Today was the most unexpectedly brilliant day I've had in a long time and definitely one I really needed. I went to bed last night feeling pretty down about myself and it seemed like the universe had to balance it out because I woke up in such a great way. I got a text from the president of the hip-hop club text in the morning. He told me that my track had been selected to win a contest with Blackberry and that I would have the chance to open for the Blu & Exile show. This really made my entire morning. I jumped up and down was just feeling myself a ton. It was really helpful because the past few days I haven't been feeling well so it was a good thing to get some positive feedback.
I spent some of the morning working on my paper and outlining. I ran into a friend who usually hangs around and watches the Wednesday ciphers. Her and me had a pretty good conversation about hip-hop, South Africa, race, and all that. She's really the first coloured person my age that I've had a chance to talk to for an extended time so that was good. She definitely acknowledged that although she is coloured she is also black and that part of her heritage. I'd be curious to know though how many coloured people share her feelings. She seemed like she was in many ways more enlightened that many.
After class I went to Café Sofia just to check it out. It was decent. Killed some time there on the internet then went back to my dorm and got the stuff I needed for the show. After that I took the shuttle down to the downtown UCT campus and walked over to Long Street. I had about an hour and a half to kill so I checked out some clothing stores and bookstores and bummed around.
Once it hit time for the soundcheck I went over to Zula (the venue for the show). When I got in Blu and Exile were there setting up. I immediately recognized Blu but tried to play cool. I asked him if he knew who to talk to for soundcheck and he told me then I introduced myself and he did likewise. I actually bummed around for awhile before talking to dude. Eventually I gave him my mp3 and everything and it was gravy. Here's a quick hitlist of things that happened or I observed during soundcheck:
Exile is a stickler for his sound quality
I called my homegirl Blue in NYC to gloat about sitting right next to Blu (who she loves)
The guy who was running the show and does a lot in the hip-hop scene here is actually from Nashville.
Yeah. Once the people from Blackberry got there I got a chance to meet them. They were cool, young and students like me. They kind of got mad because it took me a long time to get a soundcheck but I personally didn't care because the other two acts had much longer sets and specific needs for audio. My junk was basically straight once you press play. I keep it easy. But either way I got my check in and the Blackberry folks got on the nerves of the cat running the show. I had a decent conversation with one of the security guys. He asked me about the differences in life between Cape Town and America and he gave me the lowdown on the type of crowd that usually comes through when Zula does a hip-hop show.
After a while I split to grab some food before the show. Had a good meal in a bar alone. This was interesting to kind of see people getting ready to start their Friday nights and the exciting around that. It's weird but it's tangible and something I'd kind of forgotten because I hadn't gone out on a weekend like that in so long. Eventually met up with a friend and she hung with me during the show. It was cool because I got to sell back the tickets I bought for the show so I saved a bit of loot. We went to another bar further down to get a drink and chill for a second. By the time we got back Zula was starting to get packed and I was getting pretty excited. I talked to the DJ who was spinning some and just watched the crowd as they got full. It's funny because for all the hip-hop shows I've ever been to this one was straight up one of the only ones I've ever seen that had a mostly black audience. I don't think that's a negative or positive thing but definitely something I observed. People were getting a lot of drinks and starting to get loose and the dude running the show told me I would go on after the next song.
After the song went off some other cat got on stage and welcomed everyone to the show. He explained a little bit about the Blackberry sponsorship of the whole thing and then introduced. His introduction didn't really make sense because he talked about how Blackberry was trying to promote local artists and then introduced me as "all the way from Chicago". lol. It made me think about how appropriate it really was for me to win the contest but I think the president of the hip-hop club picked and I suppose if he would've thought it a bad look to have a transfer student rep then he could've picked anyone else. The dude introduced me as "Nathan" which is a little bit of a pet peeve of mine and I admit it threw me off my game a little bit. Once I got on stage all the cool banter I had been thinking of basically went out the window. I said something goofy and forgettable and then I told the DJ to play my track.
At first I was a little skittish. It was a bit weird to do a single song on a show, especially when you're not used to the venue or the rest of the bill but I tried to roll with it. My lyrics and delivery all came off crisp and the beat sounded great in the system to me so I got a little more comfortable. By the second verse I really got into it and was working both sides of the crowd. After my last verse I got a little bit of call and response going and the crowd seemed pretty into it. There was definitely a group of girls on the left side of the stage that was staring at me pretty intently by the end. I got some good applause and felt like I did my thing. Once I got back into the crowd after a few minutes in the back area folks gave me a good bit of props so it was fun.
Next up was this local cat Mingus and his band. He's a pretty good MC (he hosted the open mic I went to a few days ago) and his band definitely played well. The sound was a bit off though, which is common when bands play hip-hop. It's rare to hear a band that doesn't drown out the MC. I couldn't really hear what Mingus was saying over the band but the show was still decent. I spent most of the time during Mingus' show backstage. Talked to Blu for a little bit. He was clearly pretty blazed.
After Mingus got off stage there was an interim where they had some b-boys come and dance, then Blu and Exile's set. The crowd was definitely amped to see them. Girls and guys had been jocking Blu all night to that point running up and asking for pics or trying to see where the afterparty was. The show started okay. Blu ran through a couple of tracks that were newer that I hadn't heard. I was watching from backstage but I ended up standing on the stage for most of his act actually. That was pretty cool to get to see the show from the other side and really watch the crowd. The show was fairly average. Blu forgot a good number of verses, especially the older joints from Below the Heavens. That was kind of disappointing because that is his most popular stuff and the stuff a lot of folks, myself included, were most excited to see. Still I liked Blu's stage presence. He's such a big guy so he kind of was able to occupy the whole stage. He's also super laidback with his presentation. It's weird but he comes off as a down to earth person on stage, but it works.
Exile on the other hand, did nothing but impress and amaze me. First off, he's the sickest person I've ever seen on an MPC. He did a Michael Jackson tribute where he chopped up and reassembled Thriller. He also did a ton of beats on the spot. Not only were they dope but a lot were really complicated and his finger movement and sense of rhythm was super on point. The fact that a lot of his stuff was very frenetic also worked well because of the whole House scene that is very popular in South Africa. He started even doing tricks. At one point he played with his head, then picked up a beer and drank while playing with one hand, then he started playing with the bottom of the beer bottle. Amazing.
At one point Blu busted a freestyle and referenced me (which was cool as hell). Overall the show was just alright. The vibe of the whole night was great but both performances could've been better. Towards the end of his set Blu really seemed to be losing steam. It was kind of like forgetting the other verses made him lose some confidence or something. He just looked like he kind of didn't want to be there. He invited MCs from the crowd to freestyle. A few guys came up and rhymed. I busted a short free with them. It was mad cool though cause for a lot of the time I was just chillin in the cut with Blu and talking while the guys rhymed.
After they got offstage Exile kept spinning for awhile then the guy who was managing the show took over. I got Blu's email backstage and then left out to work the crowd. Oddly enough I probably got more props during this time for my performance than when I first got off stage after spitting "Pompous". In a way I think people were disappointed with Blu or something and they realized that I did quite well. Either way I gave out my number to a few MCs who wanted to collab or were talking about getting me on shows and it was a good night. Had a few conversations with some folks and also noticed a lot of women looking at me. Didn't approach any though. Meh. All in all it was a really great night though.
"i don't be fucking around on that microphone"
-royce da 5'9