The last few months have been a whirlwind of extensive traveling, workshops and networking, and other spontaneous adventures. In the interest of continuing to answer all prospective experiential inquiries in the affirmative, I ended up seeing some pretty dope hip-hop performances from February through May. The highlight was most certainly the Trinity International Hip-Hop Festival in Hartford, CT, which featured a powerhouse lineup of artists and hip-hop scholars, including Bocafloja, Rebel Diaz, and DJ Kool Herc, just to name a few. I’ve been wrestling with whether and how they should be featured on this blog, grappling between individualized spotlights or one collective post that gives you a glimpse into each show. Rather than separate each performance into separate posts, I opted for the latter and have provided a short rundown of each of these spectacular performances and experiences. I’ve included photos, highlights and standouts, and of course feature a few select tracks that should be uploaded to your brain immediately. Live performances are the laboratories of hip-hop invention and innovation, where hip-hop found its native roots in the Bronx back in the early 1970s. Despite many shows being commercialized and co-opted, these shows stood out for a variety of reasons as being exclusively non-commercial. I’d prefer to put some of these artists in the spotlight since they most certainly deserve a little shine. Enjoy folks.
Billy Conahan Keeps Hip-Hop Alive & Well
Hostelling International New York (New York, NY)
Sunday, February 15, 2015
Billy Conahan hails from Queens, NY, land of a thousand hip-hop emcees from the eminent hip-hop legends Nas & Mobb Deep to more recent mainstays Action Bronson and Mayhem Lauren. This was a unique hip-hop show given that it totally caught me off guard. Billy popped up unsuspectedly at a Hostelling International New York’s basement Open Mic performance where I had been enjoying indy guitar players and magicians up to that point. He casually hung out in the back room cracking up with the comedian host, when out of nowhere, he was introduced by host Max May who described him as the boy with the million dollar voice (which I had previously only ever heard attributed to AZ). Billy approached the stage with an air of confidence and unbridled goofiness that got me surprisingly engaged.
From the dropping of the first beat, Billy raged across the stage spitting with the best of them, dropping verse after verse laced with intricate and head-spinning bars. Given the high quantity of Dutch and French teenagers in the space (typical hostel clientele), I’m not sure if they had that much appreciation for what was going down, but it was a bona fide hip-hop mic wreck session. He at one point opted to take off his shoes, even throwing them into the audience. Billy truly achieved new levels of “No Fucks Given” when it came to stomping across the stage, keeping hip-hop alive and well. He didn’t trip up over any verses, or let the distracting, chatty hostellers keep him off his game–the man seemed to draw upon some internal energy and passion from the likes I’ve never seen. He stayed on point throughout and bounded off the stage having really enjoyed himself. Totally memorable, totally hip-hop.
Trinity International Hip-Hop Festival
Trinity College (Hartford, CT)
Saturday, April 11, 2015
(From Left to Right: The Reminders, Bocafloja, Rebel Diaz)
When I received Quilomboarte’s monthly email on Sunday, I damn near crapped my pants with excitement. Bocafloja, one of my all time favorite Latin emcees, hailing from Mexico, was going to be performing in Hartford, CT that upcoming Saturday, just a short jaunt from Boston. When I began to probe deeper, I realized that the Trinity International Hip-Hop Festival was featuring an amazing international lineup of emcees including Oddisee (Sudan/USA), Nomadic Massive (Canada), Chachi (Cape Verde/USA), Omar Offendum (USA/Syria), Zero Plastica (Italy), The Reminders (Belgium/Congo/USA), Rebel Diaz (Chile/USA), Bocafloja (Mexico) and a final performance from DJ Kool Herc, the father of hip-hop. In addition to this hip-hop head’s dream showcase, the festival included a day’s worth of free workshops, panels and film screenings that were all open to the public. The day’s opening panel discussion was entitled “Hip Hop: How Far Have We Come?” and featured moderator Jeff Chang (author of Can’t Stop, Wont Stop), DJ Kool Herc, Bocafloja (Mexico), Hisham Aidi (Columbia University–author of Rebel Music: Race, Empire, and the New Muslim Culture) and Waterflow (Senegal). Additional workshops included “Hip-Hop and Latin American Youth”, “Immigration & Hip-Hop” and “Preserving Efforts: Documenting Hip-Hop History”. By this point, I was stomping around my apartment damn near jumping for joy and intently aiming to rally some fellow hip-hop heads to make the journey from Boston to Hartford. But of course, I was primarily going because I have wanted to see Bocafloja ever since I started spinning “Patalogías del Invisible Incomodo” back in 2012.
I managed to catch an early morning bus down to Hartford and arrive about 15 minutes prior to the “How Far Have We Come?” hip-hop panel kicking off. It became immediately apparent upon my arrival that this was a small hip-hop festival, with panelists, attendees, students, fans, b-boys and everyone in between casually conversing with each other and embracing the core tenets of hip-hop community. That egalitarian approach empowered me to overcome my star-power infused idolatry and speak to Bocafloja before the panel started. After expressing my utmost appreciation for his music, we discussed hip-hop in Latin America, his thoughts on why hip-hop has been different in places like Mexico versus Argentina, and a few other interesting themes. And of course I had to take a shameless selfie with the famoso emcee. It made the rest of the day oh so sweet!
The panel and workshops throughout the day were incredibly thought provoking and wide ranging. I had the chance to hear from people like Hisham Aidi on how hip-hop has been leveraged in political situations, and used as a diplomatic tool abroad, while simultaneously fueling the Arab Spring and Arab youth culture. I heard from Waterflow from Senegal about why hip-hop was one of the most empowering genres of music, lifting him out of poverty and elevating him beyond the slums of Dakar and into places around the world. And I heard from DJ Kool Herc who referenced Jimi Hendrix’s famous quote “There’s black people, white people, and my people.” I found myself growing emotional listening to these hip-hop scholars and veterans wax poetic on why hip-hop had entered their consciousness and transformed them into life-long disciples of the music and its culture.
The rest of the day was a mind-bending journey through hip-hop’s rich culture as I attended Bocafloja’s session on Hip-Hop & Latin American Youth. Boca talked more intimately on deconstructing Latin American colonial identities and reaffirming who you are as a person, checking your privilege and supporting greater undersetanding. Rebel Diaz went crazy during their Immigration & Hip-Hop workshop, infusing both random spoken word verses along with insanely engaged audience participation. I learned more about hip-hop history and the evolution of hip-hop via immigration than in any other class or documentary. The fact that they were educators came through loud and clear. And of course the performances during the evening was a steady onslaught of hip-hop culture, with one dope act after another burning the mic. I have to give up a lot of props to The Reminders who thoroughly killed it on the stage bringing a mixture of reggae and hip-hop that had crazy amounts of energy. My friends and I felt their passion and energy emanating through the crowd as they danced around the stage and poetically bounced back and forth off of each other. This festival was easily one of the best, and the most unique, that I’ve ever attended. I would 100% recommend it to all of the hip-hop heads interested in diving deeper into hip-hop culture and those who seek a channel of hip-hop empowerment and community-building.
Oddisee Fights The Good Fight
The Middle East (Boston, MA)
Sunday, May 19, 2015
(Left and Right Photos: Oddisee; Middle Photo: STL GLD)
Simply put, Oddisee is one of the most talented emcees and producers in the hip-hop game today. I was turned on to Oddisee about three years ago when I happened upon his insanely good album “People Hear What They See“, which showcases Oddisee’s production and lyrical talent, as he traversed his personal growth and aspirations as an artist. His sound has invariably changed over time as he has dabbled in richer production and continued to work with his DC-based clique Diamond District. For anyone that reads the blog, you’ll know that I selected “March on Washington“ as one of the best listens for October 2014. His most recent album, “The Good Fight“, released about a month ago, may be my favorite project to date as Oddisee rises above the incessant commercial noise and distractions to assert the righteous authenticity that defines his music. Rather than attempt to describe the scope of the project, I figured that I’d simply paste this artist statement direct from his Bandcamp page:
For Oddisee, “The Good Fight” is about living fully as a musician without succumbing to the traps of hedonism, avarice, and materialism. It’s music that yields an intangible feeling: the sacral sound of an organ whine, brass horns, or a cymbal crash. It’s a meditation on our capacity to love and the bonds binding us together. It’s our ambition and greed warring with our sense of propriety – a list of paradoxes we all face when living and striving.
The show opened up with local Boston group STL GLD, that truly did put on a solid performance as they rocked out to a mixture of hip-hop and rock. Hopping around the stage, like so many good live performances, they had the crowd live simply based off their energy. The show then transitioned to Toine from the DTMD, who delivered a refreshingly quirky and lighthearted performance as he jammed with his DJ Dunc. The closest persona I could think of was Kid Cudi, and his casual and familiar persona jived extremely well with the front row crew. Check out one of his collaborative tracks with Oddisee below for a taste of what he was dropping.
And of course as Oddisee made his way to the stage, he brought an incredible level of energy as he kicked off his performance with “Ready to Rock”, his opening track off of “People Hear What They See” and then worked his way through a mixture of tracks from previous albums before moving into “The Good Fight”. Always intellectually sharp, remarkably humble, and stoically imposing, Oddisee consistently channels the very basics of hip-hop into his live shows. I found myself throwing up my arms constantly and nodding my head like it was on a swivel. Oddisee did not disappoint as he laid down track after track, and retained a brutal honesty with the fans that was returned in kind. Even as the second time seeing him live, Oddisee did not disappoint and made every dollar spent well worth it.
I’ll be headed to more shows this summer featuring other dope groups and emcees, and am excited to bring you more of In Steady Rotation through the lens of live hip-hop performances. Hip-hop continues to be about the experience and the community that surrounds it, and these shows are some of the purest demonstrations of hip-hop culture. Enjoy the rest of May.