Last Friday night, under the tutelage of the hip-hop quintet Hitt Boxx, I learned a number of new things about life on Williams campus. First off, I learned that should I, on an innocent walk down Route 2, see a Williamstown Police Department (WPD) cruiser drive past me, stop, double back to where I’m walking and then continue driving at my walking speed for roughly two minutes, by no means should I talk to the officer and inquire about his peculiar behavior, but rather I should maintain pace and pretend to take no notice. Second, I learned that under no circumstances should I address strangers, even in a small community like Williamstown, using what the members of Hitt Boxx referred to as my “govment” name, instead opting to introduce myself using my alias, which I neglected to mention was not yet existent. Lastly, but still of great importance, I learned that should Thai Garden waitresses appear unhurried in bringing forth the check, a feigned attempt at a dine-and-dash is a very effective method to add a little hop to their sometimes sluggish step.
These lessons and more I learned while interviewing Hitt Boxx, the Carolina hip-hop cover band that was the main act at last Friday’s Frosh Quad tent party. The group, which identifies its musical style as “strong hip-hop mixed with a little bit of R&B and rock,” came to the College directly from Charlotte, N.C. for last weekend’s performance. As I walked with the five musicians around campus, our conversion touched on our shared inclination towards hip-hop, the relative authenticity of 50 Cent’s “gansta” and why cornbread is best eaten with fresh molasses (although I admit I had little part in the latter two discussions).
“I first got down with hip-hop when I was real young, when I used to roll to my grandma’s house and all the uncles would be listening to the hottest jams outside on the street,” Stickz, which I suspect is not a “govment name,” told me when I asked him how his passion for hip-hop was first kindled. “It was all around my family, so you can basically say I was born and bred in hip-hop.”
DJ Alpo (yes, as in the dog food) uttered similar sentiments in response to the same question: “I mean, I love all hip-hop,” the 30-something-year-old with silver-plated teeth told me. “First it was like Run DMC with Ã¢â‚¬ËœYou Be Illin’,’ then the Fat Boys and Houdini, but from there, I really started to listen to everybody as they came out.”
The musicians all expressed a common contempt for what they perceive as a lack of artistry in much of today’s hip-hop. “All these new kids, the Soulja Boys, coming into the game, they’ll all be gone and forgotten by tomorrow,” said Deo, the group front man who twice identified himself as the Napoleon Bonaparte of the group. “In the end, all those cats are wack.”
When it came to the topic of artistry, however, I felt obliged to question whether they, as strictly a cover band, were in a position to critique. “For us, it’s all about performing, about setting a certain energy,” Deo said. “It doesn’t matter what you’re doing, what you’re performing. You could be doing a piano recital, and I’d get down with it as long as the energy’s there.” Deo’s statements appeared to be founded in truth when I looked at concert reviews that claimed that the combined quintet had once lost over 10 pounds in sweat at a Wake Forest concert in 2007.
Unfortunately, however, for many who came to the show on Friday night, the energy that Hitt Boxx displayed may not have been channeled in the right direction. While their musical replication of hip-hop hits past and present were both precise and vibrant, at times it felt like the two MCs spent more time rudely addressing the crowd than they did rapping other artist’s hits. The frontman, Deo, first invited all the audience to come onstage, then rescinded his invitation to the males and repeatedly announced that anyone over six feet tall should get their “asses off the stage.” His incessant shouts to get everyone taller than himself off the stage were see-through attempts to isolate the ladies in the crowd so that they could remain onstage and dance with him.
Shortly afterwards, his MC cohort Jonez crossed a serious line when he asked a girl who was dancing on stage why she was wearing tight jeans when, from his perspective, she could not fit in them. As the party had become pretty rowdy, and much of the crowd may not have been in the soberest of states, Jonez’s insensitive comment that “skinny jeans don’t make you skinny” was only perceived by a small minority of those in attendance. Needless to say, his remark was both utterly unnecessary and strongly offensive.
While the party that they rocked was no doubt impressive on a Williams party scale, on my 10-second journey back to my dorm room, I couldn’t help but feel somewhat disappointed with my night-long interaction with the band. During our interview the band had spent considerable time complaining about the current state of hip-hop, wistfully reflecting on the sense of respect and family that they felt hip-hop had lost since its old school days. However, when they graced the Frosh Quad stage, they openly insulted the members of the community that was hosting them with statements that were unabashedly misogynistic. Furthermore, while all of the MCs that Deo and Jonez claimed they were trying to emulate prided themselves with their lyrical flair and deftness, Deo and Jonez did not utter a single original line all show.
By no means am I suggesting that my time with the Carolina cover group was not well spent. As outsiders in the Williams community, they reminded me of the sheltered life that I lead on campus, helping me become aware of aspects of my daily life that I often take for granted. In the end, however, Hitt Boxx’s self-proclaimed “art” failed to, as Eric B & Rakim once said, “take me on a journey into sound,” but rather made me feel boxed in the contradictions that made up their inconsistent and at times disrespectful style.