I'm not being cute. Or flippant. Or showering you with salacious shrapnel by tossing a gratuitous f-bomb. If I was after shock value, I could accomplish a lot more by poking fun at cripples or commenting on the confluence of necrophilia and narcolepsy. Besides, I didn't say it. Mac Lethal did.
"Fuck Lawrence," Mac shouted. "Come on, Kansas City!"
He meant no harm, lording over the congregation gathered in the eye of the Hurricane on a frigid Thursday night. The event was billed as a hip-hop show to end all hip-hop shows. Kind of like the Last Supper if Bartholomew and Thaddaeus had laid down some tight beats while MC JC free-styled about breaking bread and pumping fools with lead. Only this was supposed to be a First Supper. A taste, a dose, a sample of the music thriving in Lawrence but largely below Kansas City's radar.
Lethal's interjection was a rally cry from the musical minefield that philosophically separates Kansas City and Lawrence. KC hip-hop is the Sonny Corleone to Lawrence's sunny disposition. It's Al Capone and Al Einstein. Genghis Khan and Imannuel Kant. Gestapo versus gazpacho.
Kansas City is known for a slightly unhinged artist named Tech N9ne, who represents the thuggish syndicate of rappers teeming in Kansas City's roughest streets. Lawrence is becoming known for Mac Lethal, a slightly unhinged artist in his own right, but one who represents the conscientious quorum of sophisticates crowded into Lawrence coffee shops.
It isn't often that either of the opposing factions ventures into the other's territory. Not because of any overt animosity but because each contingent exists on a plane virtually independent of one another.
At least until the Hurricane.
Mac Lethal and a roster of artists with Lawrence lineage set up the two-shows-in-one-night bill for maximum impact. It was like the Hatfields playing cards in the McCoys' living room. By venturing into the heart of Kansas City, this group of highbrow hip-hop heads could have been exposing themselves like Janet's areola. If you're nasty.
Instead, a small but enthusiastic all-ages audience greeted the Kafka crusaders for a pair of atypical Kansas City hip-hop concerts in a single night. If the "Rock the Vote" table or the socially conscious lyrics didn't indicate as much, it was apparent by the time Vertigone from the Guild introduced the song "Guppies" by saying, "Conceptually ... "
OK. Stop right there.
Any rapper who explains a song's conceptual meaning midshow is entrenched in the lofty realm of underground hip-hop. The concept of "Guppies," as it were, deals with people who dare not dream big. A point further punctuated by the Guild holding placards made from Bud Light cases to spell out "A-N-T."
And so it went, with groups like Reach and the C.E.S. Cru (the C.E.S. stands for "Conglomerate Elements of Self-consciousness" -- nope, don't see any intellectuals around here) firing rhymes about Uncle Sam's ills, the plight of the prison system and the token tokin' tune.
The Disciples of Hip-Hop, a collective of junior Jay-Zs, proved surprisingly capable behind the turntables and on the microphones. Several members had embarked on courageous expeditions to cultivate facial hair, though their efforts had been hopelessly abandoned at the dirt-lip-mustache phase. But what the Disciples lacked in reputable beard growth, they made up for with a commendable ability to drop rhymes about "Fuzzy wuzzy was a bear" without being too cute.
The only act visibly out of its element was Los Angeles rapper Okwerdz, who was awkward beside the Lawrence lyricists. With his red chin-strap beard and British cap, Okie came off like a caustic leprechaun. He managed a few snaps, but his timing was slightly off-kilter, and his homophobic and misogynistic slurs were just offensive.
Mac Lethal was just off-the-charts. He fired an endless clip of savvy barbs and oh-no-he-didn't one-liners, such as 2,000 died for you to unite/Pissed because it ruined your flight and I spit like a fifth-grade girl. It was a schizophrenic performance that managed to bounce from passionate political commentary and heart-wrenching poetry to parodies of Missy Elliott's "Work It" and Lil' Kim's "Magic Stick" that dealt with masturbation and a detachable penis, respectively.
The crowd had swelled by the time Lethal yelled "Fuck Lawrence! Come on, Kansas City!"
Cheers. Shouts. Applause. Hands clapping. Fists shaking. Heads bobbing.
Score one for the smart kids. Westport was successfully transformed into East Lawrence. At least for one night.