Tag: Hip-Hop

Bambu’s a Party Worker, but Conner’s a Piece of Work.

Bambu and his Party Worker album landed on stage at the Crocodile last week. If Bambu and DJ Phatrick had produced this album in 1950 (highly unlikely since the hip-hop scene in 1950 was limited to the guys who produced Refer Madness) they certainly would have been called before Senator Joe “I see a commie” McCarthy (R Wisc.) and his House on un-American Affairs Committee. (Wisconsin has a history of electing idiots to office, for example, the current republican governor, Scott Walker. A diet of cheese and Packer football does have side effects.) Party Worker is an ambitious thematic album set at an organizational meeting where each guest rapper represents a different member of the working class, in other words, communism. (At least this is how Faux News would view the show, and since I am currently slipping closer and closer to their primary demographic–old, white male–I thought I should start using the proper verbiage.)

Bambu was in Seattle to perform and sell albums (more capitalist than communist, but a man has to eat), and I was in Seattle on a school night because I am a bad parent and my daughter (Emma) has spent the last six weeks of my son’s chemotherapy being largely ignored, so when she asked to see Bambu’s show I could not refuse. (Bad parenting is full of sentences that end with…I could not refuse.)

The Crocodile is a Seattle landmark club in Belltown where everyone who is anyone eventually performs, so Emma and I have been there several times. We had a plan, and it was a good plan: eat dinner, get tickets, hang out at the dirty coffee shop, see the show. The plan got derailed right away as I spent 40 minutes driving around in circles looking for a place to park. Belltown is a popular place and unlike Capitol Hill where everyone rides a fixed gear bike, people in Belltown drive cars and so by the time we got to the restaurant I was a little grumpy.

As we entered the restaurant we were confronted with a question from the hostess, “Are you here for the show, the thing in the back, or dinner?” We were there for dinner. “Well sit where you like then.” Emma and I took a booth against one of the walls and within 30 seconds I was ready to leave. There was a small group of people testing a sound system by saying, “Test, test, test…” while walking up to the speakers and getting Jimi Hendrix levels of feedback. It was annoying, but not as annoying as the group of people who were arriving for karaoke (aka ‘the show’). There are two types of karaoke, regular drunk karaoke where everyone knows they suck, and then there is the type of karaoke where people show up in costumes and think they are the next Susan Boyle. People were showing up in costumes. I turned to Emma and said, “If these people start to sing, I’m leaving. I don’t care if we haven’t eaten yet.” One guy, in a full length Liberace jacket, was walking around the restaurant randomly testing how loud he could sing high notes, I don’t know if he was trying to psych out his karaoke opponents, but I do know that people who “warm up” for karaoke have an emptiness in their hearts only matched by the emptiness in their heads.

Liberace continued to roam around looking for attention, but what started to interest me was “the thing in the back.” Youngish guys wearing backpacks kept coming into the restaurant and telling the hostess they were here for the thing in the back. They would walk by “the show,” past the bar, and through a red curtain covering a doorway. These guys fit the profile. There was a disaffected, lost quality to all of them; outsiders not accepted by society and forced to meet secretly in a Slavic Belltown restaurant. Had I fallen into a secret meeting place for terrorist cells? Were these guys plotting? Were they falsifying passports? Should I call the FBI? These questions lingered until my food arrived and then I forgot about the burgeoning terrorist plots of losers in the back of the Slavic restaurant.

The food was good, the bill came, and we escaped the restaurant before the singing officially started. As Emma and I walked around the corner, I saw two of the karaoke singers hiding in a doorway smoking a joint like they were Miles Davis preparing for a concert. Their attempt to hide made it obvious that they were doing something naughty and when I looked to see what other nefarious activities could be taking place in the vicinity, I saw what the “thing in the back” was. A curtain was drawn back just far enough for me to see the disaffected group of young men huddled together. They weren’t plotting, they weren’t falsifying passports, they were playing video games.

We arrived at the Crocodile, got our tickets, and were let into the venue. This was an all ages show, so anyone under 21 had to stand in an area the size of an elevator to the right of the stage and the rest of us were free to wander to the bar and drink beer from plastic cups. I found a dark corner with a seat and did what I do at concerts, waited and watched. As 10 PM approached, the crowd grew and my personal space started to shrink. This is when Conner came bee-bopping into my life. Conner was a little guy, we were never formally introduced, but because of who Conner is everyone within ten feet of Conner got to know him. Conner was wacked out of his gourd. He was smoking something from one of those vapor pen devices that caused him to have an excess of energy; whatever he was smoking caused his buddy to vomit in a nearby trashcan. Conner didn’t vomit though. Conner jumped around, bumped into people’s drinks, and generally annoyed everyone. I don’t know Conner, but I am going to guess a few things about Conner: 1. He rides a motorcycle, 2. He carries his motorcycle helmet wherever he goes so people know he rides a motorcycle, 3. Conner spent a good part of his high school years getting stuffed in lockers. At one point, Conner sat next to me. He had a girly drink from the bar. How do I know it was a girly drink? It had a straw and ice. After Conner finished sipping his drink, he began taking the ice cubes and tossing them at people’s legs in the crowd. This gave Conner such a charge of joy, he looked over at me for approval, I gave Conner the “get off my lawn” old man look, and he got up and ran away. Of course, Conner spilled the remains of his drink and ice on the bench before leaving so the next four people who sat there got wet pants.

While Conner focused on the “party” portion of Party Worker, Bambu took the stage and left no doubt that his allegiances were with the workers attending his show. His lyrics bend towards issues of social justice and equality, and his performance was a celebration of his working class roots. The set began with tracks from the Party Worker album which I am certain won’t be played at the Mitt Romney for President 2016 rallies. Well, to be honest, there probably won’t be any Party Worker tracks played at any of the democrat rallies either, unless Elizabeth Warren wants to attract the hip hop demographic to her campaign.

My favorite part of the night was when Bambu was joined by DJ Nphared and Prometheus Brown on stage. For those of you not as hip as me, this trio is known as The Bar. I saw The Bar at my first hip hop concert, so when they began their song Rashida Jones it was like a little journey down memory lane for me. Bambu and Prometheus Brown have mastered the art of emcee stage presence. There are some standard movements for all emcees: pointing with non-mic hand, non-mic hand raised above the head, march across the stage to the left or right non-mic hand pointing at crowd, and then there is the jump straight up and down while bouncing the non-mic hand like you are patting a dog on the head. The more difficult mc moves are combinations of the above moves, but also involve spins and Janet Jackson Rhythm Nation chopping motions with the non-mic hand. (Don’t try this at home if you are too white, or uncoordinated, you might put an eye out.) I have begun to believe that 1/3 of the show is stage presence and both Bambu and Prometheus Brown have that 1/3 down.

After the set by The Bar, another emcee came out, but she did not want to be known as a lady emcee, she just wanted to be known as an emcee, so I won’t assign a gender to her. She also said that everyone should love each other for who they are and I was feeling all warm inside…then she began to rap. Let me just say, her message to the audience and her rap lyrics didn’t seem to be from the same person. Maybe this was a paradox, or irony, or maybe even a juxtopositioning, to hyperbolize her situation, but her set confused me. I’m not saying she didn’t have energy and a message, I’m just saying that I am probably not her target audience. My daughter liked her, so there you go.

Bambu closed the show by telling us to go out and change the world. Don’t wait for the change to drop by and invite you over. Go out, organize, and change things.

Taking my 17 year-old daughter to a hip hop concert on a school night might not get me the Redbook Father of the Year Award, but when I think about what I want my daughter to know about the world, I am happy that she has these experiences. True learning isn’t something that takes place only in a classroom, it isn’t something that can be boiled down to a few stupid test questions, it isn’t something that can be learned through reading, it is something that must be experienced.

Too Old For Hip-Hop? Father’s Day in Seattle

How did I turn into a Rap/Hip-Hop aficionado? I had kids. Technically my wife had the kids, I just…well I will assume you know how that happened. If not, there are better websites to learn about such things than this one. (If you can’t figure that out I don’t want you procreating anyway.)

My kids have taught me many things over time: how to repair car bumpers with duct tape, how to use YouTube for any type of home repair, and they have introduced me the Seattle Rap scene. I have written several times about Macklemore (who is no longer a Seattle secret) and I have attended a few other Rap concerts because I was a bit paranoid that my kids were going to end up in a knife fight between rival gangs like the Sharks and the Jets, but so far our concerts have all been pretty tame events compared to what I expected. So this year for Father’s Day my daughter decided that it would be great for me to celebrate by taking her and a friend to see  Shelton Harris. Shelton Harris is not a family friend, he is one of the multitude of Seattle rap artists hoping to ride alongside the wave created by Macklemore. So on Sunday, when I traditionally celebrate Father’s Day by  sitting on the couch, watching the US Open and falling asleep, I was on my way to Seattle to attend a rap concert at The Crocodile. The Crocodile is one of Seattle’s most famous clubs and at one time was the center of the universe when Nirvana and Pearl Jam ruled the world with their flannel shirts and unwashed hair.

The month's line-up...also known people I did not know made a living off of music.

The month’s line-up…also known people I did not know made a living off of music.

These days the Crocodile is hosting groups who fall into the categories of “groups that I did not know existed” and Queensryche. The world has many ways of letting you know that your time is numbered here on Planet Earth (gray hair, aches in parts of your body that have previously been unknown, and the sudden discovery that all the bands you would have killed to see in the 1980s are suddenly playing at a local casino) but pop culture has the cruelest way of informing you that the world has moved on and it is time to get rid of your acid-washed jeans.

The Crocodile is in Bell Town (just north of the city center and ferry docks) and so we had a pleasant stroll through the downtown area. It was a lovely day and it was a nice walk. As we got closer to the venue we had what I later described as a Sesame Street moment. Remember the song “One of these things is not like the Other” from Sesame Street? Well, we were walking by four homeless people and three of them fit my stereotype of homeless people but the fourth guy was wearing a Tommy Bahama shirt tucked into his Docker’s shorts and had on Sperry Topsiders. I know Bell Town is a bit of trendy area but it isn’t often I see 50 year-old preppy dudes sitting on the street. This preppy guy was very friendly (drunk) and said, “How’s your day going?” I said it was just dandy and moved on. Ten feet later we walked by a Tattoo parlor and a young lady leaned out the doorway and shouted, “They’re ready for you, Dad.” The preppy/homeless guy got up off the street and said goodbye to his new friends and headed into the shop. What a great way to spend Father’s Day: drunk and getting a tattoo.

About a block later I made a friend myself. We crossed the street and were waiting for the light to change when I was approached by a ginger haired young man who was raising his fist toward me. I wasn’t sure if I was about to be slow-motion assaulted by a drunk leprechaun or what was going on. So I politely asked, “What’s going on here?”  He said, “I’m not sure.” So I gave him a fist bump. When life gives you gifts like that what else can you do but fist bump a drunk leprechaun.

We arrived at the Crocodile about thirty minutes before the venue was scheduled to open so we could stand in a very short line and so I could overhear the knuckleheads in the front of the line talk about how much pot they have smoked over the course of their short lives. Maybe I shouldn’t eavesdrop on people standing in a concert line, but what else is there to do when waiting in a line? That’s right people, when I am not actively doing something I am pulling an NSA and listening in on your most private conversations. As 7PM approached we could hear the music being bumped inside the club and just before 7 Grynch walked by. How did I know it was Grynch? My daughter’s friend yelled out, “Hey it’s Grynch.” At which point I looked for a green guy with a little heart, but instead I saw a dude with a shaved head who looked more like a computer programmer than a Seattle rapper. After the Grynch sighting we were allowed in the venue and I put in my ear plugs. I don’t wear ear plugs because I don’t like the music, I wear them because I value my hearing and some day when I am 80 I want to be able to hear. People do think you are weird when you wear ear plugs to a concert, but I got out of 8th grade a long time ago and I no longer care if people think I look weird.

The Crocodile was a little cleaner than I expected and people were very friendly. One of the bouncers told me that I could

The upstairs bar.

The upstairs bar.

head upstairs where I could get a drink and be able “to see everything” from there. He was either indicating that he knew I was a parent who wanted to make sure to keep an eye on his kid or that there was a mystical realm where all knowledge was stored just 20 feet above the stage. I wasn’t any smarter when I got upstairs and just to prove how dumb I was I ordered a Coke from the bar when there was a Coke machine 10 inches from me.

The next hour was painful, I was able to sit down and sip my Coke, but the DJ was doing everything to make me wish I was watching Phil Mickelson choke away another US Open. First off, I am certain that the DJ was competent at what he was doing, but when the crowd starts checking their email while you are trying to fire up the crowd it is time to come up with a new strategy. Play something that doesn’t cause the crowd to look like commuters waiting for a train (Hanson’s Mmm Bop might work). The music was loud enough to shake my growing adipose layer but that was the only moving my body was even tempted to do. I found myself longing for the days of DJ Gillian from the group Brothers From Another. That guy really confused me, but at least he knew what his job was: get the crowd fired up and wearing clothing so trendy that people my age will make fun of you. The DJ at the Crocodile was wearing a Mariners jersey and standing behind his turntables and computers playing song after song hoping that the crowd would suddenly decide to pay attention.

During the day he models, but at night he becomes...Rapper Mike Champoix.

During the day he models, but at night he becomes…Rapper Mike Champoux.

Finally an Abercrombie and Fitch model took over the stage and the show really got underway. Rapper Mike Champoux came out, grabbed his crotch 12,000 times, and turned the crowd from a disinterested group of blue faced Facebook updaters into a swirling mass of arms being waved in the air. There was only one thing I didn’t like about Mr. Champoux’s performance and that was his video crew recording the performance on an iPad. Of the multitude of ways of recording performances these days, I would put using an iPad right next to using a Super 8 camera. Video crews (even if it is a single person) should be inconspicuous. When you walk around the stage wearing a backpack and carrying a video monitor to record something, you are not inconspicuous.

Anyway, Mr. Champoux put on a good show, I would describe his rapping style as smoothish or flowy, which in my book is good. He had a couple guests come on stage with him: Grynch and a singer who’s name escaped me because I was wearing ear plugs. His set was entertaining and he got bonus points for introducing his parents, thanking them for their support, and wishing his dad a happy Father’s Day.

Kung Foo Grip isn't just for GI Joe anymore.

Kung Foo Grip isn’t just for GI Joe anymore.

Up next was Kung Foo Grip. They were not smoothish or flowy. They were a little more on the loud and yelly spectrum. The two rappers sported some sweet hairdos and I think if they ever want to break into the big time the DJ needs to take one for the team and get a Jheri Curl so the group’s hairdos will span the spectrum, but maybe I am wrong. The crowd did seem to enjoy the performance even though there were a couple times the DJ with the afro wanted the crowd to be quiet and listen to the words. I’m all for spoken word poetry, but I think there are better spots  for that than a Hip-Hop concert. I’m sure there are groups of hipsters with ironic mustaches at some local coffee shop in Bell Town who would love to be quiet and listen to the words, but a group of 150 kids who are attending a concert may not be the best group for “listening to the words.”

Kung Foo Grip finished their set and released their grasp of the stage around 10PM. This is when I began to worry about the ferry system of Washington State. I knew there was a ferry at 11:15 and then one at 12:45. If I didn’t have to be at work at 7:30 in the morning these thoughts would not have entered my mind, but since the DJ spent an hour playing his record collection we were now forced with a decision that no one wants to make: leave during the headlining act, or stay for the whole thing and get home around 3AM. I texted my daughter that if we wanted to catch the 11:15 ferry we would have to leave at 10:50 and then race walk to catch it.

IMG_0650

Shelton Harris is not blue. I am just not a great photographer.

Shelton Harris took the stage at around 10:20 and I could instantly tell why people say he might be the next big performer from Seattle, because he is pretty good at the old rapping thing. He does appear to be pretty young and I could find out how old he is by doing an ounce of research, but I am not going to do that, I will just say that he looked to be somewhere between the ages of 17-22. He has a great stage confidence for someone that young. He pumped up the crowd, joked around a bit, and then gave out great energy while performing. His DJ (Tyler Dopps) had tight beats (I don’t know what that means, but it was said on the drive home so I assume it is true) and his lyrical meter was solid. (I really dislike it when a rapper forces words to fit the meter. Find a better word, or a different word, or stop rapping.)

Unfortunately we had to leave about halfway through Shelton’s set, and it really was unfortunate because the ferry was about 15 minutes late and we could have stayed longer if we had known the ferry was behind schedule. It was also disappointing because I really do think this young man is on his way up. There are always bumps in the road for performers and the best people don’t always have the most success, but Shelton Harris does seem to have that je ne sais quoi that it takes to make it.

A Parent Guide for Rap Concerts

The view from the Loser Seats.

Now that I am a hip, trendsetting parent who takes their kids to rap concerts I thought I would toss out some parenting tips for those of you taking your kids to a rap concert.

  1. Leave the Kindle at home. I know you need to read the third book of Fifty Shades of Grey, but reading while at a rap concert is just wrong. Updating your Facebook page on your smart phone during the concert is okay. In fact, some people will get a real hoot from it if you post pictures or make snarky comments about your experiences while at the concert, but a Kindle? You might as well be wearing a cape and a wizard hat and carrying around a copy of one of the Harry Potter books. Nothing says “Nerd” like a Kindle at a rap concert.
  2. Do not try to dance at any point. Don’t do it. You might think you are moving in a fluid and striking way, but you are not. You are no longer able to move your hips in a fashion that will entice the opposite sex, and if you could, your kids would just think that is gross. So, stand if you must, but realize there are lots of people around you with smart phones who could record your gyrations and post them on YouTube. Nothing will lose you more cool points with your kids than showing up as the next viral video called, “Momma shakes her money-maker.” Clapping along with the song is just fine, but make sure you can keep a beat if you are going to clap.
  3. Once in the concert venue, don’t force your kids to hold your hand or sit next to you. If they want to do that fine, but let them go. They may get a little bruised or squashed if they decide to smash into the ball of human flesh in front of the stage, but most kids like this. Chaperone a high school dance and you will understand that being smashed into a big ball of human flesh is what kids do today. While we parents were mastering the finer dance moves like swinging your arms and hopping like a pogo stick, today’s kids are mastering the pressing of the flesh. Sure it turns them into a sweaty mess, but remember being a teenager? There are very few times when you are allowed to let loose the sweaty mess, so relax and let them get sweaty.
  4. Don’t be shocked if you hear a couple potty words. I saw one parent look like he was slapped in the face when one of the performers said a bad word. You are at a rap concert not at holy mass at the Vatican. Potty language and rap go together like peanut butter and jelly, like Starsky and Hutch, like the Northwest and Rain…you are going to hear some offensive language at a rap concert. Get over it and move on with your life. If you kid has ears and can breathe, he/she will have heard those words before and it won’t kill them. I would bet they even have said a few of those words.
  5. Don’t try to ask too many questions at the concert. Your kid is there to enjoy the concert not to play tour guide for you. I try to save all of my questions for the ride home. For example here were my questions on the ride home Friday night: 1. What was that DeeOne dude wearing on his head? From where I was sitting it looked like a gray traffic cone. 2.Can you be a one-man army if you have a DJ? Doesn’t that make you a two-man army? 3. Did you see how tall that lady was who sang that one song? Do you think she was seven feet tall?  I didn’t think she really sang that song? Isn’t she auto-tuned? 4. Do you think Macklemore has really read Outliers? 5. What was the deal with the little guy wearing the Where’s Waldo tank top? What was his name? Buffalo what?
  6. Don’t dress up for the concert. You are not going to see Itzhak Pearlman at Benaroya Hall. Leave the fancy clothing at home. Dress for comfort, you are not going to impress anyone anyway. If you are one of those people who worry about being dressed too informally then wear black. Black pants, black shirt, black shoes. Black covers many sins and it will make you look slimmer.
  7. Listen to a little of the music before going to the concert. You can even watch some videos on the Internets. You might actually find a few songs that you like. I can say that my attitude about rap music changed a great deal once I started to listen to it again. I had given up on rap once it turned into Big Pants MCHammer vs Gangster, but today’s hip-hop has a multitude of messages and styles. So even old folks like you and me can find someone out there that is pretty fly.
  8. Finally, sit in the Loser Seats. If the concert promoter provides seats way in the back, those seats are there for you. That’s right, you are no longer cool, or hip, or really very important. Once you bought those tickets your importance diminished a great deal. Accept it and realize that you can relax with the other losers away from the majority of the noise.
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