Every time I check out Cervantes' I'm impressed with what they've got going on and the talent they bring in. This venue is doing great things to both support local music and bring underrepresented genres to town. So far I've seen shows there that have featured nothing but local talent and shows that featured big names in the funk scene. Thursday, I had the chance to check out another vibrant music scene that is hard to find elsewhere but seems to have found a home at Cervantes' - hip-hop shows. Cervantes' has been bringing in big names on a consistent basis, and Thursday night's show featured a great mix of both new and established names.
|Hoot + Morbidly-O-Beats|
The show began with Chicago transplants Hoot + Morbidly-O-Beats. These now Denver based producers create beats reminiscent of early hip-hop but with a modern downtempo meets electro touch. Unfortunately, due to a mix up with set times, I did not get a chance to see the majority of this duo's set. I was able to hear them lay down a couple of their beats, and Hoot finished their set with a freestyle rhyme. Without having seen most of their set I can't really say much else, so hopefully I'll get a chance to see them again soon.
Next up was AshTreJinkins, a young producer from California. AshTreJinkins has a very unique abstract experimentalist style of beat production, and he presented a flowing mix of his original beat work using a Roland SP-404 sampler. His beat production style to me was like a mix of Flying Lotus and Fat Jon - abstract enough to be intriguingly different, but familiar and laid-back enough to be accessible. I liked the bulk of his beats, although most songs clocked in around 90 seconds or so. It was like listening to a person play out their beat tape demo rather than a polished performance. I think it'd be better if he turned the best of the short beats into full length songs and/or teamed up with an MC who would pair well with AshTreJinkin's unique beat style, but his futuristic approach to hip-hop beats is definitely promising.
Next on the bill was Mr. Lif featuring DNAE Beats. Before the two shared the stage, I was very curious to see how it would play out because it seemed like a very interesting pairing. DNAE Beats came out onto stage first, doing a solo DJ set to warm up the crowd. What made me mostly curious was how Mr. Lif would match with DNAE Beats' production style - he produces bass heavy slow and low dubstep sometimes with a sort of dirty south hip-hop influence. His solo mix had a lot of heavy wompy dubstep bangers featuring some original work and dubstep remixes, like the standout mix of Eurythmic's "Sweet Dreams". After a short set, Mr. Lif came out of the shadows to join DNAE Beats and let the madness begin.
From the moment Mr. Lif grabbed the microphone, he hit the Cervantes' crowd with the energy, presence and enthusiasm of a bundle of explosives. He started with an earlier song off of his Emergency Rations EP, "Phantom", hitting the crowd immediately with his signature social/political commentary rapping style. Then, DNAE Beats started dropping a few beat tracks for Mr. Lif to freestyle over, showcasing Mr. Lif's ability to rhyme on the fly. DNAE Beats kept his cuts more along the lines of hip-hop than the dubstep he was mixing before, but his beats still had a strong electronic feel.
|Mr. Lif featuring DNAE Beats|
The combination of Mr. Lif and DNAE Beats wasn't as off the wall as I expected, but it was still outside of the norm and worked very well. For the most part, the duo played smoothly off of each other and Mr. Lif was able to deliver rhymes and be incredibly dynamic on stage at the same time. Mr. Lif was exactly the wake-up call the audience in the venue needed, because once he took command of the stage the energy level of the crowd went way up and never went down for the rest of the night. I liked how Mr. Lif kept it fun, free and loose, but still performed some of his songs as well, like closing with one of his latest projects, "Culture of Fear" off Thievery Corporation's album of the same name. Mr. Lif proved he is still a force in the hip-hop world, and I hope he keeps creating more hip-hop music with an important message.
Next up was a set from long time veteran DJ Cam. His production style involves a lot of laid-back jazz influenced turntabilist hip-hop beats, so I was expecting his DJ set to consist mostly of downtempo grooves. But DJ Cam exhibited his experience and versatility, cutting in a variety of classic hip-hop tracks to keep a steady dance party going. His ability to meld his song selection fluidly created a mix that maintained a steady, classy groove but had so much energy it never felt loungey.
DJ Cam started with some of his own classic tracks, ones from way back that I've been rocking for years; "Dieu Reconnaitra Les Siens" and "Gangsta Shit" off his 1994 debut album Underground Vibes. after a steady stream of more DJ Cam jazzy trip-hop tracks, he started to blend in classics from hip-hop greats like Gang Starr and A Tribe Called Quest. He kept the jazz theme going with other jazz influenced instrumentals and even threw in some jazz-like randomness like Marlena Shaw's "California Soul" and The Wiseguys' "Ooh La La". DJ Cam's set was everything I had hoped for - a throwback mix that sounded completely fresh - and I loved every minute of it.
Blockhead followed up with a headlining DJ set that also featured the combination of laid-back downtempo beats but raw hip-hop energy. Blockhead achieved this by mixing through an Ableton control surface, allowing him to remix and mash-up his songs live right before the audience. Rather than just playing out his massive collection of original instrumental beats on their own one after the other, he shook things up by chopping up some of his own beats and splicing in other songs, giving the feel of both a straight performance and a DJ set - the best of both worlds.
The set began with a beat Blockhead made for Aesop Rock's Daylight EP, "Forest Crunk", but then about thirty seconds into the mix Blockhead threw in a twist. He spliced his beat with vocals from Dead Prez' "Hip Hop", giving a brand new feel to both songs. It was one surprise after another, as Blockhead did other delicious crazy mashes over his beats, like sprinkling in a little of Boney M.'s "Sunny", Chris Isaak's "Wicked Game", Survivor's "Eye of the Tiger", The Beatles' "Eleanor Rigby", Simon & Garfunkel's "Sound of Silence", Ludacris' "Stand Up" and much, much more. He mixed everything so well with his own beats that he kept a steady flow throughout his whole set, despite the incredibly eclectic mix of songs he used.
Blockhead showed that his production genius stems from his ability to dig up great songs. Much of his music is audio collage work, taking bits and pieces from other songs and reconstructing them into something entirely new. His DJ set showed off just how diverse the music is he listens to, and his mixing style really appealed to someone like me who is always listening to a wide variety of songs from across genres. It may not have been a hip-hop mix in the traditional sense, but it maintained that hip-hop feel from start to finish. I was very impressed with Blockhead's set and wouldn't hesitate to see him again to hear what crazy things he'd mix up next.
Ill-Esha came on stage last to close out the night. Compared to the two sets that occurred before hers, she was a definite change of pace. She used a mixing controller to lay down some of her original and remixed songs that ranged from glitch-hop to dubstep. Her set featured a lot more high energy music compared to the more laid-back and downtempo style of the previous acts, igniting a dance party even more insane than what'd been going on before. On top of her beats, she would impressively sing into a microphone in an R&B style, something a little different and much more refreshing than just playing a straight heavy dubstep mix.
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