Jurassic 5/Dilated Peoples/Talib Kweli

 

If the crowd that gathered at The Granada Friday night offered any indication, the main demographic for independent hip-hop (a genuine art form that functions below the radar of the mainstream, falling into the cracks of underground/college radio) is upper-middle-class white college boys. Even if this audience failed to contribute much flavor or soul, the three diverse groups on the bill did more than their share to try to spark a fire under a pile of damp wood (or, in this case, white-capped sports-bar junkies).

The show got off to a tremendously late start — the doors, scheduled to open at 6:30, opened at nearly 7:45, and at least 30 minutes passed before anyone moved on the stage once the masses were inside. However, Brooklyn native Talib Kweli wasted no time getting the crowd involved once he stormed the stage. A few breakdancers had warmed up to the music booming out of the PA before his set, but once the low end of The Granada’s sound system kicked in with some live (well, live from a DJ’s record) drums, the dance floor blew up. Kweli, perhaps best known for being one half of the underground duo Black Star, ripped into a fast-paced barrage of rhymes that set the tone for his furious set. Kweli (with his onstage partner, DJ Hi-Tek, a Cincinnati native who introduced his hometown by cutting up the theme from WKRP In Cincinnati and turning around his cap to reveal the Reds’ logo) has some rather large shoes to fill, as his Black Star cohort, Mos Def, is arguably the most prominent MC on the underground hip-hop scene. After watching Kweli run through his semi-politically charged, fast-paced, freestyle-heavy, no-frills set, it was obvious that Kweli deserves to be recognized as a heavyweight on his own merits. Although he lacks Mos Def’s laid-back charisma, Kweli uses the stress in his voice and actions to add emphasis to his tension-filled, pop-culture-reference-dropping style, with some especially clever lines inciting wild applause. Hi-Tek supplied smooth, textured beats that complemented Kweli without distracting from his lyrics. Without using the DJ pyrotechnics that get underground fans worked up or the insane light shows and live animal parades that turn mainstream rap shows into three-ring affairs, Kweli reached the hip-hop heads in attendance on a personal level with his sincere, devastating flow.

L.A.’s Dilated Peoples had the difficult task of following Kweli’s potentially show-stealing performance. The three piece (a DJ and two MCs) set up camp and promptly started rippin’ shit up old-school style, using upbeat funky breaks and the interplay between the microphone fiends (one looking like a clammy faced stoner, the other looking like a more cognizant version of Wesley Willis) to deliver that classic flavor that never goes stale. When the group asked “How many of y’all have been into us since the beginning?” the crowd went wild. When the group repeated the inquiry and added the disclaimer “Nah, don’t even front,” the applause was minimal. Then, starting with the trio’s 1992 birth date, the group repeated the question on a year-by-year basis, with the increasing applause demonstrating the increasing appeal of underground hip-hop. Dilated’s delivery was fierce, whether freestyling solo (one MC delivered a jaw-dropping monologue on war) or dropping lyrics over DJ Babu’s warm, old-school beats. At one point, the MCs took a break, allowing Babu to perform a dazzling display of turntable wizardry that resulted in a collective gasp from the crowd. Scratching and whizzing his hands over mixers and records at increasing speed over a racing beat, Babu confused and amazed fans with his skills on the wheels of steel. Closing with 1997’s underground smash “Work The Angles,” Dilated Peoples brought positivity and fun to the festivities, leaving the audience both satisfied and primed for the headliners.

The Jurassic 5 came to The Granada with the formidable reputation as one of the best touring groups in any genre, and they didn’t disappoint with their high-energy set. These 4 MCs and 2 DJs (like Ben Folds Five, the group’s name doesn’t reflect its membership) flipped from one song to another with Ramones-like quickness, with not even a shouted “1-2-3-4” providing a segue between the rollicking group-flow showcases. Proving that “take four MCs and make ’em sound like one” is more than just part of an enjoyable shout-along chorus, the group’s members alternated between seamlessly trading off lines and rapping en masse Run-DMC-style. Not to be outdone, the two DJs put on a clinic, cutting with breakneck speed and swapping breakbeats while the spotlight moved from one to the other. Although all of these supreme lyricists showed and proved, the crowd’s favorite was Chali 2NA, who held his chest as he rhymed with a dance-hall-hybrid delivery. The night came to a spectacular close with a freestyle free-for-all that showcased all four MCs at their best, with added support from Dilated Peoples and one last blazing stream of consciousness from Kweli. This evening’s entertainment provided the perfect answer for those who claim that hip-hop shows can’t compare to the energy of concerts that involve bands, as well as a damning rebuff to those who claim that the genre thrives on negativity.

Categories: Music