We explore some current acts, Classic & Emerging - the innovators that are taking Hip-Hop to new heights & beyond. As a life-long fan & student of Hip-Hop it's a great time to be a music fan to witness the rise of such talent taking Hip-Hop into the future.
Shabazz Palaces - August 24th - Club Dada - Dallas, TX
Ok so my long-time friend Tony turned me on to Shabazz Palaces a few years ago & have been greatly anticipating seeming them live ever since. To me they sounded like hip-hop meets Sun Ra so the expectations for what they were going to bring to a live setting were high.
As my girl Jocelyn & I met up with Tony & his girl, we waited for the set to begin. The individual stations, with their drums and electronics sitting neatly on draped colorful fabrics, suggested something vibrant or just more dynamic than what their albums bring.
The reality is about half true. The set starts off in total darkness and the lighting only improves to dim. What is immediately clear is that Shabazz Palaces sell themselves short on their recordings. The muted dub quality of the albums dampens everything from the vocals to the broad-ranging references, all of which come to life in their live set. Vocalist Ishmael Butler’s delivery has a lot more attitude and personality live, and the nuances of the percussion really become effective here.
The set itself does drag out for nearly two hours and it feels it. Because while Shabazz Palaces have an undeniably strong sound, the focuses on the sound often surpasses the focus on songs. And as there are peaks and valleys & if the duo continue to go for lengthy performances, then visuals might be helpful. Having no idea what to expect, I was anticipating maybe a more full band live arrangement a la Portishead. And how the fact that Ishmael Butler is Butterfly from one of my most beloved Hip-Hop acts Digable Planets got by me is incredulous to say the least.
Dalek - October 6th - The Curtain Club - Dallas, TX
New Jersey-based pioneers of atmospheric industrial hip-hop Dalek return as Ipecac Recording artists & tour to support this year's confident, self-assured Endangered Philosophies. It had been 14 years since I last saw Dalek perform while they were on tour with The Melvins & Ipecac leader & all-around Renaissance Man Mike Patton's Tomahawk project. In fact it was Patton's label that first brought the Hip-Hop collective to my attention - Fun Fact: On a few of their earliest tours, Dalek stayed at my place in Texas circa 2001-2003.
After a 5 year hiatus at the beginning of this decade & a few lineup changes, they return strong.
With live-sampling and on-the-go beat creation, the three-piece shifted through a set of extensive material all the way back to 16-year-old closer ‘Megaton’ – an altered take of Techno Animal’s noisy hip-hop track. The moments that impressed most were those that shook; a surprising amount of noise was churned through the venue, and although MC Will's vocals often felt buried, the groove and impact more than made up for this, with some of the heaviest, slow-swung, hypnotising beats heard in the rap game. Dälek’s grasp on experimental – yet completely danceable – hip-hop is not only genre pushing, but wholly entertaining.
Check out MC Will's recent guest appearance on our TrickyKid Radio Podcast
Wordspace & Dallas Poetry Slam Presents: Saul Williams - October 19th - The Kessler Theatre - Dallas, TX
What makes seeing Saul Williams perform so anticipatory is not only his unique versatility but unpredictability. Like you really don't know what your gonna get except you know that it will be memorable. Sure when he's doing his music tours you know your gonna get music but you definitely get so much more, the man is encapable of phoning it in or faking it, sometime even to his own detriment,
Last time I caught up with Saul Williams was about 2 & half years ago at the Roxy in Hollywood. The air was thick with a sense of urgency & grief as earlier that morning Freddie Gray, the unarmed African-American man in his 20's who was beaten to death by thug cops was buried. This place felt ready to erupt over that injustice and many came to the show to be around like-minded people to grieve. He was just putting together last year's MartyrLoserKing LP.
Here as a fund raiser for local arts collective WordSpace this one-person performance designed to give this audience a chance to experience Williams in the type of performance that made him a phenomenon as a spoken word artist.
Here he exposed himself, short of shame and full of grace. Williams stretched his arms and invited the dense audience into his most intimate places – sometimes as roaring narrator of worlds he creates and reflects, sometimes as a muttering observer, more alongside his listeners than ahead of them.
Wrapped in a single spotlight, Saul Williams twisted and spilled over thoughts and journal entries as a student of language showing himself worth the cost of admission but also rearranging the landscape inside and thrusting his sensory captives into worlds, settings and perspectives beyond the comfort and pleasantries promised by the evening.
As Williams’ rhythm, energy and focus reached its highest swell, just as easily as he wielded it, he handed it to his audience, offering an opportunity for showgoers to pick his brain for as much time as he’d spent performing. Here, in simpler language, he answered questions of love and war and the day and age we occupy, human connections, LGBTQ rights, growing up a pastor’s son, his first kiss(es) and the now-tickling trouble that followed.
He offered something rarely seen between the stage, an artist and his art: an opportunity to humanize Saul Williams. To separate the art from the man only to realize no such separation exists. These radical and abstract thoughts are the growlings of a real radical. Not a man who will gun you down, but absolutely one who embraces and investigates every image he authors.
When it seemed everyone else in the room had heard enough of their own voices, the attention returned to Williams who resumed form, raining down extended metaphors, consonance and triple entendres with an eloquence and a chestiness of a man who knows, if any can, A TRUTH – his own.
Tricky - October 21st - The Curtain Club - Dallas, TX
While Tricky's astounding new LP Ununiform nods sonically to his ’90s beginnings, there wasn’t a whole lot of looking back at this performance. The setlist favored newer material or radically reworked versions of old songs. Some things don’t change though as the show at times was a delicious mess & Tricky seeming like the last thing on his mind was the audience but overall did seem like he was in a good mood, More often than not where the times where it all came together and Tricky’s status as a true innovator and orchestrator shone though brightly.
Backed only by a drummer (Luke Harris who is also now a member of Brand New Heavies) and guitarist Paul Noel. Luke is also in charge of triggered synths and other sounds. Things tended to veer between minimalism and late-’90s alt-rock territory, especially on a couple of extended ragers. Lighting was also minimal — he basically played in the dark.
Joined by the mesmerizing Breanna Barbara on vocals, Tricky doesn’t really click without that female counterpoint & there are no less than eight guest vocalists on Tricky’s new album alone (including Martina Topley-Bird). Barbara brings a strong stage presence and a great voice that lies slightly outside of his normal choice of singers. But she handles all their parts. Every time she was on stage things became more focused, tension went up. The cover of Hole’s “Doll Parts”, done live as a duet, worked much better live than on Ununiform, too, thanks in no small part to her.
You Don't Wanna
I'm Not Going
Here My Dear
It's Your Day
When We Die
Blackalicious - October 22nd - George's Majestic Lounge - Fayetteville, AR
Returning in 2015 after a (seemingly forever) 10 year hiatus with the innovative Imani Volume I - Now two years later they prep the release of the second volume with this mini-tour.
Blackalicious supported by Lateef and Jumbo. Chief Xcel’s beats were as solid as they’ve always been and when Gift of Gab hit his stride, every syllable that left his mouth were as smooth and effortless as they’ve always sounded coming from him.
The crowd, whilst surprisingly small, were highly enthusiastic about what they saw which fed right back into Blackalicious’ performance. They were having as much fun as the crowd and the overall vibe was a pleasant and happy one.
It was a shame to see Gift of Gab have to take as many breaks as he did, but despite having to still deal with the fallout of kidney failure, pushed on as much as he could. Gab's verbal dexterity is just as impressive live as recorded & raps at an electrifying speed that must be seen to be believed. While it was impressive to see him lyrically annihilate tracks such as Blazing Arrow, Blacka and the enduringly iconic Alphabet Aerobics, it was his freestyle that was truly mesmerising. Despite recent health issues, GOG was ferocious in his delivery, causing jaws to drop all across the room. The combination of his rapping with Chief Xcel's sublimely engineered backing tracks was awe-inspiring, as well as a fantastic reminder of why Blackalicious are considered a monumental part of hip hop history.
Death Grips - November 11th - Gas Monkey Live - Dallas, TX
Another hip hop group out of Sacramento is the highly experimental Death Grips. By gaining their following through social media outlets such as Reddit, 4Chan, and Soundcloud, their audience is largely part of the younger generation of music listeners. I knew something was up (& good on the fine people of this venue) when no one was drinking at the bar & the bartender had lined up dozens of pre-made cups of ice water.
I think the crowd was even shocked that they showed up with Death Grips being notorious for cancelling their major label debut tour in 2012, and deciding not to show up to their other shows in 2013. By shrouding themselves in mystery, whether it be a series of intentional PR moves or not, no one truly understands the thinking that goes behind Death Grips but they absolutely love it.
As soon as MC Ride entered the completely dark stage the crowd went wild. With only green and red strobe lights attached to MC Ride and Andy Morin’s knuckles lighting up the venue, the atmosphere had a sense of chaos accenting the crazy set that would ensue for the next hour and a half. With Lock Your Doors starting out the set, the venue was packed full of energy, and there was not a single person in the crowd that was not going crazy. With MC Ride’s crazy movements on stage, Andy Morin’s crazy keyboarding, and Zach Hill’s out of this world drumming that is not typically found within a typical hip hop group. They got the rebellious cool kids on their side & that's where the future lies. Fun fact: When I returned to my friend after the three-song limit of shooting was over, I saw this butch teenage girl puking into the trash can right next to us. I look over at my friend & he says "She's not the first to do that while you were gone" - Good times.