In the hip-hop scene of today, nothing counts more than connections. It's a curious fact of the genre, that hip-hop artists will usually pour more ink into explaining the six degrees that separate them from every other influential scenester and label, than they spend actually describing themselves or their music.
A lot of this can be explained by the fact that the hip-hop scene has developed its own form of apprenticeship: Most young artists first appear doing guest spots on bigger-name artists' albums; then they move on to compilation EP releases; and, finally, to solo albums. Hence, the development of an artist from farm-league rookie to franchise star usually plays out through a series of relationships with labels and other artists - all of which the emcee is sure to chronicle, in some detail, in his press materials, liner notes, and, no doubt, in the lyrics of several songs.
Compounding the confusion, artists of the genre rarely perform live with the same crew twice. And of course, none goes by anything that approaches a legal, given name.
Last week's show by Mr. Lif, for example, featured (in addition to the headline talent) a sub-set of members from Portland's Oldominion, as well as a couple of members of the Denver-based group Gone. Press materials for the show required a secret decoder ring to unravel: were Sleep, JFK, Barfly and Onry Ozzborne all members of Oldominion; or were the first three independent artists - or groups? - with only Onry representing Oldominion?
One might expect that such questions could be answered by a quick jaunt across the Web. But if you think all this back-slapping and buddy-buddying is confusing in print or annoying in song, you should check it out online, where hypertext is king, and links are props to be doled out wit' da mad love, yo. It's on the Web that we learn that Gone and Oldominion are both essentially artists' collectives, consisting of individuals who sometimes record albums or perform together. Oldominion explains on its site that, "The conglomerate began several years ago in 1994 when Oraclez Creed and Frontlines merged Š the tribe of more than twenty emcees, producers, deejays and artists can be hard to describe."
As should be clear by now, this rampant cross-pollination makes for a hazard-plagued job for music journalists - particularly those hopelessly unhip hacks like myself, who huddle at computer screens, thousands of miles removed from the artists they hope to write about. After all, it can be hard to simply figure out who's performing at a given gig, and what to call them.
Take this Sunday's show, at Jay's Upstairs. What's clear is that at least four artists from the Mush Records label will show up to bust out the rhymes. Apparently we've got Busdriver and Radioinactive, whose names sound like they might be bands; but who are, in fact, a duo of emcees who have recently started calling themselves The Weather, although their recent album would more likely be found at your local shop under one of their individual names, or perhaps under the name of Daedelus, the record's producer and third named collaborator.
Excuse me while I catch my breath.
OK, then we've got Awol One, whom you may know as a collaborator with Daddy Kev, the Shapeshifters, Mike Nardone, or the numerous other groups he's worked and recorded with. The show also features Andre Afram Asmar, a live mixmaster who'll perform a short set.
Chances are, if this show is like most hip-hop affairs, the artists on hand will trade off onstage, tag-team smackdown style - making it hard for those who don't know the artists to even be sure who's on stage at times.
So is it worth braving this confused artistic taxonomy? In this case, the answer is a somewhat-qualified yes. Busdriver and Radioinactive - or, if you prefer, The Weather - combine breathlessly fast-paced rhyming with odd-cadence beats, creating songs that range from the merely clever, to the mighty cool. Think of them as a two-headed ee cummings on speed, jamming to beats on a record player that skips at all the right times. Their latest CD, the self-titled "Busdriver & Radioinactive With Daedelus," is a daring and fun affair, with the two emcees playing off each other over a cut-and-paste pastiche of found sound. Awol One brings his own flavor of left-field word-flinging, a kind of free-association, free-jazz mish-mosh that will either strike you as dangerously fresh, or utterly pretentious. Andre Afram Asmar rounds out this oddball show with a one-man performance that combines computer-generated beats, electronic effects, live percussion and vocals into a vibe that melds hip-hop, dub, and ethnic world music.
Taken together, it's sure to be a highly eclectic show, though probably not one that will thrill either the punk-forever regulars at Jay's, or any unprepared hip-hop fans who come into Jay's expecting to bob their heads to a steady beat. But taken as a display of thought-provoking musical art on the cutting edge of one of today's most vibrant creative scenes, this is one show that shouldn't be missed.
BEES & OTHERS
Speaking of cross-pollination, Seattle's Flowmotion - a funky world-groove band that returns this Saturday to the Ritz on Ryman - has recently shuffled its lineup of musicians, picking up three members from Beecraft. Get it? Cross-pollination? Beecraft?
Anyway, the two bands are now touring together, and apparently sharing the same promoter, who likes to make up band descriptions that cover all the stylistic bases and, in so doing, leave the reader wondering: What the hell do these guys sound like, anyway? "Funky Ass Tribal Jazz Grass?" "Jazcid rock psycho funk?" I'm guessing this guy was the genius behind the T.C.B.Y. chain of yogurt stores. Anyway, a listen to the records of these two fine bands reveals that they both perform upbeat, danceable jam-band fare that's sure to fill the Ritz's dance floor. Six bucks gets you a spot of hardwood to call your own for the night.
Jumping back to Friday, also at the Ritz, is another show worth catching will feature one new band, and one newly named band. The latter is the more familiar: The guys of Moksha, formerly the Moksha Quintet, have once again evolved their appellation, and are now known as oddAbility. Regardless of what they call themselves, they always put on a great show of jazz-influenced, hip-hip-tinged funk that's as inventive as it is fun to listen to. They'll be performing with Thee Others, a three-week old band that sounds far more studied than its vintage, thanks to the brilliant beat-programming of lead singer and guitarist Gerald Sonnessa. I spent several months recording and performing with Gerald, and was always jealous of his ability to sculpt simple chord progressions and repetitive beats into moody, ethereal songs that haunt the memory. His new band takes that minimalist-rock approach a step deeper through the addition of sample-loops, keyboards, and the sultry backing vocals of Amanda Burleson.
It wouldn't be a completely oddball weekend of shows without a production by the madmen that are Volumen; and sure enough, they've got a show - actually, two shows - for you. This Friday and Saturday, at 9:30, they'll take over the Crystal Theater to present what might be thought of as a live version of MTV, if MTV played good music, or if MTV played any music, for that matter. The events will feature the band performing music to accompany a 13-song video compilation of footage from Volumen tours past.
The two all-ages shows aren't just for kicks; the band is also looking for kickbacks, in hopes of funding a tour through Eastern Europe next September. Tix are six (bux).
Joe Nickell is a drummer who has performed with several local bands, all of which are now defunct, which is probably his fault. He is also co-producer of the independent television series, J&B on the Rox, which can be viewed online at www.rox.com. Call him at 523-5358, or email email@example.com.