REVIEW: blackbear w/ Roy Wood$

I’m not sure where to even begin. March 23, 2018 — it was the warmest night of the week in Ann Arbor, and I had driven to my friend’s place so we could walk to Hill Auditorium together. As two notorious procrastinators, we decided to meet up at 7:30PM, so we weren’t quite ready to be makin’ our way downtown to the concert just yet.

Well, I mean, I was ready, I was so ready to see blackbear — who has risen as a popular R&B and Hip Hop artist, with hits like “do re mi” and “idfc” — which basically represent my mentality about the world: I have trust issues, I hate people, I don’t care, but with more profanities sprinkled in between.

I discovered blackbear once upon a time, when I still used Pandora’s online music player, which had its own R&B/Hip Hop station. blackbear popped up every so often, and I’d jammed hard to his music, which pushed me to look for more. His album “digital druglord” is my favorite, by the way. Long story short, I’m hardcore into his music.

Once my friend and I had finished powdering our noses and saying goodbye to the house cats, we started walking with my impatient and brisk pace, to my friend’s dismay. On the way, we laughed and chatted it up, chewing on candy hearts with very aggressively forward flirtatious phrases on them. It was colder than we’d anticipated, trusting the Weather App’s warmer predictions, but that didn’t stop the excitement from bubbling underneath.

Hill Auditorium was in sight, and we were all chattering teeth and goosebumps through the doors, where security guards were scanning for tickets. I was carrying both of our tickets, so I hastily shuffled through my purse to find only one. My heart immediately sank, and I could feel my friend laughing nervously and looking ominously at me. In a panic, we held each other, and I frantically searched my pockets and dug further into my bag, where I discovered the other ticket was hiding. My heart was pounding, but the two of us laughed at the ridiculousness of the moment. Mind you, if I had left the ticket at her place, that was at least a twenty minute walk away from Hill Auditorium, and we’d barely even made Michigan Time to the 8:00PM start of the concert.

Nevertheless, our tickets put us on the very top floor, the balcony, overlooking the hundreds of others seated ahead of us. On our way up the steps, I could already feel my knees buckling from walking so fast, from almost losing our tickets, and of course, from my overwhelming excitement. My friend had her arm hooked around mine, laughing as she helped me up. The floor was vibrating with the heavy beats blasting through the entire auditorium, and we hadn’t even gotten to the top floor.

The moment we opened the doors to the actual auditorium, we were greeted by extremely dim lighting and extremely loud music. Another security guard saw us blindly walking in the darkness and asked what seat numbers we had, to which we replied 410 and 411, and he pointed us in that direction. Eventually, one way or another, we settled into our seats and drowned in the noise.

Roy Wood$ was already performing by the time we had arrived, and neither of us were quite familiar with him, but I was grateful I had the chance to see him perform — I was definitely going to give his music a try later. Roy Wood$ is more R&B/Soul, which I’m fond of, and besides that, the enthusiasm around me was contagious. I felt I became a fan of Roy Wood$ in that concert, along with the throngs of fans screaming his name and his lyrics.

My friend and I fell into conversation here and there, gossiping about people we knew, swaying and grooving to the music. At this point of my emotional roller coaster, I was not quite at the peak, which was saved for blackbear’s appearance on stage.

Once Roy Wood$ was finishing up, a short intermission followed, and the lights came on and flooded the auditorium. I realized how many young faces I saw in the crowd, some even accompanied by one or two parental-looking figures. My friend assured me that they were the same age, other college kids like us, but for some reason, it freaked me out a little — a grim reminder that I’m 21 years old and not getting any younger.

My tiny mid-life crisis ended when the lights dimmed to black again, and the familiar vibrations of the floor returned, beating and pounding.

A familiar beat came on, and I instantly jumped up, following suit to countless other silhouettes around us. My only thought was he’s here, he’s here, he’s really here and it’s him, it’s him, it’s really him, barely containing my excitement. The intro blasted through the auditorium, blackbear’s most famous “do re mi” line, pulling and drawing the eager audience in before it smoothly transitioned into a different song — “Dirty Laundry.” (Spoiler alert: blackbear closes with “do re mi.”)

blackbear walked on stage and greeted the outstretched hands reaching for him, waving to the countless screaming fans. He did a little dance as he got into the song’s melody, pulling a couple poses here and there, while everyone wholeheartedly belted out the lyrics with him. Of course, so did I, but it was difficult when I could hardly hear myself think. The realization dawned on me that the teeny tiny figure on stage, obscured by various arms waving in front of me, was really blackbear and at that moment, I was caught in pure, unadulterated excitement and hysteria.

As soon as blackbear got into the swing of his music, everyone was losing their minds, delirious to the sound of heavy beats and the husky tone of blackbear’s voice. An electrifying energy flooded the room, putting the audience in a chilling, exhilarating trance. I was in that feverish crowd of fans, high on blackbear’s music, hypnotized by the thrill of the experience.

Still, I must admit, it was deafeningly loud in there, so noisy and so excruciatingly loud, the words blackbear was singing often came out as muffled noises, like those from a rusty, old radio. Between the songs, sometimes he had things to say to the audience, which I was desperate to hear, but every word was gibberish to me. Maybe this was because I was seated so far from the front, but hey, I’m not made of money. Priority seating was a little out of my price range, okay?

I’m not complaining. I had the opportunity to see blackbear perform live! I’m honestly still processing it, and I’m absolutely honored and beyond ecstatic to be able to blog about it for [art]seen — my experience is memorialized, in a way. Definitely treasuring this.

This photo shows blackbear performing one of his biggest hits, “idfc,” which encouraged everyone to swing their flashlights in the air. Obviously, the photo was taken by blackbear’s photographer, who was taking photos from on-stage. From my perspective, the concert looked a little more like:

Still — not complaining. The entire experience was the takeaway for me. I will be eternally grateful to have had the chance to see blackbear perform here in Ann Arbor, of all places, and dedicate a blog post to [art]seen about it. Words cannot describe how absolutely amazing it was to me, and I’m honestly in awe at how they transformed Hill Auditorium, where my sister had her graduation ceremony, gowns and all, into a blackbear R&B/Hip Hop venue. Lights streamed in every direction, bringing life to the stage, the crowd, and the performer. I was in the same building, the same room, as blackbear — just wow.

Special thanks to Hill Auditorium for hosting this unique and special event at the heart of Ann Arbor — I will cherish it forever. And a special shoutout to my friend, who isn’t even that big of a blackbear fan but loved me enough to come with me! I hope you had as much fun as I did, or at least some fraction of it, I had a looooooot of fun. Maybe even too much fun, really. Shoutout to blackbear’s photographer and instagram for posting these awesome photos of the concert, S.O. to the poor dad sitting uncomfortably in front of us, S.O. to the people who caught the articles of clothing blackbear threw — I am and will be forever jealous of you — and shoutout to the couple dancing hysterically a couple rows in front of us. Not even darkness can hide your dance moves.

The concert is over, but in my heart, it will live on forever! Thank you so much for coming to Ann Arbor, blackbear!!!

REVIEW: Michigan’s Best Dance Crew

All reality shows have an opening number, and Michigan’s Best Dance Crew was no different, kicking off with the emcees lip-syncing to The Cheetah Girls. That’s when I knew it was going to be good.

The show was an hour and a half of unadulterated fun. Each crew — all student-run and choreographed — had a different flavor, making for a well-rounded and entertaining event. Here’s a peek at my judging sheet*:

*I was not an official judge for the event

Dance 2XS (pronounced “To Success”) were a great start to the competition. The hip-hop crew was poised and energetic. They weren’t as flashy as some of the groups that followed, nor did they break out a lot of big tricks, but the eventual third-place winners still made an impact. They didn’t stand out as much as some of the other groups, but they had no real weaknesses either and set the tone for the rest of the night.

Michigan Izzat fuses hip-hop with the traditional Indian styles of Bhangra and Bollywood. I had no idea what to expect, but I ended up loving them.  You could tell from their performance that they genuinely enjoyed every moment up on that stage, and I thought the way they combined the styles worked really well. They didn’t place, making them my biggest snub of the night, but that fact truly speaks to the level of all the crews that performed.

Impact Dance brought it with a sassy jazz medley. I couldn’t take my eyes off one particular girl. She was front and center through most of the number, and her flawless technique, poise, and personality really carried the piece. One of the hardest parts of jazz is getting turns and leaps in sync, and Impact struggled with that at times, though their performance quality was good enough that it was quickly forgiven.

EnCore is one of the more popular crews on campus, and here they showed why, taking home second place from the judges as well as the People’s Choice Award. From the moment they walked out onstage in personalized black jackets, you could tell they were a force to be reckoned with. EnCore stood out because of their polish, difficult moves, and technique, and their number left the audience cheering.

FunKtion hip-hop crew blew me away with their innovative choreography. Their music was a medley of hip-hop, R&B, house, and even EDM songs. They incorporated traditional hip-hop moves as well as animation and breakdance and made it flow seamlessly, impressing the judges enough to win them the grand prize. FunKtion wasn’t quite as synchronized or polished as EnCore, but their passion for dance was clear at every moment, and they get bonus points for ending their routine with jazz hands.

Cadence gave the audience a completely different look with their contemporary number. I was impressed by their choreography, as often contemporary numbers start to feel like a mere series of leg extensions. This wasn’t the case for Cadence, whose dance really told a story. The emotion of the choreography was occasionally betrayed in some of the dancers’ faces, but for the most part, they sold their emotional piece, and it carried them to a third-place tie.

The party didn’t end there. While the judges tallied the votes, members of Michigan Izzat, FunKtion, and Dance 2XS came onstage for a freestyle dance battle. FunKtion captivated with their popping and ultimately won the largest share of the applause, the cherry on top of their overall win.

Michigan’s Best Dance Crew was one of the most fun on-campus events I’ve been to this year. If it’s renewed for another season, I’ll be back, and you should come, too.

REVIEW: UMICH Welcomes Chance the Rapper

Michigan welcomed 20-year-old singer and rap artist Chance the Rapper to the U of M campus last night. The concert was produced by Big Ticket Productions, a branch of the University Activities Center (UAC). Chance’s first mixtape, 10 Day, was released in 2012. Since then he has come out with his second mixtape, Acid Rap, in 2013 which has had incredible success: named the #1 mixtape of 2013 and ranked 4th best album this past year by Complex Magazine. Having been featured on tracks with artists like Childish Gambino, Rapsody, Justin Bieber, and James Blake, Chance has been quickly gaining popularity in recent years.

The concert was held at 8 p.m. Saturday, March 22, 2014 in the Hill Auditorium on campus. The first opener, Quinn, began right on time and his performance lasted about a half hour. Quinn performed slow-tempo songs, having a lower energy than expected. Freshman Maher Hachem described Quinn’s songs as having “slow, summer vibes.” Though talented, the feel of his set didn’t quite seem to match the expectations of the crowd. The second opener, Noname Gypsy, was more up-beat with powerful backup singers. Her performance ended around 9 p.m. Both of the opening artists, Quinn and Noname Gypsy, had rap/hip-hop music styles.

Though there was a bit of a gap between the performances of the openers and Chance, his high energy and exciting stage presence quickly made up for any disappointment during the first half of the event. Chance put on a show. Including crowd pleasers like,”Cocoa Butter Kisses,” “Pusha Man,” and “Chain Smoker” kept the audience enamored throughout the night. He really got the crowd involved, the lights were on point with the music, and his transitions between songs was very professional. Chance entertained from the moment he came on stage to his very last song.

After speaking with a few other students who attended the concert, it seemed very evident that seating played a major role in the quality of experience. Though students who had seating in the balcony said they enjoyed the concert, they made it clear that their experience would have been greatly enhanced with better seating. Freshman Corey Johnson admits, “My seats were all the way in the back on the balcony. It would’ve been better with better seats, but Chance was great and I would go again.” Other than some discontent with the openers and some reservations about seats, the overall consensus was a good show and a good time.

If you happened to miss the concert last night and want to see Chance in concert, he will be performing at various locations and music festivals over the next couple of months (including Good Times, Ultra, Coachella, and more).

Special thanks to Maher Hachem and Corey Johnson.

REVIEW: Yeezy Season Arrives: The Yeezus Tour at the Palace of Auburn Hills with Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West

I have beheld his bejeweled face. Now that I have regained control of my faculties—now that my ears have stopped ringing, now that my mind has stopped reeling, now that I can raise my voice above a hoarse whisper, now that my assorted joints and tendons have recovered from four hours of protracted fist-pumping—I feel obligated to share the Yeezus experience with you.

 

First things first, though—the wait. Me, my younger brother and my dad are waiting in the lobby of the Palace, clutching the printout tickets that will be our only physical keepsakes from the concert, and people-watching is the only kinda-sorta entertaining thing to do when you’re waiting to get frisked with a metal detector. The room is a kaleidoscope—every perceivable hue of skinny-jeans is on display here, and a few exceptionally self-possessed young people have taken the effort to get completely tuxed-up. I become conscious of the fact that we’ve put more thought into our attire for this show than we have for events where you’re ostensibly “required” to get dressed up, like theatre productions and symphony concerts. We’ve also paid more for this event, too—about sixty dollars each for the cheap seats. When the doors open, we see people sprinting up the steps to get into the stadium. By comparison, we take our time; no one is really in a hurry to get to row 214. Of course, your distance from the performer doesn’t REALLY matter when you go to a concert; once you’re in the same room as a superstar, all those extraneous concerns fall away. Or so I tell myself, while we wait for Kendrick Lamar’s set to start. We settle into our seats and listen to Kendrick’s DJ spinning a bunch of 90s-era California gangsta funk, the kind of music that was probably really fun to listen to back when it was still scary but doesn’t hold up that all that well today. The house lights go dark for a hot second and everybody goes nuts, but then they turn on again with no explanation—false alarm. We watch a roadie matter-of-factly climb a rope ladder from the concrete floor up to the rafters to operate a follow spot. One of these days, I want to see a movie about the tech workers who operate behind the scenes of these massive shows—mundane actions accomplishing extravagant goals1.

 

Finally, the lights shut off for real, and the greatness begins. We see a projection of a little glossy-gritty film, showing scenes from Kendrick’s hometown of Compton—then we hear the sighing strains of “Money Trees,” and Kendrick calmly takes the stage. It’s rare that the opening act doesn’t have to say a single word to make the audience go crazy, but Kendrick’s reputation precedes him: a diminutive kid from Compton who got signed by his idol Dr. Dre and became a legend in the span of less than a year by releasing good kid, m.A.A.d. city, a concept album that tells the story of his spiritual transformation from gangbanger to guru. He followed up on the acclaim by dropping a downright vicious verse on a Big Sean song called “Control,” in which he impudently crowned himself the king of New York and called out every big-name MC in recent history, cheekily daring them to outdo him. The ensuing hype sent his public profile through the roof, but listening to his music, it’s impossible to forget that he got where he is today through talent, charisma, originality and heart. Lyrically, he’s got an uncanny knack for mixing the poetic and the pungent, the pretentious and the personal, often in the span of a few bars, like in “The Art of Peer Pressure” when he describes the experience of cruising with his high-school friends: “We on the mission for bad bitches and trouble / I hope the universe love you today / ‘cause the energy we bringing’s sure to carry away / A flock of positive activists and fill the body with hate / If it’s necessary / Bumping Jeezy’s first album, looking distracted / Speaking language only we know, you think it’s an accent.” In terms of timbre, he’s a man of many voices—he can be a cool outsider, a paranoid kid, a gruff veteran, and a bizarro-world alien with an offbeat croon that’s as mockable as it is musical. His songs range from laid-back philosophical meditations to hard-driving depictions of senseless violence, and most of them are filled to the brim with relentless waves of words, as if he’s afraid that an “ADHD-crazy” audience will lose interest in his fervent sermons if he stops to breathe.

 

Kendrick performed with a DJ as well as a guitarist, keyboardist, and drummer, but the DJ ended up carrying most of the set. There’s no guitar lick that could approximate the woozy almost-melody of “Money Trees,” no synthesizer that can emulate the sensuous strings that float through “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” and no drummer who would be able to replicate the clattering drum-machine track of “Backseat Freestyle,” so these professional and capable musicians didn’t have a whole lot to contribute to the proceedings, besides adding distorted power chords and cymbal crashes to the codas of harder-hitting joints like “m.A.A.d. city” and “Fuckin’ Problems.” It’s not that I don’t think power chords are awesome, and it’s not that Kendrick is incapable of meshing with a band2, but whenever rappers add live musicians to their shows—and they aren’t an actual BAND-band, a self-contained unit like the Roots or Kids These Days—it seems oddly forced. It’s unnecessarily self-justificatory, like the rapper is saying “Look at me! I have musicians playing so-called real instruments and slavishly imitating rock clichés at the expense of hip-hop’s unique musical language! My artistry is valid! Now will you accept me, rock cognoscenti?” There’s a certain species of music fan who believes that truly great music can only be created by musicians who actually play instruments or sing, but to me that’s a purely technical consideration that has nothing to do with the quality of the music itself. When I listen to music, I don’t care if the artist I’m listening to has been practicing guitar for forty years or if they couldn’t play a kazoo to save their life—I’m only interested in the sounds that come out of the speakers. I’m not trying to disparage musical training in any way, but to the average listener, the means are irrelevant to the ends.

 

In spite of the superstar status of both acts, this was not a double bill—Kendrick was still only the opener, as evidenced by his short half-hour set. When he pointed out near the end that all the people in the video projected behind him were his friends from Compton, it made me wish that he had a bit more time, time that could have been spent spinning stories about growing up in Compton, like a West Coast Bruce Springsteen. Still, even if he did have to wrap things up too soon, he still managed to blow the entire room away in a very compressed amount of time with his mix of irrepressible energy and intimate storytelling, flipping flows with the syncopated precision of a jazz drummer, repeating choruses and verses to make sure we caught every word. Seeing a legend is always a worthwhile experience.

 

Now we’re just waiting for the other legend. As the house lights go up and the crew prepares for Kanye’s set, I see several empty seats in the house. I know this is most likely due to a number of factors—an unexpected rescheduling due to the accidental destruction of a piece of stage apparatus, plus the fact that Kanye just dropped a defiantly cacophonous cubist-crunk album, Yeezus, which gained him a fan in the late great Lou Reed3 while alienating a good chunk of his fanbase—but it still depresses me to see a house that is less than full. Whatever, could be worse—at least he’s not like Roger Daltrey4, playing some rock-forsaken casino, valiantly asking a gaggle of dilettante Mods who clearly got old before they died to see him and feel him. What a nightmare that would be—“Coming Soon—Kanye West Performing LIVE At The Windsor! Hear The Voice Of A Generation Perform All Your Old Favorites, From ‘New Slaves’ To ‘Can’t Tell Me Nothing!’ Watch ‘The Andy Warhol Of Rap’ Vainly Struggle For Relevance While You Sip Martinis And Chat Idly With Your Fellow Middle-Aged Millennials, Or Generation Y-ers, Or Whatever Pejorative Media Nickname There Is For The Generation That Grew Up With Ipods And Helicopter Parents! GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!” Ugh.

 

Still, the disturbing emptiness of several seats does have an advantage. Using the tried-and-true “look like you know what you’re doing” method, my brother and I work our way into the inner circle of the Palace. Instead of heading straight for the first row, we take a couple of seats in the sixth row, not wanting to attract the suspicion of the security guards patrolling the arrow-shaped apron stage. Soon enough, we get kicked out of our seats by their rightful owners, so we move down a row. This earns us the ire of the people sitting behind us, who realize that we’re a couple of shameless thieves and are understandably upset that they paid two hundred bucks a pop for seats that they could have just stolen, but we don’t care what people say. After a few more minutes, we get ousted again; by process of ejection, we work our way down to the second row. We decide not to press our luck by trying to infiltrate the VIP mosh-pit zone; we rationalize this sensible decision by noting that leaning pelvis-first against a police barrier for hours on end in hopes of catching a stray globule of Ye-sweat is not the ideal way to experience a show. By this point, the centerpiece of the Yeezus show, THE MOUNTAIN, has been unveiled, and it is awesome in the original sense of the term, inspiring awe, a jagged behemoth of a stage prop. We notice it, but at the moment we’re fidgeting in our chairs hoping we don’t get removed from our seats again, or worse, hoisted out of the auditorium by some hard-faced security brute before the show even begins.

 

But we’ve finally made it. All of the lights go dark, the room is enveloped by a massive blast of bass, and a heavenly choir ushers us into the kingdom of Yeezus. Soon, a piercing guitar line blares out from the speakers, followed by a thunderous drumline, and we hear the voice of our hero: “I AM NOT HERE RIGHT NOW, I AM NOT HOME—LEAVE A MESSAGE AFTER THE LIFE, FLATLINE TONE.” A preview of a totally new Kanye song—already we’ve gotten our money’s worth in spades. Then, a blast of amoebalike noise, the same terrific din that opens Yeezus, and we’re going insane—Yeezy season approaching. Suddenly, Kanye JUMPS out of the darkness, and holy crap he is IN IT. He’s wearing a mask that looks like something a medieval disco executioner would wear and he’s STILL one of the most engaged performers I’ve ever seen, lunging and leaping, growling and screaming, scaling mountains and singing his heart out while lying flat on his back. He’s such a charismatic performer that he could do the whole show on a cardboard mattress and it would still be one of the hypest shows of all time—in fact, a setup like that might have been truer to the minimalist, ostentatiously stripped-down nature of Yeezus—but Kanye has always favored excess over understatement, so he turns the Palace into a theatre. By the end of this show, gauzy priestesses will have emerged from the mountain, carrying gilded crosses and swinging thuribles of incense. A hirsute monster will stalk the stage, like Chewbacca or Sweetums with burning red eyes, most likely representing the demonic side of Kanye’s personality. Finally, Jesus of Nazareth Himself will arrive to bless the newly unmasked and reborn Kanye (all in all, the Son of God is in and out of the venue in a minute flat. Presumably he has other things to attend to). It’s hip-hop as high drama, and I love every second of it. The combination of Kanye’s furious energy with the ridiculous grandeur of the stage show makes the show something more than a hip-hop concert—it’s something visceral and transcendent.

 

By the finale of the second song—the Cinemascope freakout that closes “New Slaves”—I’m already on the verge of tears. Not only is the energy through the roof, it’s a marathon show—close to thirty songs—and five songs in, I remember that I haven’t drank anything in the past two hours except for the tasteless and meaningless blue sugar-water from the $5 snow-cone I bought before Kendrick’s show (I held it to the sky during his performance of “Swimming Pools (Drank)” and immediately felt like an ass). I realize that I need to conserve my energy if I want to live to see this show in its entirety. Thankfully, Yeezus is a merciful god, and he knows how to structure a set—in addition to being one of the few hip-hop producers who can harness the raw energy of heavy rock, Kanye also has the finest and most affecting catalogue of melancholy-famous-person songs since Roger Waters—so there’s a few scattered moments where the audience can chill. A synthesizer player, a guitarist, and a male vocalist tastefully embellish upon the familiar backing tracks to his songs; these musicians ensure that all of Kanye’s ubiquitous tunes don’t sound too familiar. The people behind us titter derisively when snow begins to fall from the rafters for “Coldest Winter,” but me and my brother don’t care—Kanye fanboys of the first order, we are suspended in an irony-free zone. We’re the goons who hardly ever get to go to concerts, wildly pogoing, executing improvised choreography and hollering “MIDDLE AMERICA PACKED IN, CAME TO SEE ME IN MY BLACK SKIN” without a single solitary shred of self-consciousness.

 

The moment when Kanye’s power as a musician is authoritatively proven comes three-quarters into the show. One of the high priestesses has set up a contraption that’s half pulpit and half MPC; after contemplating the music-making machine for a moment, Kanye gingerly taps one of the electronic pads, sending a single piano note reverberating throughout the Palace. At this point, the entire room goes crazy for a full MINUTE, because EVERYBODY knows exactly what song that piano note is from. It’s insane—most acts have to play at least a couple of chords from their biggest hits before recognition sets in. Not with this song. Not with “Runaway.” The crown jewel of Kanye’s 2010 album My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy, “Runaway” is not the first song I’d play for someone who knows nothing about Kanye (that would be “All Falls Down,” for what it’s worth), but it’s a song that perfectly demonstrates what Kanye does well. He’s one of the few hip-hop musicians who can write genuinely moving songs without getting maudlin or losing his flair for incisive, analytical commentary. More importantly, he can get the music to match the poignancy of his words, and vice-versa.

 

After the song, the keyboardist begins to vamp with a few piano chords. Kanye cries out “CAN I TALK MY SHIT AGAIN?” and everybody screams assent, because this is the part that everybody is waiting for—the VISIONARY STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS. It’s audience banter to the umpteenth power: Kanye takes the time and effort to tell you every single thing he’s thinking about at the present time—his demonization by the media, the difference between dreamers and haters, his plans for the future. It is the most inspirational thing I’ve ever seen, and because he’s back in his native Midwest, Kanye goes all-out, ranting for almost THIRTY MINUTES. Hearing any other musician jabber on for a half-hour could potentially get boring, but I guesstimate that half of the audience considers Kanye to be a visionary genius and hangs on his every word (me and my brother included), and the other half bought tickets to the concert with the expectation of seeing a 21st-century celebrity freakshow (like the snotty kids behind us), so it’s a win-win situation.

 

Kanye’s usual spiel seems a little different this time, however. It feels bittersweet, as if he knows he can’t scream forever—“I won’t always be this wild,” he admits, “so please embrace this moment right now,” even though he says “I will not lie down” a few minutes later. He gestures to the mountain and tells us, “this is my DEMO TAPE,” and I think he’s talking about some future tour, but then he says “when I start doing movies, or when I have my own clothing stores…I might not be right here, and able to talk to y’all.” It makes sense—the guy’s got a wife and daughter, and he’s a half-decade shy of forty in a genre that is even more obsessed with youthfulness than other forms of music. Call me crazy, but I could see Kanye settling into the life of a creative executive. It would be like when Jay-Z made that bogus claim that he was retiring in order to run his record label full-time. The only scary possibility is that, unlike Jay-Z, Kanye might actually follow through with it, permanently.

 

When Jay came back from retirement, it made sense, because he never changed; he’s had the exact same persona from day one, the dignified, laconic, witty hustler of indeterminate but advanced age, the elder statesman who will be “Young Forever” because he was old before his time. He’s quite possibly the only rapper in history who managed to age gracefully as an artistic and commercial entity. By contrast, Kanye’s persona—the grown-ass kid who got blinded by the flashing lights and lost himself in a beautiful dark twisted fantasy—is all about youthful impulse, and may have a shorter shelf life, much as it pains me to say it. It’s hard to age gracefully if you’re still running around screaming “fuck you and your Hampton house.”

 

Maybe Kanye could take a page out of the Beatles’ book, running his dream company5 while still taking the time to release studio albums every so often. Still, what a crime that would be—the one truly crazy, tragic, brilliant loudmouth of our time stepping out of the spotlight once and for all. One of my favorite moments in any Kanye song comes from the outro to “Lost in the World,” when a ghostly choir screams “RUN FROM THE LIGHTS.” Now I’m hoping that Kanye doesn’t heed their advice. Kanye is often considered to be someone who is all ego, but at the present time, this is an inaccurate label; right now he is all id, a million contradictory impulses grasping for something greater. It would be a terrible waste of potential if he chose to fade into the background now, at the height of his powers.

 

Still, maybe all hope is not lost—an hour later, as the final notes of “Bound 2” play out, me and my brother are holding our hands to the sky, praising Yeezus. Kanye looks back in our direction, and an irrepressibly cheesy grin comes over his face, the first smile he’s shown all night. In spite of all his masks and shutter-shades, it seems that Kanye still feels the need to connect with an audience. He ain’t finished, he’s devoted—and we know it.

 

 

1 Kind of like this terrific documentary, “Sing Faster: The Stagehands’ Ring Cycle”

 

2 Proof that he can: this performance of “Poetic Justice”

 

3 Seriously: here’s the Godfather of Punk’s review of Yeezus

 

4 No disrespect to the Who—I’m not trying to cause a big sensation…

 

5 For the Beatles it was Apple, for Kanye it’s DONDA—the nebulously-defined tech-and-design company that Kanye hopes will one day become as big as the OTHER Apple—the Steve Jobs one.

Review: FlatbushZOMBies @ The Blind Pig

This Tuesday I listened to Flatbush Zombies perform at The Blind Pig. I believe attending a concert at The Blind Pig is a bucket-list item for students here—gotta once before you graduate or you’re missing out. It’s not the biggest or most glamorous venue. Neither of those words should ever be used to describe The Pig—sweaty and crowded are more appropriate adjectives. Nevertheless, this venue is a great spot to see talented groups on the cusp of stardom for reasonable prices (tickets usually $15 before fees).
Flatbush Zombies are a Brooklyn based group formed in 2010, consisting of MC’s Meechy Darko, Zombie Juice, and Erick Arc Elliott. New to the rap scene, Flatbush Zombies follow in the tradition of legendary New York rap group Wu-Tang Clan— minimalistic yet expressive production style, dissonant harmonies, and each MC embodies a unique persona on every track. Listeners can also appreciate the many references to hip-hop culture: frequent references to famous MC’s, particularly 2pac and Wu-Tang Clan, as well as plays on iconic lines from classic songs.
Flatbush Zombies, like many other hip-hop groups, fixate on drug use in their lyrics. It would be a mistake, however, to consider this group another run-of-the-mill group drawing on controversial subjects to gain popularity. Their lyrical content is distinctly existential, openly questioning the value of conventional morality and religion, opting instead for a morality derived from real life experience. Unlike mainstream hip-hop artists who advocate decadent, illicit drug use according to a purely hedonistic worldview, Flatbush Zombies depict drug use as an inevitable consequence of socioeconomic exclusion. Rather than glamorize drug use, they problematize the activity, prompting listeners to consider why drug use is prevalent, and how the activity is a conscious act of self-destructive escapism.
So how are the Flatbush Zombies live? They kill it. The venue was perfect for their musical style—informal setting mixed with ear-splitting acoustics complemented the minimalistic production style and the raw energy of the group. In my experience, hip-hop concerts rarely recreate the sound quality of studio recordings live, but this loss of sound quality is more than made up for when a performer brings enthusiasm and panache to the stage. Panache, pizzazz, x-factor, swag, whatever you want to call it—The Flatbush Zombies came packing heat, they lit up the stage with energy, adding a personal depth to their music which cannot be captured in the studio.
Fans of Wu-Tang Clan, Joey Bada$$, and Odd Future should definitely check out Flatbush Zombies—I think this group has a lot of potential to produce quality hip-hop music over the coming years. Fan or rap or not, definitely check out The Blind Pig, a venue that is integral to the Ann Arbor experience. The Blind Pig setting is ideal for discovering new music on an intimate level.

Listen to some Flatbush Zombies for free here (I recommend No Religion and Thug Waffle): https://soundcloud.com/flatbushzombies

Watch the Music Video that helped them gain popularity–you may notice inspiration from some of Tyler the Creator’s music videos

Flatbush Zombies–Thug Waffle

REVIEW: Tree City & The Contraband

Tree City & The Contraband

Last  Saturday night, Ann Arbor hip-hop group Tree City took the stage at The Blind Pig. First real night of spring break and what better to do than get down to some local sounds with some super funky musicians? The group performed to a crowd of happy college spring breakers freshly released from exams. The atmosphere was relaxed and comfortable but hype enough to feel the spirit of freedom.

Tree City was formed in Ann Arbor in 2005 by 3 MC’s and a DJ/MC. By day, they are known as Evan HaywoodKyle Hunter, and Jacoby Simmons. By night, as Clavius CratesGeneral Population, and DJ Cataclysmic respectively. The group originally included two others- Mike and Cheeks– but both have fled to the west coast, and then there were three. The trio supplies “eardrums with a  unique brand of hip-hop” via live shows around town (including last month’s Eighth Annual Midwest Hip-Hop Summit at The League) as well as through their recordings. The complete discography includes The TreE.P. (2007), Black Trees (2008), Say It Again (Single) (2010), and Thus Far (2010), and most recently Definement (2011). And luckily, you can hear samples of everything they’ve got to offer on their website!

The show at the Pig on Saturday opened with sounds from DJ Charles Trees, Thrills & Saul Good, Passalacqua, and Tunde Oliniran. And finally, headliner Tree City, as a combined act with The Contraband. The combo is an extension of other local artists that have been playing with Tree City as a group for a year. Musicians include UM students and grads Ben Rolston on bass, Julian Allen on drums, Yuma Yesaka on the saxophone and electronic wind instrument, Keaton Royer on the synthesizer and Michael Malis on synthesizers and keyboards.

The performance featured all original material. Definitely danceable; definitely a good time. The main act was worth the ticket, but the openers also warmed up the crowd nicely. Most original, in my opinion, was Tunde Oliniran, whose performance included some level of experimental/interpretative dance (click here to get a taste of what I’m talkin’ about).

A golden moment of the night, bass player Ben Rolston said, “was experiencing the audience interaction that is a major part of hip-hop. Evan or Kyle would start a chant and the crowd was right there with them, giving that energy back to us. Coming from mostly playing music where the audience connection is less direct its really wonderful to be a part of.”

I got to drop in on a rehearsal at The Neutral Zone a few nights prior to the show. It was exciting to be able to watch the evolution of the performance from practice to a complete work of art. Even in a trial run, without the lights and crowds, the group has really got it going on. Nothin’ like some good old fashioned local music to get down on over Spring Break.

Look out for more Tree City shows happening around town. In the meantime, get connected! Check out the Tree City: homepageFacebook pageTwitter, and Soundcloud.