I know, it’s a pretty unlikely headline. I’m more of a rock and roll, singer-songwriter, jazz and blues kind of guy. I’m also, shall we delicately say, out of the demographic for rap shows. But, I got an invitation to see what was up with a group of young rappers at Relix last week and decided to make it an adventure. Shaft signed up for duty and over a second bottle of wine at Coffee and Chocolate II, so did friends MC M and DJ J.
I was assured this would be literate rap, more or less, and the presence of Black Atticus on the bill gave me some reason for hope that it was true. What I also expected, but didn’t get was actual instruments. I’m just not sold on electronic sounds as art. A DJ backed all the artists, but it wasn’t clear what his role might be behind the bank of Apple computers.
I arrived at Relix after MC Vague had started his set. I found Shaft huddled with a couple in their thirties who looked just as bewildered as the rest of us soon found ourselves. That couple had won tickets from WUTK. Another older couple leaned against the bar and may have been Mr. and Mrs. Vague. Shaft said he felt like a chaperon at a high school dance. Outside our small group, the audience consisted of about thirty white 18 to 20-year-olds. Some of them may have been younger. Assuming thirty is the correct number, the audience was also 97% white kids. Is this a typical rap audience?
MC Vague danced around the stage dressed in perhaps a Cub Scout outfit with a baby blanket drapped around his shoulders like a cape. He may be a burgeoning, brilliant rap artist, but I kept hearing rhymes that made me groan. Maybe his act was ironic. I was never sure. MC M gave him the best thumbs up, saying he was “funny.” The children in the audience loved him and I wondered if they were, perhaps, his friends. I’m probably just generationally challenged on that one.
SoCro (Southern Croat) was next on the bill and I found him to be a bit easier to listen to. I wasn’t tempted to rush to the CD table, but it was better. We got a little of the braggadocio one expects in the rap world, but it wasn’t over the top. There are several things that makes rap a little easier for me to appreciate in an artist. I’ve mentioned real instruments and no one had that. Literate words are necessary. Also, a bit of a sense of humor or at least self-deprecation helps and I didn’t feel that so much from SoCro.
Atticus deftly handled the audience next and, of course, that was predictable. His rhymes and topics easily placed him on par with the headliners. In a nod to musicality, he had a singing companion who added greatly when she added at all. It would have been nice to hear more of her. I also missed the band. I’m thinking if Atticus wants to do some different things without the band, maybe real music instead of the electronic beats might be better. A jazz musician or two, perhaps or Laith Keilany on oud.
Safari Al took the penultimate spot and, I believe, he and headliner Milo have been touring together. His set was interesting with a sort of hippy poet sensibility meets an electronic rap beat. I thought he was interesting. He certainly had a bit of a sense of humor and seemed like a good guy. I still wasn’t tempted to rush to the CD table.
Milo ended the show, playing until around midnight. His raps were very literate and he clearly had a sense of humor, as well as a pretty strong stage presence. He wasn’t afraid to name check Bob the Builder, Niebuhr and Kierkegaard in the same song. He had the crowd give a shout out to his girl friend as he took video with his phone. He sent her the video as a text and kept the crowd updated until she replied.
Some of his lines are quite good, such as, ”You wonder if you’re really alive and I am asking if I’m dead still. Wow. That line’s going to scare my Dad real bad,” and ”I don’t have a hip-hop career, I have a hobby, which leaves me unloved like a younger brother Bobby.” It’s enough to make me wonder if he might keep evolving and getting better. I can see some of these tunes finding their way onto my ipod. Check it out and see what you think.