage and did a few a cappella bars for us.
That concluded the hip-hop portion of the night, unless you count Mike Scott's DJ set, which featured a Gangstarr track and a mash-up of the xx and Biggie. By the time Sheppa took over, you couldn't see the concrete in front of the stage - it was just a heaving crowd of bodies bouncing toward each other. I also witnessed the slowest-moving fistfight I've ever seen, and inhaled pepper spray for the first time in my life - but those are probably stories for another day.