the Metro – Chicago
I walked into the Metro’s main room attempting to cool off after my aggravating brush with security. Anyone heading to the Metro should watch what they bring to the club; I had a bag with me and was required to check it, despite there not being much inside it. When I went to inquire if it was necessary, I was faced with a complete tirade from the guy at coat check. I’ll leave out the specifics though I will just say that the people at the Metro aren’t the nicest in all Chicago and there’s no way around checking your bag. In order to calm myself, I turned my focus to Mush Records’ Busdriver, who was already midway through his set. He leaned on the mic stand, casually working his way through verse after verse of spacey, staccato rhymes. His take on hip hop is the kind of abstract hip hop that tends to polarize people; traditionalists think it’s just a bit too “out there,” but the potheads, white kids, and weirdos seem to eat it up. Backing Busdriver was Chicago-based producer Coral, agilely tapping out beats on an array of drum machines and samplers. Busdriver did his best to play to the unmoving but attentive crowd. He put his all into the stranger moments of the songs, yowling into a second mic that was routed through some murky reverb. I looked around and saw a predominantly white mass of people, a population of what I’d assumed to be the antithesis of the target demographic. It’s a definite comment on the state of indie hip-hop when Radiohead shirts dot the crowd at a hip-hop show.
After a short break between sets, RJD2 scuttled out on stage to check his setup. The crowd was ecstatic to just see him test his turntables. He had a rig of three and what looked like some high-end MPC sampler. Just to the right, there was a camera which fed to makeshift projection screen far stage left. RJD2 grabbed a mic and very informally chatted with the crowd before his set began. He explained that he was going to try something new, just to “go loose.” (His quote – he had no idea I was in the crowd…thanks for the plug RJ)
After his informal pre-show, RJD2 began an interesting set, building off a complex mix of DJ’ing, turntable antics, and sampler gimmickry. You could tell he was working through a new plan for the night, as his performance got off to a slow, almost shaky start. Despite his nimble maneuvering around the turntables, everything didn’t feel perfectly in sync yet. The crowd watched, hardly moving, till they cheered when he threw in a sample of what sounded like “Let the Good Times Roll,” by the Cars. At least he knows his audience well, as I’ll assume that stealing riffs from classic rock would elicit a bigger response than a KRS-One sample.
During the set, the projector showed mostly serene deep-sea video. Whenever RJD2 jumped over to the MPC to mash out a beat on the sampler, he’d switch on the camera, giving a close-up of the action. The crowd went nuts watching the beats being built live.
He moved the set into more DJ Shadow Private Press-influenced songs that leaned more on the electro. It’s generally pleasant, laid-back stuff, but a smooth segue into “Final Frontier” got the crowd to finally move. This track is a great example of the more aggressive RJD2 from the Dead Ringer album, relying heavily on samples from 60’s soul, snippets of horns, and lost vocal loops rounding out an aggressive beat. Next, he moved into a reworking of the more laid-back “Smoke and Mirrors,” a track that rides on a murky vocal sample lamenting lost love. After that, I honestly tuned out, watching him work the turntables until he started mixing in fragments of “Good Times Roll pt. 2.” The crowd reacted appropriately, fists up in the air, as this is one of the better party anthems from that album. The set winded slowly winded down, ending with of all things, a solo acoustic number. RJD2 got out from behind the tables and strapped on a guitar to sing and play a quiet closing number, which was met with as much applause as when he beat-juggled on the turntables.
Next, Aceyalone took to the stage with a friend and RJD2 behind the tables. He bounded out, calling for the crowd’s attention. He’s definitely an old school MC, a charismatic persona commanding the attention of the audience. He has a quick but solid flow that’s somewhere between Mos Def and Chuck D, shifting from a casual pace into rapid-fire rhymes with little trouble.
The pace of the show moved quickly with Aceyalone onstage, his stage banter between songs streamlined each song into the next. The set was structured like a set-long equivalent to the Arsonists’ tracks “Rhyme Time Travel,” progressing year by year through his career. He started out with 90’s style of stomping East L.A. beats and distorted high-hats, moving through songs from when he was with the Freestyle Fellowship. The energy of the crowd noticeably picked up, especially when Aceyalone and RJD2 kept faking starts to get the audience riled up.
He moved into “The Balance” off of 1998’s A Book of Human Language; it was probably the standout song of the night, showcasing the mixture of intellectual lyrics and casual flow that encompasses Aceyalone’s appeal. A lyric like: “It’s the balance of the scales it can’t be challenged or expelled /Soon as somebody lost somebody else prevails / Some someone is quiet at the same time someone yells.” Later, he rhymed over a song that nicked the intro to Echo and the Bunnyman’s “Killing Moon.” This drove the crowd nuts and further proved its overall whiteness.
As they moved into newer material, you could hear RJD2’s hand in the style. It shifted away from the old school West Coast style into a more experimental, spacey feel born somewhere out in RJ’s homeland of Ohio. The samples had that 60’s soul feel, the drums mixing hip-hop with a touch of electro right out of RJD2’s Since Last We Spoke. Aceyalone held the energy high through till the end of the set, keeping the crowd focused. I’ll be honest, even though I was initially more interested in seeing RJD2, Aceyalone put on an impressive show. The bad mood I was in when I walked into the club had disappeared and I only half-noticed the drunk idiots around me, all thanks to the magic of live hip-hop.