Wednesday, May 09, 2007

Souls of Mischief, Icon the Mic King, Bukue One, Earatik Statik, Verbal Kent @ The Abbey, 4.23.07

by Oren Kopperl

What head could forget where they were when they first heard the lyrics “You’re irresponsible,” the effortless opening line from Souls of Mischief’s debut ’93 til Infinity? For me, it evokes a certain feeling for what was the most compelling and understated time in Hip-hop. While cats like Fat Joe have gone from D.I.T.C. to throwing bubbly and benjamins around a video set, S.O.M. and the Hieroglyphics camp have --for better or worse-- stuck to the essence of their craft. And guess what? Unlike many of their contemporaries, they can still hold it down in a live setting.

As a venue, there’s just something about The Abbey. The room is big enough and they consistently provide top-notch acts, but it can sometimes lack the warmth and personality that should embody a great venue when it comes to Hip-hop. When we’re talking about one of the most coveted golden era groups in the game, being backed by a slightly distended and muddled billing, the result can lead to mixed feelings.

Gravel Records set things off with Verbal Kent. Although, by the time I get a beer, his set is over. Chicago favorites and fellow Gravel recording artists Earatik Statik are up next, immediately injecting much needed life into the room. They quickly drew the growing crowd of fifty closer to the stage, working them up with an energetic stage presence and their signature thick, knocking production. Raw energy is definitely the backbone of a typical Earatik Statik set, and tonight was no different. Keeping the heads interested through until end, they closed with “Keep Rockin’” as DJ Rude1 brought the set to a climactic finish.

Often at shows like this a “mystery” or “surprise” guest, who’s not on the bill, will show up in support of the headlining act. And often it’s not much of a surprise when they’re revealed. So when it turned out to be Bukue One, Bay area undergrounder who just happens to be Del The Funky Homosapien’s manager, it wasn’t exactly a bombshell. A notably cheerful Bukue took the stage, engaging about half the crowd as he hopped around clutching two mics and talked about skating. Sound quality was a bit lackluster and at times he seemed almost too animated or energetic for his own good. Nevertheless, he pulled through the twenty minute set without a DJ and managed to keep the general vibe of the room intact.

After taking five minutes to start and getting noticeably irritated when host DJ Deluge told the crowd he was from New York, Philadelphia’s self proclaimed freestyle champ Icon the Mic King was all set to go. He set it off with a slightly unexpected party track, and then segued into more characteristic battle rhymes. Before long, he started his gimmicky freestyle routine where he dons a blindfold and tries to rap about the identity of objects the audience gives him. It’s interesting enough in theory, but it falls flat on its face when he can’t figure out what’s in his hand. The set was about half way over when C-Rayz Walz revealed himself as Icon’s DJ who, up to that point, was bundled up like the Unabomber standing rigid behind the decks. When he stepped out from behind the turntables to perform his own material, he actually increased the energy level of the room as the Abbey started to fill to capacity. Any momentum the set had gained, quickly evaporated by the time Icon closed with the song “Madness”.

At this point everyone in the building is ready for Souls of Mischief. While I’m walking back from the bar, a girl who appears to be quite intoxicated spills her gin and tonic on my shoes, that just three hours earlier I was debating wearing for fear of some random drunk girl spilling her gin and tonic all over them. While doing damage control on my saucy kicks, DJ Lex is blending The Alkaholiks track “Rockin’ with the Best” into Pharoahe Monche’s “Simon Says,” and it appears as if the thesaurus thumpers from Oakland are ready to roll.

Souls of Mischief take the stage to the infectious bassline of “Make Your Mind Up,” sending across the room a shockwave of hands in the air. The kids came to hear the classics and they’re getting them. Opio completely snapped on his verse of “Oakland Blackouts,” before flipping the first four bars of “Rock it like That” acappella, waiting for DJ Lex to drop the beat. White kids in funny hats are freaking out all around me as Tajai spits the opening line of “Diseshowedo.” At this point they have the room eating out of their hand. Phesto does a short verse off of “3rd Eye Vision” before A-Plus showcases some of his new solo material. A joint was passed around stage while they ran through some newer tracks, and then proceeded to blow up the room with a memorable version of “You Never Knew.” Before the applause died down, the entire crowd goes bananas when they hear the first note of “93 til’ Infinity,” and at once you could tell the night was coming to an end.

There’s something funny about an encore at a Hip-hop show. Generally the crowd is too lazy to try longer than a minute to get their favorite MC back on stage. This in turn causes the MC to reappear within 20-30 seconds, which can seem a bit pretentious. But when S.O.M. came back out to the opening horn sample of “That’s When ‘Ya Lost,” the result was anything but. With the crowd jumping in unison up until the very last measure, Souls let it all hang out for one last classic banger, assuring everyone that after all these years, they’ve still got it.

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