Prince Language, Stretch Armstrong, Das Racist, Vockah Redu, Ital and XXXY
Saturday, July 30
Better than: Twerking (or not twerking) back alone in my apartment.
In the history of hip-hop, the name Stretch Armstrong means more than Das Racist or Vockah Redu likely ever will. However, because the former radio power broker has moved in recent years in the direction of house and electronica, I hope you’ll excuse me if I, for the sake of brevity, direct attention towards the latter two artists, an inspired pairing by the people at MoMA P.S. 1, who by booking artists like Clams Casino, Syd tha Kid and Lunice have done an excellent job in seamlessly integrating “underground” hip-hop into this year’s lineups.
Redu’s set began with a jumpsuited, eye black-wearing decoy standing on stage. The star then appeared behind us, incense coming out of a mask that completed a costume crossing Scream and Dracula with a love of all things shiny. Upon taking the stage, Redu drew out his intro, shirking that trademark New Orleans bounce for a bass-heavy slow grind with R&B vocals from the now-singing decoy. The intimate opening gave way, of course, to some thumping, mile-a-minute bass, and right on queue we got our first taste of the “Triggerman” loop that has kept NOLA bouncing for going on twenty years, a loop that in this case gave way to a reworking of the “Drag Em in the River” beat Mannie Fresh once gave to UNLV, one of Cash Money Records’ premiere pre-Hot Boys acts.
Unfortunately, most of this was lost upon an audience connected to the Crescent City by little more than the first few episodes of Treme, and accordingly, few in the crowd were moving to the music; even fewer were bouncing. To make matters worse, few (this author included) knew how to move to this music, its 100-and-whatever beats per minute offering a challenge that we just weren’t up to.
Vockah and his people, on the other hand, knew exactly what to do. With equal parts discipline and exuberance, they worked their bodies inside of these impossibly fast beats, opening them up, expanding the space between each bass hit and filling it with life, not to mention sexuality.
Even the immobile couldn’t deny how sexy this performance was. The sight of Vockah’s beautifully built body was called and raised by our decoy-turned-singer-turned-backup-dancer’s using the stage’s support column as a makeshift stripper pole, not to mention his partner-in-grind twerking at every moment and angle possible, even—get this—when he was standing on his hands.
They even ended with a gesture toward New York, backing the barely rapping rapper in a re-working of “Hate Me Now” that rid Nas’s original of all those pesky, undanceable verses. But at this point it was too little too late, and Das Racist were soon to take the stage.
At first, Heems, Dapwell and Kool A.D. seemed as if they would be leading the strangest DJ set I had ever witnessed, with an unrecognizable white dude spinning records like Gyptian’s “Hold Yuh” and Lloyd Banks’s “Start It Up” while the group rolled around the stage singing whichever the lyrics they were in the mood to sing. But “Start It Up” transitioned into “Who’s That? Brooown!” and the advertised Das Racist DJ set turned into a regular old Das Racist live performance. No one complained.
Like Vockah Redu, Das Racist engaged the crowd as much with their stage show—or at times, off-stage show—as with their music. But whereas Redu and Co. sought to wow us with their discipline, Das Racist proudly displayed a complete lack thereof. Rolling across the stage, wobbling on top of tables, rambling through the crowd—it takes work to look that sloppy, especially if you want to look good doing it.
Generally speaking, I like Das Racist. They seem clever and definitely know what they’re talking about. That being said, I like them better as a project almost in the vein of Scritti Politti, lodging their critique and dismantling rap conventions from within. And, with their last mixtape, 2010’s Sit Down, Man, they seemed to be moving in this direction, even buying beats off radio-ready producers like Boi-1da and Dame Grease.
(Going along with the format, I’m tempted to say that that’s my critical bias, but let’s not confuse “critical bias” with just being critical.)
Either way, from this perspective their performance at P.S. 1 has to be considered, to some degree, a failure, because in such a venue, leading a meta call-and-response in which you yell “Call” and the audience responds “Response” (as Heems did towards the beginning of the show) isn’t subversive. No, it comes with the territory, almost pandering. As impressive as P.S. 1’s roster of hip-hop artists might be, by its very nature the venue lies outside of the rap mainstream; it’s a place where the very idea of a rap mainstream is only of interest insofar as it can be subverted, effectively neutering much of what is interesting about the trio. And it didn’t help that they neglected to play “hahahaha jk?,” the one song that might be sharp enough to cut through these reservations. I’m hoping the show was something of a lark for the group, a chance to have fun and make a few bucks (they did a little of both, for sure), rather than a sign of things to come.
Critical bias: Back alone in my apartment, I actually have attempted twerking. Unemployment will do that to you.
Random notebook dump #1: Vockah Redu has a song that samples the line “This is my last resort” from Papa Roach’s “Last Resort.” This piece of information has to be useful to someone somewhere.
Random notebook dump #2: Back on the subject of Vockah Redu, its worth noting that, in terms of acoustics, his act wasn’t particularly well-suited for the venue either. In an open, outdoor environment, the sound of his 21st-century bounce doesn’t expand particularly well; it’s better suited for piercing the humidity of a dense, sweaty nightclub.