It’s not every day Santa Barbara gets a solid hip-hop show, but Friday’s late-night rhyme-fest with Berkeley’s The Pack (short for Wolfpack) came as close as anyone could have hoped for. At the first beat of their premiere hit “Vans”-the song that so caught Too $hort’s attention in 2006 that he signed them to his label-the ladies in the front row of the crowd took off their pink skate shoes and started waving them in the air. Footwear flew as the performers and the audience chanted the chorus, “Got my Vans on, but they look like sneakers.” It was way catchier than it should have been. When The Pack first distributed the track’s video, MTV censored the song for its advocacy of the sneaker brand, striking out every mention of “Vans” as if it were one of George Carlin’s notorious seven words. And when MTV says a band is too commercial, that is something special.
Other highlights of the night were performances of “Candy” and “In My Car,” the chorus of which goes, “Riding down the street, and I see a pretty girl. She wants me, I want her. I will take her to my world, in my car. I’m stunting in my car. You know I’m in my car. I’m stunting in my car.” But lyrical invention was not the primary business of the evening. The point was to make the crowd cheer, sing along, and “make it wiggle like Jell-O”-as they say on their track “In the Club”-and on that level, The Pack succeeded.
The 18-and-older show at Velvet Jones featured several warm-up acts, almost all of them solo emcees rapping to the accompaniment of an iBook. The notable exception, S.B. band Venomous Voices, delivered their self-described “real hip-hop” while their emcee waxed old-school over his funk-flavored backing band. The flow and stage presence were less than compelling, but the slap bass and bluesy guitar brought a welcome change in flavor to the night.
If there was one thing the other rappers at Velvet could have learned from The Pack, it was how to work the crowd (despite the fact that bandmember Young L had come down with something and looked like he was about to keel over). They verged on self-parody with their shouts of “Bay Area!” and Keith “Stunna” Jenkins getting down with his thumbs up in front of him, as if driving an invisible car. (From a distance, the whole scene looked a little ridiculous.) Though The Pack is not the Bay’s major contribution to hip-hop, they can definitely put on a killer party, and because of that, Velvet Jones was a fun place to be Friday night.