San Antonio MC the One (myspace.com/the01) is checking the mic at Saluté International, and he looks a little nervous. “Don’t be scared,” hollers one encouraging lady in the audience, but it’s really a false start. The One’s CD won’t read, and now it’s stuck in the player. “I’m going to wait my turn,” the One shrugs and makes way for the next act, but he never returns to the stage. (Check out “Torn Flower” anyway.)
This won’t be the night’s only technical problem — all the artists tonight are rapping over their own CDs, never an ideal situation, and the sound system, forced to reconcile Saluté’s close quarters with its standing-room-only crowd, pops and shrieks, rendering some lyrics unintelligible — but it’s the only difficulty that flat out prevents a performer from taking the stage. Despite the limitations, the evening’s other artists manage to convey ideas even when their words are obscured.
Openers Pokell (San Antonio) and Stefeeze (New Orleans), for example, make a few punchlines heard: Pokell’s threat to “piss rain and shit thunder” makes me laugh, and kiss-off line “You ain’t
Beyoncé/ You ain’t got a ring/ You ain’t no one’s fiancée” gets some appreciative “oh”s from the audience. More impressive, though, is their interplay on “Connection,” a quick-moving duet promising a return to the “essence of rap.” When the CD cuts out, Pokell and Stefeeze prove their chops a capella. Check it out at myspace.com/pokell.
Event organizer Yavess takes the stage afterward to work the crowd. “Y’all better be excited to be here,” she says. Then she launches into some spoken-word poetry, stopping midway through to chide the chatty crowd. “Pay attention for a minute,” she says. “Show some respect. San Antonio’s got too many haters up in here, and this shit is not easy!”
Some acts have an easier time commanding the audience’s attention than others. R&B duo Constance, for instance, has such a hard time making their voices heard over the crowd that I’ll have to check out their blend of smooth vocals and futuristic beats (the robotic bleepery backing one track was more Daft Punk than Destiny’s Child) before I can make a judgment call, but you can watch a video of their song “Music” here: youtube.com/watch?v=vQxy14TcULg.
Hip-hop conglomerate Grindstone Entertainment — a catch-all affiliated with at least two other collectives, Young Dawg Entertainment and Lay It Down Records — fares better, sharing two mics between about six dudes and a lady (Lay It Down’s Lady Peaches to be specific). Where Pokell and Stefeeze seem to take a surprising amount of inspiration from the East Coast’s dense traffic-jam flow, Grindstone incorporates more Southern embellishments, like chopped-and-screwed beats and hefty helpings of drawl. That’s an inexcusably reductive description, of course: Considering Grindstone’s set features a new MC on practically every song and nearly as many stylistic change-ups, from aggressive battle tracks to a would-be club-banger demanding to “see you drop it low,” they’re really worthy of their own write-up. Start at myspace.com/grindstoneentertainment2 and figure it out for yourself.
The same goes for Melodic Undertone Production Group (myspace.com/melodicundertone), which includes MCs Buffalo Bill, Freeze, Long the Vietnamese MC, and Sleazy B. Eazy. “Lonely Day” matches Long’s Vietnamese verses to a chipmunked pop-punk hook for a sound that’s different if nothing else. Bill and Freeze — as a duo they’re called Cypher Puritan — form a coherent mission statement with “For the Music,” but Sleazy’s clearly the fan favorite. Cries of “Mutha fucka B. Eazy,” the repeated earworm from his theme song, can be heard throughout the audience long before he actually takes the stage. Sleazy’s voice is deep and hard, but he reassures us, “I ain’t in the hurt nobody business, I’m just here to put a hurt on your women.” See if he lives up to his promise at myspace.com/sleazymuthafuckin.
After Sleazy’s set, Roc Solid’s (myspace.com/rocsolidthedon) profanity-free style might’ve been more of a shock if Roc weren’t the one screaming B. Eazy’s calling card the loudest. A song taking the form of an antimaterialistic letter written from Ben Franklin’s jaded viewpoint is more clever than catchy, mixing preachy lines (“stop using my name for the root of all evil”) with factoids about Franklin’s life, School House Rock-style. But “Light Years,” a collaboration with D Traxx (myspace.com/dtraxx210tx) doesn’t seem so far off the mark when the two claim the title of “hottest dude on the block right now.” Check it out. Check them all out. — Jeremy Martin