With two collapsible folding tables for turntables and laptops occupying most of Saluté’s crowded corner stage, there’s barely enough floorspace left for the three members of Astex to stand shoulder to shoulder. One MC or other has to keep stepping offstage to give the other two room to move, but even then there’s only space for some contained rhythmic hand gestures. They’ve only got two mics, anyway. The part of DJ tonight is played by a PowerBook running iTunes.
Considering the set’s brevity (maybe, maybe, maybe 20 minutes, but it feels like 10), “Early Exit” is an appropriate opener. The song’s start-stop beat could’ve come straight off De la Soul Is Dead. “This is a song of broken promises, false starts, and early exits/ It’s not my fault you’re not from Texas” is how the song begins on the album (last year’s ATP Vol. III) but in this setting, most of the lyrics get lost. Rel Faz, Astex’s onstage focal point, spits whatever he’s saying with such joy it gets the heads nodding anyway. He’s grinning between lines like a second-grader describing a school field trip, anticipating the beat, rushing through each sentence ’cause he can’t wait to tell you the next one. Astex’s hyper-verbal stream-of-consciousness style seems to stem directly from this attitude. The other MCs, Gabriel “Itzcoatl” Luera and Boaz Owen, carry equal shares of the considerable lyrical load (the typical Astex tune averages less than three minutes but says more in that space than an entire Gucci Mane mixtape), but their faces are inscrutable.
“Rainy Daze” starts with an electronic drumbeat that sounds like a keyboard demo track, but anything more would distract from the burst-dam lyrical flow; each verse sounds like an audio book played in double time. At the first break a stark bass riff slows the beat but the words maintain their momentum. The dominant theme is making art from adversity — “Everyone’s got their own cross to bear/ Mine gives me inspiration to share … Everybody knows it takes tragedy to create a masterpiece” — but that’s like saying Moby Dick’s a book about fishing. Analyzing these lyrics on the fly is like reading billboards from a drag racer. I’ve been listening to the album for months, and I’m still catching new lines every time through.
One message worth a slow-motion instant replay comes from “Dying Art,” a song Rel dedicates to the people of Arizona and Governor Jan Brewer. “Fuck Jan Brewer!” shouts someone in the audience, but the song’s more subtle: “Este es pa mi gente/ Es tiempo/ Pa venir pa frente/ Unido por sangre diferente.” Translation: “This is for my people/ It’s time/ to come up front/ united by different blood.”
This is the part of the review where I’d say Astex is one of the most exciting groups working in San Antonio today, and blah, blah, blah, but I’ll leave that to someone who knows firsthand what making quality hip-hop entails. OBX (who should need no introduction if you’re paying attention at all), standing a few feet from the stage, puts it better: “Astex are dope as shit,” he says. “We need more people like this in San Antonio.”
Sat, May 15
2801 N. St. Mary’s