Whoever invented the saying “less is more” clearly was not talking about live hip-hop. Recent Knox favorites Blu and Exile were joined last Saturday by an eclectic crew of underground deejays and emcees on Beta Porch for an absolute onslaught of hip-hop muscle.
Gifted this time around with a much larger stage and an unseasonably warm October night, the beats and rhymes could drift to every corner of campus and the sizable crowd could stretch their legs a bit. The night kicked off with the deejays taking turns at the tables, giving the audience a taste of what each had to offer. Indeed, their personal preferences quickly became apparent: Exile and House Shoes tended to favor mellower beats dripping with classic soul, whereas Ann Arbor native Gas Lamp Killer imparted a heavier edge with samples ranging from classic Hendrix cuts to a cleverly disguised Weezer riff.
As polished as the beats were, this proved to be the least engaging part of the show: the lack of anyone on the mic did not attract more people to the (at the time) meager crowd and the lack of a crowd made the emcees reluctant to take the stage. As the film crew roamed the sparse collection of hipsters smoking and looking unenthused, I feared the worst. Fortunately, the cycle was broken when Knox first timer Danny Brown grabbed the mic.
Coming from the heart of Detroit looking like a workingman’s Lil’ Wayne, his lighthearted rhymes stole the show. He began with an improvised a cappella verse so simultaneously vulgar and hilarious it was impossible to resist his Ol’ Dirty Bastard-esque charms. By the end of Brown’s final cut, an ode to gaming even the most hardened Sigma Nu could appreciate, the crowd had swelled and the excitement was palpable.
Though perhaps not as uniquely endearing as Brown, the rest of the players kept the momentum up fabulously and made the three hour set go by all too quickly. Gas Lamp Killer showed not only individuality and taste in his driving mixes, but also monster deejay chops and impeccable timing scratching the tables. Similarly, Exile displayed amazing prowess on the MPC (MIDI Pad Control surface), furiously improvising like some kind of digitized Keith Moon. It was an absolute thrill to see real, skilled deejays; nowadays any schmuck with an iPod and a couple of amps can blast some Akon and call it a day, but what these guys do is true art.
When returning champ Blu took the stage, he made it readily apparent he could easily handle the transition from cozy Post Lobby to spacious Beta Porch and command a larger audience. Backed by Mainframe and partner-in-crime, Exile, the L.A.-via-Detroit based rapper tore up classic tracks and new cuts from his recent collaboration with Mainframe, “Johnson and Jonson”. Though his solo set was strong as expected, his performance with Mainframe turned out to be the real meat and potatoes. Building on Exile’s soulful beats, the two traded fours and delivered unison lines with such perfect timing that one might think they were telepathic.
But the fun did not stop there; the crew stuck around to host the Beta after-party into the wee hours of the night. As the emcees relaxed with some beverages in hand, Gas Lamp Killer and the others were free to really let loose on the tables and give the partygoers an up close look at what they do best. As this show demonstrated, hip-hop is truly a make or break art form: Either you got it or you don’t. There’s no half-assing it. For this reason, it is fantastic to get to experience live hip-hop right here at Knox when it is so hard to come by. Some might say it is time for a change, but hey, you can never have too much of a good thing.