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Documenting the Oakland cultural renaissance


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Hiero Day 2015: Bay Area Hip Hop’s High Holy Day Was Hot AF

Sep 07 2015 084

An excited Hiero Day crowd

The Bay Area’s Indian Summer was in full swing, as temperatures hit a high of 90 degrees for Monday’s Hiero Day. Now in its fourth year, the annual Labor Day hip-hop extravaganza was both a celebration of an indie hip-hop aesthetic, and the ongoing legacy of the Hieroglyphics, the veteran Oakland crew the event is named for. To a certain extent, the two are interchangeable; over the past 20-plus years, Hiero have branded themselves as indie hip-hop incarnate – when you see their “third eye” logo, it brings to mind not only dedication to the art of rhyming and sub-mainstream stylistic sensibilities, but a cultural lifestyle which doesn’t revolve around materialist bling nor sensationalized violence and misogyny.

With Hiero Day, the collective’s members not only pay tribute to themselves and their hard-to-define-but-tangible impact over the decades, but also to like-minded groups with similar sensibilities – many of them either from the Bay or Southern California. It’s a smart piece of marketing, and one that ensures Hiero’s freshness and relevancy, since every Hiero Day offers an opportunity to connect with younger audience, some of whom were not yet born when the crew made its first appearance, on “Burnt,” the flip side of Del’s “Sleeping On My Couch” single back in 1991.

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Hiero Day furthers the sense of being and belonging so important to a relatively isolated region like the Bay. It’s a day when hip-hop truly lives, one that not only validates artists who may be underrepresented through traditional channels like commercial radio, but also validates fans who follow the culture, and not the trends.

What was especially cool about this year’s lineup was the proliferation of indie hip-hop reunions by onetime local favorites: Cali Agents, Foreign Legion, Crown City Rockers, the Luniz, and Native Guns all made appearances, reminding listeners why the late 90s and 2000s were about more than hyphy for the Bay’s hip-hop scene. Joining them were still-active Bay standard-bearers The Coup, Zion-I, and Martin Luther, and SoCal legends the Alkaholiks, and Compton’s Most Wanted (featuring MC Eiht). All in all, there were almost 50 live acts and DJs, not including guest appearances and cameos (from Deuce Eclipse, Dru Down, Kimiko Joy, King Tee, Kev Choice and others).

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Deuce Eclipse and Zumbi Zoom of Zion-I

With short live sets, the actual performances took a bit of a backseat to the magnitude of the event itself: there were moments of elevation here and there, but mostly it was about being there, holding space and being surrounded by folks who shared the same cultural tastes as you – whether you were 18 or 38. The population density was not as thick as the previous year, when admission was free (this year’s advance tickets were $19.93), but that led to a slightly less-congested experience overall. It says something about Hiero Day’s audience that in an era where big festivals with high ticket prices and/or only a handful of rap or urban acts often don’t turn out truly diverse demographics, the folks who showed up Monday ran completely counter to this trend. The many-hued, intergenerational, and reasonably gender-balanced crowd represented the oft-mythologized, rarely realized, American “melting pot.”

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Silk-E of the Coup

Strolling through the festival grounds, one could dip into any of three stages to catch live acts or DJs, witness b-boy ciphers, turf dancers and live graffiti painting, browse wares ranging from vape pens to t-shirts to food trucks, or espy a shady spot for a brief respite from the sweltering heat. Backstage, the mood—enhanced by Elation hemp-flavored vodka and numerous spliffs being passed around—was one of peacefulness and joy, two words rarely heard in conjunction with hip-hop these days. Despite the heat, everyone was chill. The wall separating artist and fan was frequently broken down, as well-known local celebs gathered for group photos or cheesed for candid shots with CMW’s Eiht, Heltah Skeltah’s Rockness, or Hip-Hop TV’s Ed Lover.

There was a lot of networking going on, which lends credence to the notion that Hiero Day’s greatest impact might be that it provides the Bay Area hip-hop scene with a modicum of industry infrastructure not seen since the heyday of the Gavin Convention some twenty years ago. Hiero Day furthers the sense of being and belonging so important to a relatively isolated region like the Bay. It’s a day when hip-hop truly lives, one that not only validates artists who may be underrepresented through traditional channels like commercial radio, but also validates fans who follow the culture, and not the trends. The fact that it’s become a cultural institution in just a few short years – evolving organically and from a place of integrity – speaks to just how much something like this was needed to counterbalance the corporate commodification of hip-hop which has become the rule and not the exception. And from all appearances, Hiero Day appears to be structurally solid and poised to remain a High Holy Day for hip-hop disciples for the foreseeable future.

photo by Rod Campbell

photo by Rod Campbell

 

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15 Reasons to Go to Hiero Day This Year

Hiero Day 2014

Hiero Day 2014

The 2015 Hiero Day lineup looks formidable indeed, especially for fans of West Coast underground hip-hop. With almost 50 live acts and DJs performing, the event—which drew more than 20,000 fans last year—appears to have broken through the stratosphere to major event-status, and is certainly the biggest independent hip-hop festival in the Northern California region. That’s a major plus for folks tired of attending mega-hyped music festivals with a dearth of rap or hip-hop artists, and for underground aficionados who have been underserved by mainstream/commercial-oriented rap tours. Best of all, tickets are less than $20—$19.93, to be exact—which portends a high boom-bap for the buck ratio. Oakulture is pretty hyped about the number of underrated/slept-on fan favorites—several of whom are doing reunion shows—scheduled for this year’s event, which cover a full spectrum of stylistic diversity within the underground hip-hop subgenre. We’re also not mad at the emphasis on Bay Area and Los Angeles groups, nor the inclusion of a few representatives from the Midwest and East Coast for balance.

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With so many groups on the bill, it’s unlikely you’ll see every single act, unless you can be in two places at one time, so we’ve prepared a special guide for the artists we think will make Hiero Day extra-fresh.

  1. Psalm One

With eight albums and a handful of mixtapes released over the past 12 years, Chicago’s Psalm One is one of the most-prolific indie-label female emcees in the industry today. Affiliated with Minnesota’s Rhymesayers crew, she’s also worked with Hiero’s A-Plus. Her recent video, “Free Hug Life” shows her to be an original, creative spirit with an engaging staccato delivery, and topics which offer an intelligent alternative to rachetry.

  1. Phat Kat & Guilty Simpson

This veteran Detroit emcee duo have long collaborated with California’s hip-hop scene – Kat was once signed to SF’s Look Records, while Simpson has released several albums on Stones Throw. Both are authentic Dilla disciples, having cut their teeth working with the legendary producer, and both boast gritty flows which swerve between backpack and hardcore hip-hop flavors.

  1. Foreign Legion

First emerging into the Bay Area’s underground hip-hop scene in the late 90s, the terrific trio of emcees Marc Stretch and Prozack Turner and producer DJ Design built a reputation for notable live shows while releasing several full-length albums (and one short film); Their return to active duty promises to be one of the feel-good stories of this year’s Hiero Day. FL maintain a classic underground hip-hop aesthetic, complete with sampled loops and scratching, but flip the script by balancing braggadocio with honesty and humor.

  1. Cali Agents

Another West Coast group some might remember from back in the day, the duo of Rasco and Planet Asia released three well-received full-length albums between 2000-2006. Each has had solo success: Rasco is remembered for the Bay Area classic “The Unassisted,” while Asia has collaborated with everyone from Grandmaster Muggs to Bun B to Evidence to Ghostface Killah.  As Cali Agents, their remarkable chemistry elevates their individual lyrical deliveries to a higher level.

11. Otayo Dubb & Equipto

Don’t look now, but this SF-to-the-O hook-up is swiftly creeping on an indie hip-hop come up. The pairing of the Bored Stiff lyrical wonder with the versatile Co-Deez emcee/producer is one of the bright surprises of the current Bay Area scene. Their current single “Baby Steps” addresses maturity and growing up, with an arrangement which subtly recalls classic West Coast soul and R&B. The album of the same name features similarly-sublime production and features from the likes of L’Roneous, Pep Love, and Mars Today.

  1. Aceyalone

An original member of Freestyle Fellowship and a prolific solo artist in his own right, Los Angeles hip-hop veteran Aceyalone should need no introduction. The fact that he does lends credence to the oft-cited complaint that lyrical (read: non-gangsta) emcees from the West tend to get slept-on – except by hip-hop nerds who appreciate Acey’s jazz-tinged, highly vocabulistic delivery. Here’s a chance for him to expand beyond his core audience of diehards and reach the ears of a younger generation.

  1. Native Guns

Possibly the closest thing Pinoy hip-hop has come to a supergroup is Native Guns, a trio comprised of emcees Bambu and Kiwi and DJ Phatrick who became celebrated multicultural ambassadors during their heyday in the 2000s. Mixing dexterous lyrics and slapping tracks with a fair amount of political and social commentary, they also dropped science on the Filipino-American struggle, and what it means to be an indigenous immigrant. Though both Bambu and Kiwi have remained active as solo artists, their timing of their breakup always seemed unfortunate, coming so soon after the release of their 2006 album Barrel Men – rightfully hailed as a West Coast classic, one which shows the Bay Area was about so much more than hyphy even during the “hyphy era.”

  1. The Team

Speaking of the hyphy era, Oakland trio The Team were one of the most buzzworthiest groups of that period, helping to define the region’s then-emergent sound as uptempo, party-friendly, and club-ready, with hooks for days. We haven’t heard from them since 2013’s “Slow Down,” so it should be interesting to see them drop classics like “It’s Getting Hot” and “Bottles Up” and hopefully some new material. Added bonus: Clyde Carson, Kaz Kyzah, and Mayne Mannish are some of the best rapper names ever.

  1. Tha Alkaholiks

West Coast OGs since the early 90s, Tha Liks’ 1993 debut album, 21 & Over, is a high-octane hip-hop classic which set a high bar for both lyrics and production. Four subsequent albums followed, the last being 2006’s Firewater, all of which mix hardcore hip-hop with party-oriented themes. One-time disciples of King Tee, they’ve always been a force to be reckoned with in a live context, and there’s no reason to expect anything different from their Hiero Day appearance.

  1. The Luniz

Best known for the all-time cannabis anthem/ Bay Area rallying call, “I Got Five On It,” Yukmouth and Numskull are inner-city griots who’ve lived a wilder life than most of us, and put much of it down on record. It’s somewhat gratifying to see them on a bill so saturated with underground and alternative hip-hop – a confirmation of their lyrical finesse, as well as a shout-out to the streets of East Oakland, where Hiero is from.

  1. Compton’s Most Wanted

This classic Compton gangsta rap group, possibly second only to NWA in terms of influence and reputation, never enjoyed the mainstream success of their Ruthless peers. But their street-level stories had a louder ring of authenticity to them, and it’s safe to call them some of the originators of “reality rap.” Though they didn’t have an overt political agenda, the sociopolitics and socioeconomic content of songs like “One Time Gaffled Em Up” was omnipresent, and often sublime.

  1. Zion-I

Zion-I have held the Bay Area down for 15 years, being one of the most-consistent underground groups in the region, establishing a national and international fanbase, and collaborating with everyone from Deuce Eclipse to Talib Kweli to Too Short. Their long list of classics ranges from “Inner Light” to “The Bay” to “Warrior Dance” to “Don’t Lose Your Head.” Though they’ve experimented with their sound, incorporating everything from EDM to folk, they’ve always maintained strong hip-hop roots. Their latest release, The Rapture: Live From Oaklandia, follows the departure of producer Amp Live, and finds emcee Zumbi Zoom taking things in a more musical direction by featuring a live band led by the incomparable Kev Choice.

  1. Crown City Rockers

In the mid 90s to early 2000s, hip-hop band Crown City Rockers were often called the Bay Area’s version of the Roots – mainly for their uncanny ability to swing jazzy, funky musical elements played on real instruments with the cultural b-boy witticisms of frontman Raashaan Ahmad. They boast a solid, if criminally-underrated, catalog of recordings too, from 2001’s One (recorded as Mission) to 2004’s Earthtones to 2009’s The Day After Forever. Their live shows are legendary, if infrequent these days: the last time they performed as a unit in Oakland, at an Old Oakland Farmer’s Market gig, Levende had not yet become District, so prepare to be blown away.

  1. The Coup

It was only a matter of time before Boots Riley’s subversive funk/rock/rap band the Coup played Hiero Day, and this is the year. That’s an underground hip-hop lover’s fantasy come true. While we are, once again, in-between new Coup albums, Riley has been highly visible of late with a new book of his lyrics and high-profile media appearances discussing activist issues. Though the Coup’s sound—and personnel—has evolved since 1993’s Kill My Landlord, they are one of the few continuously-active groups from hip-hop’s  90s Golden Age on any coast, and thus did not need to be coaxed out of retirement to do this gig. If you’ve never seen The Coup, expect to be revolutionized and entertained.

  1. Hieroglyphics

A member of Hiero recently tweeted that their independent label, Hiero Imperium, has now outlasted the major record label which signed and then dropped them back in the 90s. That’s poetic justice for Oakland’s lyrical laureates, an octagon of obtuse emceeing  and sick beat-making skills, who have given more back to the community from which they came than any other hip-hop artist or group in Bay Area history, while continuing to make more history with each new release and annual iteration of the event bearing their name. Not only do they have more catalog than J. Peterman and Victoria’s Secret combined, but their signature tune, “93 Til Infinity,” never gets old.


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The Coup Stay Relevant with Lyrical, Musical Bad-Assery

Live Review/ The Coup, January 23, 2015 @ The Independent

Got Boots?

Got Boots?

If you live in the Bay Area, it’s easy to take The Coup for granted. But the simple fact is, no other region can boast a group like this. Six classic albums over a two-decade span which range from underground, sample-based hip-hop, to avant-garde, Afro-futurist post-funk. A canon of lyrical expression incorporating punchline after punchline. Radical politics combined with narrative storytelling in a non-preachy way. A killer live show which has evolved to the point where it’s now an outlandish hip-hop/funk/rock & roll circus. And, above all, a classic rapper who cares more about the substance and content of his raps than getting props for being a classic rapper.

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Prior to The Coup’s sold-out Independent show last Friday, it has been a few months since these guys had played a Bay Area date—their last local gig was the premiere of their performance art piece, “The Coup’s Shadowbox” last September—but Boots Riley and company were anything but rusty. Their nearly two-hour set touched on every Coup album (save their debut, 1993’s Kill My Landlord), highlighting a catalog which has yielded ‘nuff fan favorites, despite a lack of corresponding radio and video play.

Silk-E  and Boots Riley

Silk-E and Boots Riley

The show itself was bananas—kick yourself if you missed it—showing just how tight The Coup have become as a live outfit. They’ve subtly transformed themselves into the most subversive band on the planet, and that can’t be a bad thing. Because we need subversion through sonic insistence and lyrical deliverance, and The Coup supply that, in spades. Riley’s seemingly endless on-stage energy—he’s one of the more kinetic frontmen you’ll find, in any genre—is matched by vocalist Silk-E, a total bad-ass who appears to be channeling Tina Turner in her prime.  Silk-E plays Riley’s foil to the hilt, offering the audience another focal point for their viewing pleasure, and ensuring there’s never a dull moment. Keyboardist Kev Choice is always a solid musical maestro who makes the genre and tempo swings seem effortless. Drummer Hassan Hurd kept steady time, and bassist JJ Jungle mainly kept to the background, but guitarist Grego lapped up some spotlight for himself during a couple of extended vamp segments, during which it occurred to Oakulture that the Coup had reclaimed rock as a black music form (in an Afro-punkish kind of way). Indeed, this is a black rock band masquerading as a hip-hop outfit. Instead of being hit over the head with tired rap clichés, you will be rocked. And hit over the head with intelligent, witty lines which openly oppose capitalism for capitalism’s sake.

Silk-E

Silk-E

From Oakulture’s perspective, the highlights of the show were energetic renditions of “The Magic Clap” and a sped-up, balls-out version of the oldie “Fat Cats, Bigger Fish,” which ground out the refrain “get down get down get down” like a chant at a political rally. Interspersing newer material like “Gods of Science” and “The Guillotine” with classics like “Nowahlaters,” the band injected a formidable live presence into their set which spoke to their continued relevance, just as much as Riley’s lyrics did.

Grego rocks the house

Grego rocks the house

There aren’t too many groups from hip-hop’s classic early 90’s period which are still touring, and fewer still who are still making compelling new music which pushes their envelope in unexplored creative directions. And while their sound has evolved considerably from the Kill My Landlord days, Riley hasn’t changed much at all. Sure, he’s gotten older, wiser, and grown comfortably into his frontman/ringleader role. But who he is as a person has remained constant the whole time. He’s still that guy you’ll see onstage raising a ruckus one day, and run into in the neighborhood with his kids the next.

The Coup: Fierce 'n' Fonky

The Coup: Fierce ‘n’ Fonky

Simply put, there’s not another act in all of music like The Coup. And no matter whether it’s your first time seeing them or your 20th, they never fail to bring the funk, bring the noise, and bring the lyrical substance. Did we mention, they’re from Oakland?


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Enter to Win Tickets to The Coup & Le VICE at The Independent (1/23)!

The Coup
Enter to win a pair of tickets to see The Coup with Le VICE and Ren the Vinyl Archaeologist at The Independent in SF!  Please note that you must be 21 and over to attend the show. Enter by 1 p.m. on January 23, 2015 for your chance to win. Please note that only winners will be contacted. Enter here. Good luck!

 

© Eric K. Arnold 2014


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Never A Dull Moment: The Coup’s Shadowbox

Live Review/ Yerba Buena Center for the Arts,  8/16/14

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

The Shadowbox opens

Billed as a haunted-house/funhouse/live concert/performance art piece, “The Coup’s Shadowbox” delivered on all fronts. The show, whose world premiere took place August 16 at SF‘s Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, was an immersive aural and visual experience, built around a live Coup performance, which never let up for even a minute.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Jon-Paul Bail’s dystopian cityscape

Upon entering the YBCA auditorium, attendees were greeted by dystopian cityscapes drawn by John-Paul Bail, a printmaker and radical artist known for making and distributing thousands of free posters during the Occupy Oakland movement. Bail’s art, which embraces a low-tech, simplistic aesthetic, was a hyperrealistic, incredibly-detailed depiction of present-day San Francisco and contemporary America with all its glitz, glamour and makeup stripped away, revealing a society dominated by corporate interests and the military-industrial complex. Every panel told a story of greed prioritized over human need, from the bulldozers ripping up old Victorians to make way for overpriced techie condos, to the sign advertising “Bank of Apartheid – since 1904.” Though the panels had sort of a “Metropolis”-esque/cyberpunk thing going for them, there was nothing futuristic about Bail’s message, which seemed to say, these are the times we’re living in NOW, whether we realize it or not. Ramming that message home were cut-outs of drones and Stealth bombers which casually dangled from the ceiling.

Coup Shadowbox world premiere 011In front of the main stage, on whose background Bail had illustrated a large panel, a large, cube-like white monolith stood. As every eye looked on, a driving funk/rock groove started to emanate from the cube, which receded to reveal The Coup, dressed in white jumpsuits like astronauts – or, in frontman Boots Riley’s case, an Afronaut. The gesture was an obvious nod to Parliament-Funkadelic’s mothership, and suggested that the band had come from the far reaches of the galaxy to help us get a clue before all hope was lost.

Things only got more surreal from there.

The band shod their jumpsuits for street clothes, or in Riley’s case, a dapper brown plaid suit with light brown leather boots. Riley stands under six feet, even with his signature Afro, but he might as well have been the tallest man in the room, based on his stage presence. He strutted, swaggered, shimmied, shook, and gesticulated with the magnetic charisma of a chitlin circuit soulman who’d finally made it to the Apollo.

“We came to fonk,” he announced at one point, with a dead-serious look in his eye.

Boots elevates @YBCA

Boots elevates @YBCA

And fonk the Coup did, tearing through a fair portion of their six-album catalog with boisterous upswing. Each band member seemed on point as old songs were given new arrangements, extended jams segued into entirely different tunes, and Riley the ringleader was matched in his intensity level by the sidemen.

20 years ago, when the Coup were just starting out, Riley was a rapper with a message in an era defined by an underground hip-hop spectrum which ranged from ghetto gangsta to Afrocentric revolutionary. Two decades later, hip-hop is far less revolutionary as a genre overall, yet he still carries the same message. Riley has become an icon of radical social activism who also happens to be entertainer; he can no longer be considered ‘just a rapper.’ He’s more of a messenger who conveys his statements through rapping, over a musical template which has evolved from basic sample-and-loop aesthetics to incorporate more live instrumentation and amalgamate more  genre influences, from new wave to indie rock to both James Brown and Prince-style funk.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

going to a Gitmo go-go

For longtime fans, the set list must have seemed like manna from heaven. It included mostly uptempo numbers, among them “Gods of Science,” “5 Million Ways to Kill a CEO,” “Gunsmoke,” “My Favorite Mutiny,” Everythang,” “Strange Arithmetic.” “We Are the Ones,” “Magic Clap,” “Fat Cats, Bigga Fish,” and covers of Talking Heads and Lou Reed songs –all performed like the countdown to Armageddon had sounded, and there was no tomorrow.

But this was no ordinary Coup concert, as Bail’s art and video projections by David Slaza made clear. After bringing Bail to the stage and introducing him, Riley pointed to his left, where two “Guantanemo Bay go-go dancers” struck strangely erotic poses while dressed in orange jumpsuits, their faces covered by hoods. The dancers remained for the rest of the show, making effective social commentary without saying a word.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Mortar and Pestle

A few minutes later, Riley pointed to his right. Lights went up, illuminating a side stage where electronic music trio Mortar and Pestle had set up. Shifting the audiences’ attention like that was a clever move; it forced attendees to consider the space they were in, and perhaps to absorb Bail’s installation art more carefully. Following that interlude, Riley kept the energy level high by introducing vocalist Silk-E, who led the crowd through a raucous version of “Show Yo Ass.”

Like most of The Coup’s songs, the lyrics are still relevant:

You’re voting which you’re hoping
will stop the guns from smoking – is someone fucking joking?
They’re bankers in sheep’s clothing
I know places where the kids keep croaking
Lacking the essential vitamins and protein
Hustlin and hyphy are eloping
I’m the best man bustin shots and toasting

 The song’s chorus is, like much of The Coup’s catalog, a call to action:

Now’s the time for you to show yo’ ass
They ain’t handin out no mo’ cash
Mommas imitate my logo fast
Daddies take the safety off and blast

 

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Laugh, Love, Fuck

The audience’s eyes were again directed away from the main stage, as a four-piece string section (members of Classical Revolution), bathed in red lighting, added violins and cello to “Laugh, Live, Fuck” as the video projection superimposed a heart against the main stage.

That was followed by the puppeteers of Eat the Fish, who pantomimed with figurines of the band members and a Guantanemo go-go dancer as Riley and the band hit with the recent single and video, “Your Parents’ Cocaine.” Kazoos were distributed throughout the crowd, and some guy threw fake money and bindles into the audience, as Riley related an ironic tale of white powder and white privilege:

Your daddy gon’ make you VP of sales
Don’t mix good shit with the ginger ale
Pacific Heights ain’t Sunnydale
You could murder somebody and be out on bail
Your mom’s Amtrak- she’s on the rails
So many bumps thought it was Braille
One day, we’re all gonna tip the scales
Cuz me and my crew are too big to fail

 

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Eat the Fish’s Coup puppets added comic releif

The puppets were hard to top; just about the only thing which could have done so was… a N’Awlins-style second line, courtesy of Extra Action Marching Band, who made their way through the audience, tuba blaring at full bleat. The surprises kept on coming; the side stage again lit up, and Snow Angel, a folk/power-pop outfit distinguished by electric sitar player Gabby La La, stole the spotlight.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

That’s M-1 of dead prez in the panda suit

Pick a Bigger Weapon faves “Monkey Off Your Back” and “Ass-Breath Killers” followed,  but before anyone could catch their breath, a man in a panda suit appeared on stage and took off his mask to reveal… M-1 of dead prez, who performed his best-known song, the anthemic “Hip-Hop”:

In the real world, these just people with ideas

They just like me and you when the smoke and camera disappear

Again the real world, it’s bigger than all these fake-ass records

Where poor folks got the millions and my woman’s disrespected

Just when you thought you’d seen it all, singer-songwriter Bhi Bhiman popped up amidst some scaffolding on the back wall opposite the main stage with an acoustic guitar. Bhiman performed “Up in Arms,” a poignant song about the death of Huey Newton, which imagined Newton’s thoughts at seeing the reversal of the social justice gains he fought so hard for.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

Bhi Bhiman

Not long after that, Riley appeared in the same scaffolding nook, wearing a fedora. A strategically-placed front grille of an old American muscle car became a prop. Aided by more strings from Classical Revolution, he closed the night with a rendition of the classic “Me and Jesus the Pimp in a ‘79 Grenada Last Night,” working his way through the crowd before returning back to the stage to take the band through the grand finale.

©Eric K. Arnold 2014

The audience looked pleased

Suffice to say, The Coup’s Shadowbox was an engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking show. Riley went so far as to say it was his “favorite Coup show yet”, while YCBA’s Marc Bamuthi Jacobs noted the show was the first to use every single plug on the venue’s soundboard. It was less than a theater piece or a performance art work than it was a concert with elements of both, but it worked. It’s easy to recommend it as something to keep audiences enrapt in this age of short attention spans, and one hopes it will play more, and possibly national, stages at some future point in time. -EKA