Last Night: Chali 2na, Gift of Gab, & Mr. Lif at the Independent
Chali 2na, Gift of Gab, & Mr. Lif, hosted by Lyrics Born
November 7, 2009
Better Than: This year's VH1 Hip-Hop Honors
Indie hip-hop icons still pack them in up in the Bay Area. On Saturday night, the Independent was dominated by indie artists who have spent more than 15 years building their audiences and fanbases, and thus know how to give the people what they want. As a result, the sold out capacity-crowd of 500, who showed up and early and cheered often, left happy.
People were feeling a little restless by the time Boston's Mr. Lif took to the stage (the show started about 75 minutes late), but he quickly satisfied with a pair of new, unreleased tracks. Lif brought the rawest energy of the night. His set was enhanced by an interactive video-display broadcasting images, controlled by on-stage collaborating rapper/producer Willie Evans Jr. Towards the end of the set, Evans' laptop experienced a few hiccups, causing the pair to improvise with an impromptu freestyle session.
Next to the stage was Gift of Gab, who proclaimed, "We're going to go a little bit to the left here, maybe a too far to the left," and lived up to that vow. What Gab lacked in dynamic stage-presence, he made up for in dazzling displays of tongue-twisting wordplay. He sandwiched his set with "Alphabet Aerobics" and "Chemical Calisthenics," both featuring intricate flows that rapidly increased in speed as the song progressed. In between, Gab performed such crowd favorites as "Deception" and "Blazing Arrow" as well as tracks his new sophomore solo album, Escape 2 Mars. Gab later brought Lyrics Born and Lateef, the third MC in Quannum's crew, to the stage for the night's second freestyle session.
Chali 2nua rounded out the evening. Best known as a member of Jurassic Five and Ozomatli, he performed with the backing of live band, supporting his recently released solo album, Fish Out of Water. A proven road warrior, 2na's strong suit on stage is his ability to connect with members of the audience. "I don't want y'all to think of me as just a robot from Jurassic Five," he said in earnest, "I'm a human being too." The strongest parts of his set were the heartfelt "Love's Gonna Getcha," a high energy romp through "Guns Up," and performances of J5 favorites "Freedom," "What's Golden," and "Quality Control," the later featuring the keyboardist singing a chorus of the other J5 (the Jackson Five's) "One More Chance."
All three acts found a balance between performing the tracks they're best known for, while hyping their new material. They also proved that years of staying loyal to your fans can really pay off.
Random Detail: The normally-dreadlocked Mr. Lif was sporting a close-cropped Caesar cut. He'd sported his infamously large dreadlocks for 14 years.
By the way: While Chali 2na might not be a robot, he is very good at doing The Robot. And singing like Rick James.