Live: Twista and Black Moon Rap for Olde English

bcc.jpgStill standing

Twista + Black Moon Canal Room July 26, 2007

Well, it certainly looked like it was too good to be true. When the email came from the Duck Down Records mailing list that Black Moon would be doing a free RSVP-only show in New York with Scarface, it just didn't sound right, as much as I wanted to believe it. Scarface, one of my favorite rappers ever, doesn't like to fly, and as far as I can tell he doesn't enjoy New York too much either. He left the presidency of Def Jam South (after signing Ludacris), seemingly because he just didn't feel like doing it anymore. Last year, he announced his semi-retirement from rap and said that he wouldn't be putting out any more solo albums. We all know how rap retirements usually work, but more than any other big-name rapper I can think of, Scarface seems totally willing and ready to let the rap world spin on without him, which is to say that he's probably the last guy you'd expect to see performing at a promotional event for Olde English Malt Liquor in a tiny and cramped downtown Manhattan club. My tentative hopes started fading pretty soon after I joined the line outside the Canal Room last night. That line stretched all the way down the block and around the corner before the event's planned start time, and it didn't move much for more than an hour after that. This was your typical NY rap clusterfuck: a huge line of ordinary suckers in an orderly line and a small but chaotic crowd of would-be VIPs swarming the bouncers at the door. It's that old story: the VIPs inevitably get in, and the line doesn't move. After a while, I got sick of waiting and managed to talk my way in; I have no idea how many people ended up getting in after waiting in the real line, but it couldn't have been too many. Inside, Olde English was running some weird competition to determine which one of three tattoo artists (all of whom looked like they'd rather be competing at a Social Distortion show) would get to design the new O.E. can (or something), like anyone who drinks Olde English gives a damn what the can looks like. Sway from MTV wandered around the stage looking bored while a DJ played a bunch of old NY rap touchstones and one of the competing artists claimed to be "inspired by graffiti, medieval stuff, pretty much skulls and stuff." And, shockingly enough, no Scarface. Nobody onstage even mentioned the man's name all night; I should've realized there was no chance. And still we ended up getting a pretty great little rap show out of it. New York really is a great place to live.

The main reason that last night's show ended up being worth the hassle at all was, unsurprisingly enough, the Boot Camp Clik, who seem constitutionally incapable of putting on a bad show. The only BCC group on the bill last night was Black Moon, but one of the great things about going to rap shows in New York is that most of BCC is virtually guaranteed to show up every time any affiliated group has a local show. This time, we got four of the Fab Five: Buckshot, Sean Price, Rock, Tek. I love that all these guys are still around and still active. More than any other mid-90s NY rap vets, they seem to understand their place in the world. They might never be superstars, but they have a devoted cult audience, one they can keep happy through constant touring and a near-frantic album-release schedule. And every time I see them onstage, they look overjoyed to be up there. Black Moon's show is really tight and rehearsed, and their hard formalism makes perfect sense in this town. Sean Price was one of the judges in the art-contest, so he stayed seated at the side of the stage the entire time, just waiting to be activated. Rock was entirely content to play hypeman at the back of the stage for the entire set, and that's what he would've done if Sway hadn't insisted that someone give him a mic. It's always fun to see Rock and Buckshot onstage at the same time, since Rock is roughly twice Buckshot's size. (Buck passed me on the stairs last night, and he came up to about my elbow.) These guys do shows around the city constantly, and I really need to make sure I get out to see them more often, since every show inevitably leaves me feeling great. I'll be out of town this weekend and I won't be able to see them at Rock the Bells, but I can't wait to hear how they do in front of the enormous Rage/Wu-Tang crowd.

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Voice review: Joe Levy on Black Moon's Enta Da Stage

Even if Scarface had been there last night, the room would've probably thinned out a lot after Black Moon finished their set. Judging by the number of Duck Down T-shirts in the audience, this was mostly a BCC crowd, and it probably wasn't a great idea for the show's promoters to throw them onstage first. Conventional wisdom would probably say that Twista, a genuine B-list star with impeccable ground-up credibility and undeniable skills, would have more of an audience than a collective of perennial underdogs like BCC. But this is BCC's town, and so we got the bizarre spectacle of Sway and a few of the collected rap luminaries trying to convince the dwindling audience of Twista's worth: "He's been in the game a long time!" Twista also seemed completely unable to understand what this audience wanted. The Boot Camp Clik crowd, it seems, doesn't much care about his David Banner and Trick Daddy collaborations, and Twista shouldn't have been doing for-the-ladies songs in a room that included virtually no ladies. He also emerged onstage with one of the most hilariously ostentatious accessories I've ever seen: an iPod around his neck, encased in a mind-boggling number of diamonds. "It work, too," he said, scrolling down the screen. So maybe he didn't quite get that this crowd wouldn't necessarily be on board for his standard half-hour set, but it was still a pretty incredible half-hour set. Twista's sort of a one-trick pony on album; even his supposed underground classic, Adrenaline Rush, falls apart pretty quickly after the monster title-track. But it's pretty amazing to see him do his insane quick-tongue rapping in person. He opened with his verse from Memphis Bleek's "Is That Yo Bitch," doing it acapella, slowing his voice down in the middle before speeding it back up again, and I'm not sure I've ever seen a better example of fast-rap dexterity in person. Every syllable is perfectly formed, delivered exactly on-beat, a precise burst of shrapnel. And when he's doing it, he seems possessed; on "Adrenaline Rush," he looked like he was having a seizure. He may be a limited rapper, but nobody's better at doing the one thing that he does.

Voice review: Jon Caramanica on Twista's Kamikaze

I stuck around for a while to see if Scarface would miraculously emerge from the wings. No dice, but we did get quick little cameos from Craig G and Dana Dane. I still haven't gotten used to this. At damn near every New York rap show, there's a minor legend somewhere in the crowd, perfectly willing to jump up onstage and spit a verse. That's a beautiful thing.


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