I began the second day of A3C by hitting the Old Fourth Ward. Walking down Edgewood, I noticed street crowds were sparse. Maybe its being 4 o’clock on a Saturday afternoon had something to do with it.
Blocked at the intersection of Boulevard and Edgewood, the street was littered with food trucks and wandering patrons. Just before Noni’s, I saw a huge stage with artist booths set up; unfortunately, I was just too early to catch any of the action.
Walking toward Noni’s, I noticed another outdoor stage, tucked away in a corner. Walking back there, I stood and watched live art demonstrations. Once I reached the stage, I waited for something to happen, but was greeted only by nondescript trap music and folks just standing around. I decided to leave and head to Little 5 Points’ infamous Star Community Bar.
That proved a wise decision.
At the Star Bar, MCs from all over the country took the stage, earnestly performing ten-minute sets and all holding their own. It was difficult to catch all their names, but every artist was good. You know how you can never understand what someone is saying when they talk on stage? Maybe I’m just deaf from 20-plus years of rock shows.
The day’s standout was undoubtedly Giles. He had a confidence, style and vibe distinct from everyone else’s. Beyond just his lyrics and his beats, he also had an interesting fashion. He had a bit of a crazy look in his eyes as he commanded the stage.
Later that night I trekked down to 529 in East Atlanta Village. MCs got short sets here too, grabbing the mic and taking turns. It was even harder to hear in the 529 space, so as you might guess, I didn’t get any names there, either. The standout artist here was a guy from Toronto, who had the whole club moving and dancing.
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My first A3C experience was great. It brought out veteran artists and gave unknown artists a showcase for their talents. It filled a community’s venues and gave fans of real hip-hop nationwide an opportunity to get together. I only saw a fraction of the action, but what I did see was fun and celebrated a love of hip hop.
When MusicGrid asked if I wanted to cover the A3C Festival I said yes. But I’ll be honest with you, hip hop hasn’t been in my rotation in years. My relationship with hip hop soured somewhere around 2000 and, “Sippin on some Syrup.” Biggie, Tupac, Run DMC, Guru, Tribe, Wu-Tang, KRS-One, those were my guys. I loved their voices, their tracks, their intelligence, their whole vibe. They brought a message, something to say. When hip hop veered down the road into more materialism and misogyny and less into clever word-play and artistry, I lost interest.
So I went to the Variety Playhouse Thursday night with an open mind. I wanted to see Pharoahe Monch and Ghost Face Killer, but those were the only names I knew. Planting myself at the front of the stage, I watched MC’s: Jean Grae, Dres the Beatnik, Big Rock, Brown Bag Allstars, Skyzoo and of course, Pharoahe Monch and Ghostface Killah.
Dres the Beatnik and DJ Evil Dee moved the show along like a pro all night. While hip hop shows can be boring compared to rock shows, 3 dudes screaming into mics with only a backing track. Hip hop shows have the advantage of practically zero setup time between acts. Dres engaged the crowd with 90’s hip hop classics until the next MC came to the stage.
Of all the unknown artists, Brown Bag Allstars surprised me the most. Comparisons to Beastie Boys are given, since they’re all white guy crew, but there’s some Pharcyde and Tribe Called Quest in there as well. Their tracks real hip hop with cracking snares and muffled kicks. Their word-play and stage presence kept the crowd interested.
Another surprise was Jean Grae. I’ll admit I’d never heard of her but her skill and experience were evident from the start. She commanded the crowd to buy her drinks and they appeared within seconds. Shortly after that, a whole bottle of liquor appeared from the crowd, someone brought in to give. Grae brought out a vocalist on her last few songs who added a lot to the performance.
By far, the best MC of the night, for me, was Pharoahe Monch. Mostly known for his hit with Mos Def and Nate Dogg, and his work with Organized Konfusion, he brought so much emotion and intensity to the stage. By the end of his set he had sweat through his clothes.
The last MC of the night was Ghostface Killah, who needs no intro. The Variety Playhouse was smoked out by this time. Clouds of marijuana smoke were filling the theater and folks were smoking with impunity. It was like a 90’s time warp. Ghostface came out with a bang and proceeded to rock the packed house.
I can sum up the night and gladly say, hip hop is far from dead. Hip hop has always been an underground phenomenon. The true innovation always remained out of the mainstream focus. The innovation continues with old school players but also with new artists who grab the mic for the love of it. Also, A3C deserves a shout for creating something worthwhile that real hip hop lovers and artists can use to promote their music.