On wednesday I came across a FB post by hip hop legend, Ahmad, promoting Lyrical Schoolyard, which was to take place the following night at Boars Cross’n in Carlsbad. Now, I know all of you know Ahmad’s 1994 hit, “Back in the day”, (which is enough to warrant checking out the show) but what you may not know is that he has been putting out music fairly consistently since, other than a six year hiatus from ’95 to 2000. I have been following his (and that of 4th avenue jones, his band) progression all along, which is why, when I saw the post, I knew that I had to check out the show. Now the show would have drawn my attention even without Ahmad, since the lineup was pretty thorough. Los Angeles transplant to North County San Diego, Kahlee was the show opener and put on a good show. Kahlee reminded me of some of my students up in LA; he seemed to have street savvy and a hard edge, but also found a way to distance himself from the perils of life in LA (gangs and such) and has found an outlet in his music. He was followed by San Diego hip hop up-and-comers, The Breax. The Breax, by far, had the most engaging and energetic set (and I must say, if you are unfamiliar, that their growth as artists over the past five years or so is phenomenal and you need to keep your ears peeled and aware of what they are doing.) Known for his laid back, melodic flow and for being an integral element of the legendary Visionaries, Dannu put on a calm, laid back, but very entertaining show. The highlight of his set was when he did his verse from “Blessings” off of the Visionaries’ first album, Galleries. Every free hand was in the air, controlled by the kick and the snare and every face had a smile that couldn’t be wiped off. It was beautiful. Also, I have to shout out DJ Norm Rocwell (Kids of Soul) who dj’d for the Spring Valley native. North County hip hop crew, The Blindsiders, followed Dannu, which was quite a juxtaposition of styles; Dannu calmly lulls his audience into his world, while The Blindsiders hit you in the face (sometimes literally as explained by local hip hop giant, Blame One) with their hard hitting beats and equally hard delivery. The highlight of The Blindsiders’ set was when a fourth member of the crew took the stage and proceeded to channel Rahzel with some quite impressive beatboxing. Blame One then very calmly commanded the audience’s attention, even if only with his legend, since he was not feeling well. The high point in his set was his final song, “Glass House,” which was produced by Exile. The song was soulful, thoughtful and the beat pulled us right into Blame’s world. The grand finale began with an awkward transition from dj driven sets, to Ahmad connecting his mac to the house system, stretching on the stage and doing a quick costume change.
Speaking of awkward transitions: I remember driving home from football practice in 1995 in my friend, Peter Champion’s, Mazda Navajo. I loved getting rides with Peter because he had the dopest system of all of my friends. He probably didn’t love giving me rides because every time I jumped into the passenger seat of his suv, I would go to the first page of his CaseLogic cd holder and pull out the self-titled album, Ahmad. I would have never imagined that I would have been shaking Ahmad’s hand and with that same hand in the air, showing my love and appreciation for the music, fifteen years later. What an amazing collision of worlds and thoughts. I had recently decided to end my career as an educator in order to further pursue my passion for writing and music (hip hop specifically), and there was Ahmad, a man who had made a classic record, travelled the world with his band, 4th ave. jones, and had then gone back to school and now, at 35, is back touring and performing. What an encouragement that the world is wide open. Interestingly, as we have grown and are not kids anymore, so has hip hop.
Ahmad’s set was bittersweet. He went on last, which is not, in itself, a bad thing. As I stood there, feeling privileged to be in that moment, I looked around and noticed that the crowd had thinned to about twelve of us in front of the stage and the rest of The Boars Cross’n had resumed its regular night life. That didn’t bother me, though, I had been waiting years to be there. Waiting consisted of bumping No Plan B (the first of many albums done as 4th Ave. Jones) religiously for years, anxiously awaiting more. So, Ahmad started off his set with a song from his recent, second solo release, which was great. Something I noticed though, as his set moved forward, costume changes and all (very theatrically engaging), was that he seemed to be performing in himself. He did not engage the crowd as we had seen the other acts, especially The Breax, do earlier. Now, If you listen to his new album, The Death of Me , front to back, you will certainly see that the last few years of Ahmad’s life have been tumultuous; the album is deeply emotional and Ahmad is quite introspective. I cannot say whether the content or Ahmad’s current mental/emotional landscape was the cause of his highly introverted performance, but it did leave me wanting to know more. All in all, his set was moving and powerful and, for some, quite engaging.
Ahmad is no longer a kid, nor are the late 70’s/early 80’s hip hop heads. As we grow, so does hip hop. My hope is that we grow together and not apart. As long as the music fights through unsure economic times, reconciles schisms within herself, and, most importantly, we continue to support and contribute to her, there is bright, beautiful and mysterious future for this art we love and live. Peace and love.
If you are interested in any of the artists discussed, please check them out (we are keeping one another afloat by supporting each other [esp. financially]):
The Breax: http://www.thebreax.com
The Blindsiders: (I could not find a link)
Blame One: blameone.bandcamp.com