A year and a half ago I moved back to Raleigh from NYC. Depressed and physically worn down, I detested every minute of N.C. life. I missed pep talks about kicks with BX tastemaker and former boss King EMZ. I longed for hip-hop shows with energy. I could only reminisce about running into MLB players and I bitterly missed the cold. But the saddest thing about it was that it took me a year to realize that I can have all that down here.
Sneaks are simple. Merlin and Mooney from 4/4 Records are my main sneaker allies along with Endless Grind's infinite supply of plushy dunks. The cold--well thanks to all you SUV driving mutherfuckers--its cold as fuck down here, and you thought global warming meant it was hot! The MLB players--hum NHL could pass, but I will happily settle with the former Met, Desi Relaford, who just so happens to be bringing one of the banging hip-hop shows to Raleigh.
As odd as that may sound, it's true. On Feb. 6 at the Lincoln Theatre in Raleigh, Asamov from Desi's label, 6th Hole Records, will be performing along with internationally known hip-hop group, Strict Flow and local groups V.O.R., The Away Team, and The Dreadknox. This is a promotional show and is free until midnight, but you shouldn't dismiss it because of that fact. Asamov--who are constantly being described as "creative, unique, energetic showmen" by critics--ain't a group that has to do free shows to get crowds, and Desi isn't Shaq, so get that shit outa yer head, son.
Based in Jacksonville, Fla., Asamov consists of five members who have been together since high school: producer and emcee Willie Evans Jr., emcees J-One-da, Basic and DJ Therapy, and DJ B-Noize. Now I have heard of two turntables and a microphone--or maybe three emcees and one DJ, but six turntables and four microphones--plus an MPC, or four emcees and three DJs and an MPC, are really peculiar.
Because Asamov has so many members (especially the DJs), they are constantly being compared to Jurassic 5. But they don't really see it that way.
"The reason that we were probably described that way is the organization of our live show. Musically, we sound pretty different," says Evans. "Aside from that, Jacksonville doesn't get that many hip-hop acts coming through, so there's not much to compare local artists to. But we'll gladly accept the comparison because J5's live show is sick."
Proof positive that Jacksonville, Fla., has a hip-hop scene, their first 12-inch, "Blow Your Whistle," got mucho college radio play around the country. "Our perspective on hip hop is a little different since we grew up in an area where hip hop was not in our faces 24/7, so we're not quite as jaded on hip hop as most artists," says Evans. "Excluding Therapy, who grew up in Boston, we all grew up in Jacksonville, Fla., so it's almost like we watched hip hop grow from a distance." Evans speaks genuinely about how Asamov is different from other groups. But they are similar to a group dear to N.C.: Little Brother. Instead of the bling bling and dirty south approach that many groups reflect down here, LB and Asamov both have common influences like De La Soul, Gang Starr, Pete Rock & CL--which are also familiar to Strict Flow.
The Pittsburgh, Pa. quartet is made up of emcee's Sied and Masai and producers Chad and DJ Eric, who have been working together since high school.
"Strict Flow was developed because we were kinda like-minded on the things that we thought were dope in hip hop [so] it came together like that," says Masai. "When 'Nothing But a G Thing' was the biggest song on the planet, Pittsburgh [was] really divided, because you have people who really identify with that and people that really don't and I wasn't the person that identified with it. When I grew up I watched Rakim and people like that who I felt were true poets and lyricists," he continues. "The reality rap--I don't really like to call it gangsta rap--seemed to be so one-sided on negativity and destruction, that I really didn't find myself [identifying with it] artistically." So is it OK to say that Strict Flow is another indy group on the non-"reality rap" tip (isn't everyone)?
"I think that a lot of people who are doing independent records now just started making music when the independent [record labels] break hit. ... It's a little different for us cuz we have much more of a history based in hip hop," says Masai.
And he's right. Strict Flow is a different breed--not reality, not pack backer--but enjoyable.
"These guys are putting it down in a nasty way--reminds me of what hip hop nowadays is lacking," says New York DJ Chasekillz.
Their single "Move" from the album Without Further Ado has taken off and gotten lots of respect from the sometimes fickle hip-hop industry. It's hard to hate a song with nice "Microphone Phen" cuts. But Raleigh just might show some hate (which really=love), just ask locals V.O.R. "Raleigh is the hate capital of the world," says Slice, V.O.R. emcee. "Hell ya, can't do shit."
If V.O.R. were from PA, they would have been on the other side of Masai's divided city. V.O.R. hails from Chavis Heights and Walnut Terrace, two 'jects in Raleigh where the "sun don't shine," offend. On the "reality rap" tip, V.O.R. keeps a different pace from most hip-hop genres, but the group still gets mad kudos from the "underground" or "backpacking" community. Their song "Beyond City Lights" was the most celebrated track on the compilation, Stimulated Vol. 1. But that's old news. V.O.R. has more than two full-length albums of modern day blues in their palm, and soon enough, their work will be released on Quakin Records.
On one of V.O.R.'s releases, you may find producer Khrysis of Third Day, who will be performing on Feb. 6, with Justus League member Sean Boog, as The Away Team--which is surely made up of dope beats and rhymes. The two have proved themselves with other acts, so its gonna be exciting to see them together.
Last but not least, are newcomers to the scene, The Dreadknox Crew. These cats met up in art school and just so happened to be in the same classes as me. We found out together that computer animation wasn't our bag, but we all expanded our minds. The Dreadknox have taken a lot of time to work their music and this show is one of their first, but if you take the history of art school collabs, there are few misses and many hits.
Art school or just regular school, all of the above groups have actually been together for a minute. So just like any musical groups who know each other well, they will gel. Which is very promising for the Lincoln Theatre show. These are the types of energy-filled shows that I foolishly thought weren't available here. But ya know what would really top the evening? If Desi would flex his game. "Dingers, Dingers!"