Busdriver, Rob Sonic, Beans and Mike Ladd

By Third Stiles

I got a phone call from the Bear around 6:30 pm. He asked me if I wanted to come see a hip hop show. OK, it had been a while since I'd seen a good one. The line up? Busdriver from Project Blowed, some kid called Rob Sonic who's down with Def Jux, Beans, ex-Antipop, and Mike Ladd, the Majesticons guy. Yeah I remember him, he always made me think of New Kingdom, probably nothing in that, I'll have to check later on. In fact it's probably just a hair thing.

I eat a meal of toast and two eggs and stare out of the window. Before I leave I play a few records to get in the mood. I put on Pen's Oil by The Weather, featuring Busdriver. I become intrigued as to what he's going to be like in person. He sounds like Mikah 9 from Freestyle Fellowship, in the movement of his lyrics, the Coltrane-esque myriad of patterns, his voice twisting and turning; it's mesmerising actually. I pour out a small glass of wine and put on Disorientation by the Antipop Consortium: this was the first track I heard by them, many years ago. It sounded so different then. The flickering, twitching beat. The Star Trek gamma ray bass. I gulp the last of my wine, put my hat and coat on and slam the door shut, loudly, to piss off the ratchety old drunk downstairs.

I meet the Bear at the Komedia, shake hands, bump into a few kids. We drink beer, we laugh and joke. I make a tasteless remark about Condoleeza Rice, and she deserves it too. Everyone gathers around the stage.

Soon there is a quiet-looking, well-dressed kid on stage. He seems to be fiddling with something, concentrating. He could be the DJ, I suppose. Then the mild-mannered kid steps forward, grabs a microphone and speaks. OK, that voice sounds familiar. Then he lets loose. Oh yes, this is Busdriver. His eccentric, intricate flow is unmistakable. everyone has big grins on their faces. He's funny, talks to the crowd with humour, both during and in-between songs. A lot of the material was new to me – this was the stuff that he'd done for Big Dada and it's very entertaining. He can freestyle convincingly too, that always pleases the crowd. Everyone is very upbeat.

We grab more beers, still drinking and talking when Rob Sonic hits the stage. His hype man, Creature, demands our attention. They're a lot rougher than Busdriver, we can see that. This is going to be different kind of show and in many ways more traditional. They remind me of the MCs I saw in the Bronx many years ago, when I was reporting for a radio show out there. I have a soft spot for the harder edge of hip hop but I can see that it's maybe a bit much for some people in here. He's cool though, a humorous kind of character when he talks to the crowd, but his rhymes are political and the songs, at moments, evoke the stark atmosphere of Non Phixion, or at a stretch, Mobb Deep. I must remember to check his recorded material. I jot a reminder in my notebook. There is some call and response going on while I'm doing this, I don't participate.

Next up on stage is a slight figure. Bald head, straggly beard and glasses. He has a t-shirt on that reads 'angel maker'. While the DJ is setting up this wil-looking kid boldly grabs the mic and silences the room by diving straight into a rhyme, no airs and graces necessary. His style, a cappella, is deep and rhythmic. Patterns and melodies drift through and across the words, his voice powerful and precise. 'B's and 'p's popping and 's's ride like cymbals. This is Beans. Musically, he prefers a more analog style, not so many samples. It sounds modern. I'm sure one of the songs was called Rock To My Tone Structure or something.

So, Mike Ladd is at the top of the bill and up until this point there had been a keyboard and drum kit up onstage, unattended. This could be an interesting way to end the show. He steps up to the front of the stage, all confidence, and yells at the crowd – the microphone apparently extraneous. People respond to this: hip hop shows don't always feel this way. His band settle down behind him and they start. The sound is a kind of ironic, eighties type of thing, with Mike mixing his fairly hard-edged, poetry slam MC-ing style with an amusing (and I guess tongue in cheek) sleazy sung vocal. It's fun. He has charisma to spare. I drink the last of my beer, it's time to get moving.

As people disperse, I feel good and say my farewells. I shake hands with people, trade insults with the drunkards and remember to thank the Bear for bringing me to this show. I take a long walk home and the fresh air sobers me quite well. I take a seat in the darkness of the park, for a moment, and scribble down a thought I'd had earlier on. The streetlights at the other side of the park offer the faintest light. I shut my eyes for a moment, then pull my jacket up over my face and my hat down as tight as it would go. It is cold. I get up and walk briskly. On the way, I reflect on how good tonight had been, and think about that midnight-black coffee waiting for me at home.
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