Though not particularly known for it, this city knows hip-hop. Problem is, these knowledgeable circles have been small and only sporadically enterprising. Moreover, creative efforts by homegrown artists have been somewhat isolated. Considered in aggregate, it's no wonder a sizable following has never been sustained. Currently, the true hip-hop scene doesn't exist locally beyond the underground, but big seeds are being planted by a small community that's driven, vibrant and faithful to the culture's ethos.
It's a holistic, well-rounded movement that goes beyond just the MC and the DJ. Just check the beatbox edition of Yes Yes Yall — the roots-minded showcase held by local hip-hop label Nonsense Records — last week at the Social for proof. On its own, this fifth element of hip-hop bloomed with virtuosity. In addition to stunning diaphragm control, the three artists on the bill flaunted astounding innovation and structural detail. Chaz, for example, ripped accurate scratch facsimiles and hit that bass DEEEP, all a cappella. He further went on to accompany himself with live instrumentation such as bass guitar and pan flute (yep, pan flute).
Being in the sole company of other beatboxers musta lit a fire in his ass, because local dynamo Rubox Cube stepped up with guns blazing and performed a wildly kaleidoscopic revue with nothing more than a mouth and a microphone. Beyond stunning vocal replications and sophisticated rhythmic layering, he exhibited a vividly narrative approach. He recreated the turntablist experience with beat-juggling and scratching, paid homage to old-school pioneers of the trade like the Fat Boys and Doug E. Fresh by dropping their trademark styles into his stream, and even acted out a movie montage with Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, The Matrix and Silence of the Lambs like a hip-hop rendition of Michael Winslow. To crown the set, he validated his nom de guerre by solving a Rubik's Cube without missing a beat.
Anchoring the bill was San Francisco's Kid Beyond. Kojak-bald and without a thread of street gear, he didn't exactly look the part of the typical hip-hopper. Turns out he's less rooted in hip-hop than he is house music. No matter, 'cause he's gifted with real showmanship and a peerless understanding of how to work the nuances of a microphone. Like a Keller Williams of the beatbox world, he lushly constructed entire songs by looping himself live, making his own backing tracks and even singing. With an aggressive and precise style, this prodigy crafted dense, hard-thumping tracks like a one-man club, innovatively circumventing the DJ, producer and nearly all the equipment typically involved. If I were ushered in blindfolded, I wouldn't have had a clue that it was all vocally generated. Truly a thing to be witnessed in person.
Set a spell
I recently had a rather academic discussion with an esteemed colleague about country music. No, really. It was thought-stirring and forced me into some introspection … I mean, y'know, after the booze wore off. His stance was that the style is a comfortable one and, therefore, an artistic cul-de-sac. To an extent, he's right. But I say country music holds a valuable, indelible place because of the singular way it nourishes the pneuma. And the rest of the week happened to validate that.
Take Americana paragon Lucinda Williams. Her set at Hard Rock Live was a confident display of soul-stroking that confirmed why she's so respected and her career so long-lived. Buttressed by a cast of crackerjack players, she wove her signature blend of feminine strength and courageous vulnerability into a rich tableau that warmed and swathed. Even cooler, she name-dropped local country talent Terri Binion. Now THAT'S a big deal.
Her opener, Cincinnati's Heartless Bastards, dripped some serious soul themselves. One foot in the garage, their rambling, bucolic rock & roll was made meaningful by the evocative might of singer/guitarist Erika Wennerstrom. With a big, force-of-nature voice, she's what the Detroit Cobras' Rachel Nagy might sound like if she were Southern-bred and had more to prove.
A couple nights before at the Social, yet another female powerhouse lit up the stage. Little but tough, Cary Ann Hearst don't do no petticoat ditties. All nerve and verve, she pursued the twang with real brass. Now that country's gone suburban, it's tonic to encounter a voice that truly smolders with authenticity. And the honky-tonkin' Hearst is the Loretta Lynn of alt-country.
Headliner Band of Horses managed to capture their stunningly tall sound live, largely because singer Ben Bridwell — who has one of the most haunting, gorgeous voices to come along in years — was in top form. The songs from their debut album soared live with the same celestial magic they carried on record and were simply firstname.lastname@example.org