Home-grown hip-hop: Certified fresh

“The anticipation arose as time froze, I stared off the stage with my eyes closed and dove into the deep cosmos.” – The Roots

As an avid lover of hip-hop, I can comfortably note that I have felt a certain live performance void at Williams when it comes to my music of choice. Although Afroman and Vanilla Ice are certainly entertaining performers in their own right, the raw intensity of a good live rap show has been seriously missing from the campus. However, the College seems to have made a serious turn around with the quality of its musical acts, bringing Rhymefest this fall and The Roots to the upcoming Spring Fling. Friday night’s hip-hop performances at First Fridays, which featured six of the campus’ most courageous wordsmiths, were another step in the right direction, another gust of air into the previously flat sails of the Williams hip-hop scene.

The Warrior Poets’ Ifiok Inyang ’11 and Jamal Jefferson ’11, along with Rousseau Mieze ’10, Will Weiss ’12, Khalid Bashir ’12 and Mike Nelson ’12, were six MCs, or microphone controllers, to rock the stage, and they absolutely must be commended for their mettle. In a community as microscopic as our own, it takes a lot to face the possibility of embarrassment when you know that you’ll probably see your adversary at breakfast the next day. People can be skeptical when it comes to live hip-hop. In the words of Lupe Fiasco, “They so used to not havin’ nothing real – real – real – that they don’t know how to act, they don’t know how to feel.” Even though the MCs who took the stage knew that the audience pretty much only digs the top-40 hits when they go out on their Friday night, this did not prevent them from coming out strong and leaving me thoroughly impressed.

The Warrior Poets, Williams’ veteran rap group, burst onto the scene last year with a mix tape and a performance at the intermission of an NBC show. The group is composed of sophomores Inyang and Jefferson, and their style embodies almost a combination of Black Thought from The Roots and Wal-e the D.C. rapper. The “Warrior Poet” signifies the opposing but complementary ideals that the members try to incorporate into their rhymes. Strong yet precise, forceful but formulated, the Warrior Poets’ name evokes the dichotomy within this duo. Inyang and Jefferson’s inspirations range from Tupac to Eminem and their material, similar to most rappers, stems from the experiences the two have had and the events that have shaped the way they are. Clearly benefiting from some of their previous performance experience, these two had a practiced stage presence. Their mix tape, called Gone till November, is available for those who want more of a taste of this Newark-D.C. duo.

Although they aren’t actually a formal group, Mieze and Weiss took the stage together to perform their untitled collaboration track before they each branched off and did their own sets. During the first song, Mieze forgot his lines, but recovered, free-styling his way into the crowd’s approval. Freestyle or not, his style seems most closely associated with Phonte from Little Brother, the North Carolina rap group that performed at the College last year for Homecoming. “Rou” describes his material as “heavily Christian” with a focus on trying to convey the truth, which leads him to rap about anything ranging from relationships to revolution. On the other hand, his stage partner that night, Weiss, is all about the revolution. A self-professed “Immortal Technique” from Weston, Conn., Weiss has razor-edge diction and bite to his lyrics, which are designed entirely to “change the system.” A markedly more political rapper, Weiss raps about the subjugation of people everywhere, which made it no surprise when he relayed to me that Chuck D from Public Enemy was his favorite rapper growing up.

The other two MCs who performed were Nelson and Bashir, a.k.a. “Big Mike and Lids.” This duo was formed in 2007 as a result of a high school senior project. The two have been close friends since they met in seventh grade and seemed to shed a Blackstar (Mos Def and Talib Kweli) vibe, although the two both hail from the Bronx. Their first single, produced during their senior project, is called The Product, and signifies their hard work, not only on the project, but also in their lives up until that point. Other than The Product, their material uses life experiences melded with their hopes and aspirations, giving a lively swagger to their lyrics. Bashir and Nelson’s favorite rappers include the formerly beefing Jay-Z and Nas, but Big Mike describes his flow as closer to that of Papoose, while Lids says he’s a closer fit to Biggie. These two stormed the stage with a rush of energy that seems to be indicative of their status as the fresh new cats on the block.

First Fridays may not have been the ideal venue for these rhyming acts to showcase their talents, but hopefully that won’t discourage them from continuing to write and perform for us. While I definitely feel like the live hip-hop void is starting to be filled from with the Roots and Rhymefest this year alone, I think it’s important to also have solid acts from within the community. When listened to with a tuned ear, there’s nothing like underground rap music from garages, basements and dorm rooms. If these six MCs blow up later in life, we should all say we were there to support them from the beginning.