Rap Rocks is a tour of newer hip hop artists breaking down barriers of other rock related genres. There was good evidence of that tonight, although as usual the Velvet Lounge gets things going late and in spite of the great job of the artists getting off and on the stage, sets are a little tight.
Ralphy Boy - The evening begins with pretty much straight ahead rap from this Brooklyn artist rapping away in front of recordings. Frankly, at first its the usual language of the street which I hear enough on the street and can leave me pretty uninterested. But by the third rap, I hear some better individuality coming though. One of his next songs had a sharper rhythm that pulled me in with its pace and conviction before the usual call and response for "yeahs" and "hell yeahs". Fair start.
Shyvonne - Also down from the big apple is this singer with a DJ assisting. Shyvonne has a deep confident voice that sounds like it works for just about any style of music she chooses. Things were moving along nicely until the request to clap along came and was on a slower than average beat that the audience really messed up on (me included). But that was more amusing than distracting as she went into a gutsier ballad thereafter. There is more sensitivity in her music than merely power, so it goes over quite well with the crowd. I would gladly see here again some time.
Navi and the Whole Damme Delegation - A local hip hop collective takes the stage in colorful outfits with a nice set of wigs on one guy that looked like a cross between George Clinton and Sideshow Bob. They had drums, keys, the prior DJ and two vocalists. A bassist joined in for the last couple of songs. So there were lots of sounds going on and a whole lotta fast and not too furious vocal exchanges between the two rappers. Pace and music lorded over the lyrical content, at least with my long battered ears, but it was easy to hear the reference to "Banned in DC" and the Bad Brains. Gotta love that. Some tried and trued patterns, but plenty of zip and rhythm that had the crowd into it. I enjoyed the last cut that had a simple keyboard melody with lots of bouncy beats and shifts cutting into it. Nice set.
The White House Band - A one-man band takes the stage guitar in hand, with microphone and original recorded songs in the background. He has really got a nice psychedelic spacey guitar sound working. I am hearing Steve Hillage or Tomerclaus. And if I can get my usual oddball references of cult and obscure (respectively) prog-psyche artists into a hip-hop show, then it should be obvious I am having fun. Funkadelic at their spaciest is probably an even better comparison, but I haven't mentioned Steve Hillage in 2 1/2 years, so put it all in a stew and let a young and creative lyricist put something on top and there you have the sounds of this set. He put the guitar down a couple of times to rap over the recordings. And that worked well enough, too, although good guitar work usually does the job with me. He had a story of how he was saying MTV had banned his video and he got correspondence from them asking him to cease and desist from saying that (even though true). Funny, I thought they had banned all videos in lieu of their round the clock reality shows featuring people I don't want to meet or even watch (at least I assume so, since I don't watch). Hopefully, the White House Band can find better platforms to get the music out, since it is well worth a listen. Unfortunately, the crowd tapered off to 10-20 due to the late weekday hour, but they agreed with me and were as loud and as enthusiastic with their support as the larger crowd was earlier.
A Cool Stick - From Philadelphia comes a three piece with vocals, guitar and drums. No recordings, samples or pedal boards, just straight ahead music. The vocals are rapped and sung at different times and with the drums, the focus is on the rhythm. The guitar is simple clean and mostly in the background. However after listening for a while, it appears it is a matter of choice and not lack of skill. During one song, he has some real panache with his runs. There is a lounge feeling to it, although the rhythm always keeps things moving and there is no leaning back here. Great attitude from this band as well. I liked the story the singer had where he saw a slew of people leaving (it was crowded between 10 and 11:30 or so) and he ran after them to convince them to stay. They said they had to go to bed and get some sleep. So he sang a song at the street corner to them instead. So it was nice to see a positive band close out the evening. Hopefully shows like this can happen again. I am always keeping an eye out for interesting live hip-hop alternatives (trying to sharpen up my knowledge base from what is an embarrassingly low starting point) and this sort of tour is perfect for me as well as long time rap fans.
Quote of the Night: Call and response from the opening set...
"Can we have some fun?"
"Can we have some fun?" (repeated 5 times)
"Yeah, we're waiting."