Rap Industry Freaks Get Down
Digital Underground. At SOhO, Sunday, August 27. Reviewed by Matt Kettmann
Live hip-hop is a hit ‘n’ miss game. As a genre, it’s usually better to bump in your ride or groove to on a dancefloor than see in concert because rap’s prerecorded beats and unalterable lyrics often leave little room for the onstage improvisation that makes live shows come alive. On a perfect night, you get treated to bands like The Roots, where live musicians creatively mix it up with fast-thinking rappers. But the more common experience—at least for shows in Santa Barbara over the past decade—is enduring endless hype, goofy gangsta posturing, and long waits for the billed superstar to take the stage. That sucks the fun juice out of any evening, especially when the performance amounts to less than five songs that start way past midnight.
I’ve seen plenty of both types of hip-hop shows in my 17 years or so as a hip-hop aficionado, but plenty more of the latter. It’s understandable, then, that I never expect too much from a rap gig, even when it’s someone like Oakland’s Digital Underground, the hip-hop innovators from the late ‘80s, early ‘90s who took SOhO’s stage last night, Sunday, August 27. Happily, the show—which began with three acts full of said posturing and hype—delivered better than I expected, with the crowd of 200 or so indulging on the slices of original fun delivered by the self-proclaimed freaks of the industry.
The opening rappers—all, it seemed, from the 805, as they proclaimed constantly—exhibited occasional flashes of lyrical promise, but they’ll need some live musicians or catchy innovations to rise above the rest of the world’s jam-packed emcee flock. Around 11:30 p.m., they made way for DJ New Styles, Digital Underground’s new spinmaster from Milwaukee, who played classic hip-hop from Tribe Called Quest, MC Breed, and others to get the crowd alive.
Then out to resounding applause came Shock G and Money B, DU’s main protagonists, unleashing a fury of hits, from “Kiss You Back” and “Same Song” to “I Get Around” and “The Humpty Dance,” which Shock had to do san big-nose Humpty Hump costume since he lost his luggage in San Diego. There were even some fears—at least according to one overheard cell phone conversation—that DU might have had their first no-show in 15 years due to Shock’s late arrival/missing luggage snafu, a worry that the rapper confirmed by explaining he had just made it in town at 11 p.m.
Traveling stress aside, Shock, with crazy afro mohawk standing tall, did his thing with trademark fun-loving glee, smiling the whole time, squirting his beer all over the stage and crowd, and even hitting up the keyboards and drum machine for awhile. Money B, a surprisingly short fellow, kept his end of the bargain too, dropping his hoarse-y voiced lyrics from beneath a tan visor and shiny, glitzy shades. Too Fly Eli, one of the original DU rabblesrousers, also lent vocal support for emphasis on choruses, which included a couple stabs at The Luniz’ “I Got Five on It,” a pot-smoking urban anthem from the group that DU first backed. An ample amount of time was spent on remembering Tupac Shakur, who started his career with DU, and other fallen musical soldiers such as Kurt Cobain, Biggie Smalls, and Mac Dre.
The night’s most vivid imagery, however, was courtesy of the diverse crowd, a good-to-see blend of ethnicities and social styles, from whiteboys in surfwear and hippy girls in flowing dresses to gangster-ized Latinos and well-dressed blacks, many of whom were from Oxnard and Santa Maria. Despite the possibly toxic blend of eclectic elements, everyone was courteous, friendly, and not in the mood for brawling.
Audience standouts include the short, braided-hair, looking-for-trouble drunk girl getting crazily freaked doggy-style against the wall by her boyfriend, who later seemed ready to smack his lady after her looking-for-trouble-in-any-form antics got to his head. Then there was the shaved head dude yelling “Shock G!” over and over ad over again and “Turtle,” who was either a crackhead with a penchant for breakdancing or an escaped mental patient who couldn’t stop his manic shaking. (Probably both.) In any case, the yellboy and Turtle collided during the final song “Freaks of the Industry.”
That’s when Turtle rushed the stage with lit Marlboro red in hand, did a header onto the stage, and rose to be amidst the gaggle of scantily clad ladies who were revealing their own freaky sides. The Shock G fan, in a protective swoop, violently yanked Turtle from the stage, only to prompt the real Shock G into straying from his lyrics to say something along the lines of “Don’t do Turtle like that, man! He’s my boy.” Turtle was released, only to return with two glasses of water for the ladies, just as the song came to a close and Money B pledged to see everyone back at the bar.
Known for their hard partying ways, it’s good to see that Digital Underground can still deliver a live show full of the light-hearted, funny, and nontraditional hip-hop goods they’re famous for. Better yet, it was encouraging to see such a crowd coexist peacefully, a sign that hip-hop indeed has a home at SOhO and in Santa Barbara. Bring on more.