Hip-hop was once all an exciting promise. What started as an underground
party movement eventually took on the subversive mantle previously reserved
for punk and its working class ethic. As the people grow, so should hip-hop
and that growth should reflect a gaining of intelligence and life experience
that in turn enriches the art form. Hip-hop, basically a form of modern
poetry, promised a means of expression and feeling, but in recent years
has been relegated to little more than advertising as its own revered
artists increasingly drop that way of thinking to attain easy profit.
It's simple: at its low, hip-hop is some of the worst music ever made,
but when it's good... well there aren't words that can accurately describe
it. Aesop Rock, my pick for current favorite artist, is exactly where
hip-hop should be at this point. He's not even just the best hip-hop artist
of the moment, but the best artist period. He attains a true level of
rapid-fire poetry that any musician in any discipline would be jealous
of. Part lyrical, part stream-of-conscious, he came to rock Brooklyn one
chilly Thursday night.
I'd been to Northsix only once before, and this was back when they JUST
opened up. It was to see a friend's former band before he left for New
and they departed for Los Angeles... all by way of Oklahoma. They sounded
good in there, I liked the acoustics in the place, but I wondered what
would be like if a heavily anticipated show came through. How would it
up, this hollowed out space that sort of resembled a high school auditorium
with bad lighting? And a bar.
I didn't expect Aesop Rock to get that huge level of anticipation. I
always get the feeling that most people only pay lip service to the joys
underground hip-hop, especially in a society that can explain why Kid
is a viable artist. Yet, with all my crabbiness intact and several equally
giddy friends in tow, I made my way over to the docks of Brooklyn and
myself staring down a long, long line. The word, it would seem, was out.
If it was lip service, then it was a damn large amount of it.
Settling in with the first of many Rolling Rocks, it was time to take
in the opening act. The guy's name, or perhaps the group's name (I wasn't
sure) was Sonic Sum. I made sure to not let a snotty, "unheard-of"
attitude take me over; this was underground hip-hop and thinking you know
90% of the artists is really like saying you know about 10%. The real
gems are often those that stay undiscovered in their respective neck of
the woods. Often the case, just not this time.
I'm not completely sure if I should devote so much space to the first
act, except to say that it made me appreciate the rest of the evening
that much more. But let's be fair and give everyone their just due; Sonic
Sum consists of an MC, a bassist, and two DJ's. The latter of these almost
completely unremarkable, but not without merit. I'm afraid the night turned
ugly when it came time for the emcee to start emceeing, his trippy Dr.
Octagon-esque flow turning sour inside of a minute, his subjects centering
around a similar cosmic subject matter. Those who had paid him initial
attention out of politeness soon let loose with their "true feelings"
as his set dragged on for an unbearable 40 minutes. They're just not of
the pedigree to do live shows yet, Sonic Sum, and the whole affair became
embarrassing far too soon. His attempts at poking fun at himself were
unappreciated, and the audience started openly asking for him to leave.
As an emcee, Sonic Sum comes off boring and unaffecting, but that he's
forceful about it is what truly hurt that night.
Anti-Pop Consortium was up next, quite beautifully washing the sour taste
of Sonic Sum away. APC did ring bells, and they were certainly a favorite
for many, but until that night I had yet to really delve into any of their
work. Now I understood fully: APC is talented both lyrically and musically
in a way that so few hip-hop collectives can be. The 3-man set effortlessly
went from microphone to turntable as if it was nothing, and that's also
not to say that either area was lacking, although one emcee was clearly
at the head of the class. His cadence was so syncopated that he almost
seemed to be a separate instrument, whereas his mates were merely above
human. I imagine that takes work, and the crowd loved every minute of
it. The electronic sounds that they produced were also particularly infectious,
rivaling the work of the best drum-n-bass DJ's with a very tight, sparse
sound. Their set either was or just felt drastically shorter than Sonic
Sum, proving that the good times never really linger like they should.
By this time the room was filled with happiness, and a sufficient amount
of head bobs... and then it was time. Could Aesop fulfill his end of the
bargain for the night? Need you ask? What I love about an artist like
Aesop Rock is that he genuinely just loves making music; loves having
an effect. Aesop Rock on a track, it must be said, could never compare
to Aesop Rock in person. When you hear what he does with language on CD
you're taken aback; when you see it live, you almost refuse to believe
that it's possible. The surrounding beats took a noticeable backseat to
his lyrics, but they were not to be ignored either. The production was
just right and it set the perfect stage for Aesop Rock to let loose through
a few favorites including my number one "Big Bang". The icing
on the cake was a surprise visit by the one and only El-P, arriving to
kick a verse with Aesop Rock on one joint and do an effort from his upcoming
album. Aesop's set felt the shortest of all and left us all BEGGING for
The night ended with all the artists trading-off in a furious freestyle.
It was just too much fun, hearing all of the conflicting styles come together
so seamlessly, but if you somehow think that this is where Sonic Sum made
his stake, then you're sorely wrong. One of the tenets of the underground
is that they can handle the lyrical mastery of freestyle, but Sonic Sum
just came up short again... by this time the audience was too tired to
insult and just chose to ignore. Everyone (else) that night had such mastery
of the crowd that the saying "one bad apple doesn't spoil the bunch"
didn't apply. In the case of one unprepared emcee, one bad apple was summarily
Free Williamsburg© | 93 Berry Street | Brooklyn, NY 11211
| February 2002 | Issue 23
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