Voter Rapathy

Gandhi had an indomitable spirit. Martin Luther King Jr. had steely resolve. Mother Teresa had otherworldly compassion. And C.E.S. Cru? With what divine gift — nay, calling — were these humble civil servants endowed to fight the inequities of the world?

Two-for-one Miller High Life night.

Shit, fool. Mahatma should have celebrated each fast with a raging kegger. MLK could have sent many more letters from a Birmingham jail if he’d taken a few more hits from beer bongs. And whereas Mother T got her charity on by pulling lepers from Calcutta gutters, it couldn’t have hurt her to grind to “99 Problems” while sipping the champagne of beers every now and then.

It’s an election year. The economy is shite. We’re mired in war. America shivers, awaiting the next human bomb to walk through the door. In short, Thomas Paine didn’t know the half of it when he whined about times that tried men’s souls.

But it doesn’t mean activists must be dour. The I Ching doesn’t have to be boring. And this lesson wasn’t lost on C.E.S. Cru or any of the other acts sharing the stage at Kabal for Rap the Vote on May 26.

It wasn’t necessarily the High Life that had drawn this collective of conscientious hip-hop heads to assemble. They’d come to raise clenched fists and bob heads. Setting the Guinness world record for the number of times “Rock the muthafuckin’ vote, y’all!” is shouted in the basement of a half-full Kansas City dance club was just an added bonus.

This event wasn’t about any specific political agenda. It was being conducted under the altruistic auspices of a voter-registration rally. No particular candidate was being championed.

Republicans, throw the mask away! Democrats, throw the mask away! Independents, throw the mask away! members of the Guild chanted during their set.

Nobody was shouting, “Dennis Kucinich, represent!” But even Lenny from Of Mice and Men could have figured out which potential POTUS wasn’t being touted by this congregation.

Fuck Bush!/Throw your middle fingers up/That nigga’s corrupt, Joe Good snarled as he and Miles Bonny prowled the narrow stage.

“You got to think outside the muthafuckin’ box,” Good added between songs. “Y’all don’t know. People are sleeping.”

He probably wasn’t being literal, but Good could have been describing many in the Kabal crowd. Event moderator Ferm Grip seemed to have a shaky handle on inciting the crowd beyond a smattering of halfhearted claps and at-least-he’s-trying woo-hoos.

“You feel me?” he shouted. Crickets chirped. “That’s word!” Someone coughed. “How many of you came here to register to vote?” Somewhere, a dog barked.

Voter apathy is a bitch.

But C.E.S. Cru had more success. The trio had been reduced to a duo for the night, and when Ubiquitous and Godemis (both of whom had taped their T-shirts with fliers depicting a photo of G-Dub above the word liar) took the stage around 11 p.m., the basement was nearly deserted. Word traveled fast, though, and by the time they’d finished the second song, a small sea of bobbing heads had amassed in front of the stage.

Unfortunately, two songs were the entirety of the Cru’s first set. The night progressed with Reach adding some lyrical and literal heft, OnJaLee tossing in a little a cappella soul, and the Guild and Soundsgood battling a sputtering sound system and a low-key crowd.

These weren’t, after all, the people who get crunk. This audience sipped beer, discussed world politics and listened to MCs rap about inequality over a sample of Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.”

And nobody did it better on this night than C.E.S. Cru. When Ubiquitous and Godemis returned for a second set, they traded dizzying salvos, parrying and thrusting tongue twisters that made it seem like the rest of the lineup’s tonsils had been coated with molasses.

The night’s finale, its political peak, came when the Cru joined Human Cropcircles for selections from their upcoming collaboration, Tinnenmen Square.

“That’s not too heavy, is it?” Ubiquitous asked the crowd after one song. “Can you handle the weight?”

Maybe. There were all of six signatures on the voter-registration list at the end of the night. But hell, even Gandhi had to start somewhere.

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