By Niki D’Andrea Photos by Luke Holwerda
Better than: Living in a city where nobody will book hip-hop shows.
I love a good rock show, but one of my complaints about modern rock “concerts” is that there aren’t enough spontaneous jams. If a “surprise guest” comes out at a rock concert, it’s usually only a surprise to the audience, and the singer’s not gonna just hand the microphone to whomever jumps onstage while the band maintains some extemporaneous groove behind it all. Everything is so planned out, so meticulously calculated, that the rush of a “surprise” is almost impossible for rock.
Not so for hip-hop. What I witnessed at the KRS-One show tonight brought music back to its source – the people. The former front man of Boogie Down Productions performed for almost two hours, and capped off his set with a freestyle jam that included Phoenix’s own Grime and Cut Throat Logic, as well as a surprise (for everybody) appearance by Luckyiam of the Living Legends. Quite frankly, it was the most amazing thing I’ve ever seen at a local hip-hop show. Or any hip-hop show, period.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. The evening started with a packed house that included several hundred hip-hop fans of every color, age, and style, from the backpacker set to the urban bangers. The crowd was relatively calm and collected – until the first act, Grime, hit the stage.
Grime I regret that it took me so long to see Grime perform. I recently made a sort of “best of” list of Arizona hip-hop acts, and several readers pointed out that Grime should have been included in that list. After his performance, I’d have to say I’d agree; Grime is one of the best hip-hop MCs in the Valley. The half-Pakistani MC spits some serious lyrics with a hard political slant, referencing everybody from Obama to Osama to Saddam. He’s a revolutionary in more than one sense of the word, and his raps are filled with a fire that makes people move to his message (DJ Konradio’s militant beats help, too). When Grime raps, “You can’t fight no revolution without guns/You can’t win no revolution without love,” the entire audience becomes a sea of waving arms and raised fists. Throughout his set, Grime throws free CDs and T-shirts into the audience; by the time he’s done, he’s probably given away several dozen of each. (Read Brendan Joel Kelley’s feature story on Grime here).
Grime tore up the Brickhouse, opening for KRS-One
Watch Luke Lolwerda's slideshow from the KRS-One concert.
Grime's DJ, Konradio.
Cut Throat Logic CTL has been kicking it live in the Valley for more than ten years, and though the crew has changed (the only remaining MCs are co-founder Justus and Deonte), the vibe hasn’t: CTL is still pure, innovative energy, incorporating everything from violin samples and rock guitars to soul singing and beatbox into its sound. The group’s lyrics have always referenced Phoenix people, places, and events, and they’re representing Arizona more than ever before. Justus says that years ago, he invented a hand symbol – the “A,” basically formed by crossing two peace signs into the shape of the letter A – to represent the Arizona hip-hop scene, and tonight, he’s got the whole audience throwing up their “A’z” when he performs “Get Your A’z Up.” Justus’ partner in rhyme, Deonte, glides through smooth rhymes that provide a perfect contrast for Justus’ scorching spits (and he’s a mean beatboxer, too). Rok from local rap collective Society of Invisibles opened the set with a spoken word number, and did some more fast-paced philosophizing later in the set, before CTL closed out for KRS-One to take the stage. But everybody who’d already been onstage would be back, and then some.
Cut Throat Logic MC Justus.
And his partner in rhyme, Deonte.
To show pride in Arizona hip-hop, CTL gets the crowd to throw their "A'z" up.
KRS-One There’s not a lot to say about Kris Parker, a.k.a. KRS-One, that doesn’t involve accolades. The New York-born MC is considered a legend by his peers and a god by his students, which is one of the reasons he’s nicknamed “The Teacha.” Lyrically, KRS-One has always provided socially conscious, forward-thinking philosophies, with some great turns of phrase and wordsmithing. He harks back to the “old school” world of hip-hop, when MCs would freestyle all night and the music was stripped down to some hot beats and a turntable. With a discography that stretches back to 1987 (when Boogie Down Productions released Criminal Minded), KRS-One had a lot of material from which to pull for the show. And while he performed many fan favorites – including “Sound of Da Police,” “MCs Act Like They Don’t Know,” and “Black Cop” – the highlights of the night were the freestyle jams. First, he brought Valley dancers the Furious Styles Crew onstage, who busted out some serious battle breakdance moves behind KRS-One during “Step into a World (Rapper’s Delight).” Next, he asked the MCs who’d opened the show to join him onstage. So Justice, Deonte, and Grime all got onstage and took turns passing around the mic. KRS-One’s flows were flawless, and AZ’s MCs more than held their own. When Grime finished spitting a slick 16 bars, KRS-One took the mic and rapped about how Grime was the man and tore it up. Justus was jumping up and down and pumping his fist while Deonte freestyled a homage to The Teacha. Then, KRS-One saw Luckyiam from L.A.’s Living Legends crew by the side of the stage and laughed with surprise. Luckyiam watched some more of the freestyle, then walked onstage and joined. The wall-to-wall audience was going insane. Furious Styles Crew was still up there, as well, adding to the army that rocked the house. KRS-One told the audience more than once that he was a freestyle rapper and could stay there until 5 a.m. He got offstage around 1 a.m., but the throng of hip-hop fans would’ve gladly stayed up all night with him.
Phoenix's Furious Styles crew joined KRS-One onstage.
The legendary KRS-One
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Personal bias: I was actually onstage for part of the show, too. But not rapping. Just standing beside the DJ, bobbing my head and looking awestruck.
Random detail: Before Cut Throat Logic began performing, Justus gave away a brand new, three-foot tall, neon green bong from It’s All Goodz to one lucky (and soon to be smooty) audience member, saying, “I quit smoking, but weed is still my sponsor. You smell me?”