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Rapper, educator, and former MTV Made coach Rabbi Darkside will hit a new career milestone this Friday night as he headlines a special late-night show at the Blue Note. The famed jazz club has been slowly opening its doors to more and more hip-hop acts. After a few strong guest appearances on the historic stage over the past two years, Darkside will be getting a full 90-minute show of his own, where he’ll be joined by the “Rebel Alliance,” including musical director Lenny Reece of The Lesson. We spoke to Darkside about prepping for this show and what exactly the Rebel Alliance is.
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Do you recall the first show you ever saw at the Blue Note?
I think it was to see Roy Ayers. I’ve seen Roy Ayers seven or eight times around ’04, and I feel that was probably the first time I went to the Blue Note. There was a time when I was frequenting a lot of jazz clubs, but I’m pretty sure that was my first Blue Note experience between 2000 and 2002. I am so mind-blown every time I see that dude play. Every time I see someone display ambidexterity, doing two totally different things with both hands, whether it’s on the turntables or pianos, it blows my mind. Seeing him with four mallets in two hands and each mallet sounds different, I just remember being totally awestruck. There’s an omnipresent feeling in that venue. A lot of ghosts are in there.
You’ve been a guest performer at the Blue Note before.
Yes, I’ve been very fortunate to be invited to rock there with Shawn Randall with Symphonics and iLLspokiNN and Lex Sadler.
How did the show Friday come together?
I did a split bill at the Blue Note in May…for Baba Israel’s 40th birthday party, where his band Soul Inscribed did the headlining set. It was for his birthday and a tribute to his pops, who passed away. It seemed like a logical thing to try to push for because we killed it, the band killed it, and someone said to speak about doing our own night. A lot of bigger shows come together by taking the time to build an audience for it and smashing it every time you get an opportunity to.
This show Friday is also the first time the Rebel Alliance is backing you, correct?
This is a new arrangement on the bandstand. The Rebel Alliance is bigger than the band. It’s a bit conceptual — it’s everybody who is there. It’s the collective spirit of the musicians and the audience and the guest vocalists. The Rebel Alliance is the vibe that the collective spirit tries to create that night, because I think there’s a little sense of rebellion doubled down. We’re in this jazz venue [and] jazz music in New York City is a big part of underground culture and counterculture, especially in the Village. We’re bringing hip-hop to this jazz stage, hip-hop that is very lyrical, and very political and poetic. [It has] a sense of rebellion because of the global climate right now. Celebrating life, celebrating poetry, celebrating jazz and love and rebellion.
It seems the Blue Note has been opening their doors more and more to hip-hop; even this week, Talib Kweli is playing an early show there before yours. How different are hip-hop shows at Blue Note compared to other venues?
I think there’s a certain perception that the audience is granted, as being a hip-hop artist being invited to a jazz space says something about the musicality and artistry being presented. For me, it’s a very intimate room and it forces me to present myself. I like to get hyped onstage and move around, but there’s not a lot of room on that stage to move around, so I have to be conscientious of staying in one spot. It makes it more of an “Evening with…” type show than a full-on rap show. Incredible acoustics, and incredible stage to be looking out from. It’s nice to be able to connect with people who are sitting and enjoying a show, which is much different than a bunch of people packed like sardines in front of you.
It also occurred to me today that my first time ever on a stage as Rabbi Darkside the MC in a formal setting was part of a jazz concert when I was a sophomore in college, where I rapped with a trumpet player who asked me to write a rap song to one of his compositions. So there’s some circularity, too. Hip-hop and jazz have always been married and fed into each other for me, and fed into my musical tastes and my musicality.