Part of the aim of As We Proceed, a new, bimonthly hip-hop showcase that debuted at Double Happiness on a recent Sunday, was to ensure all the artists were paid something for their efforts.
Yet in spite of the financial inspirations, none of the evening’s performers packed their verses with gilded language, rhyming of a desire to amass some great fortune. Instead, a majority of the musicians tended toward blue-collar tales of survival, talon-sharp political screeds and blistering verses directed at enemy forces both real and imagined. On one song, Mr. 6ix, a youthful rapper who barked his words with the force of a firing-up chainsaw, lashed out at two-faced associates, noting he’d gladly don gloves and “knock out both y’all.”
Hafrican followed with a tongue-twisting set that approached hip-hop like an endurance challenge, packing nearly 30 minutes of vocabulary into his dozen or so minutes of stage time. Rhyming atop diverse beats that ranged from 8-bit digital blips to grungy, wall-shaking bass blasts, the MC held court on a range of topics, touching on issues of race, corporate greed and his syllable-loaded skillset.
Co City, in contrast, appeared content to take his time in his 20-plus minutes onstage. His rhymes adopted a more conversational tone, and his stage presence suggested a politician working the crowd during a town hall debate. Rather than spitting his verses at no one in particular, the MC tended to make direct eye contact with individual audience members, heightening the intimacy of heartbroken turns like “This Is So Wrong,” where he shouldered the blame for a relationship fallen to pieces as lilting keyboard arpeggios attempted to keep him aloft.
A similarly humanistic feel bled into portions of Nes Wordz’s time onstage. “Can I get a little daylight?” the charismatic MC pleaded on one tune. It was a fitting sentiment, considering the various forces — racial disparity, critics, etc. — that encircled the rapper in his songs. Rather than bowing to these forces, or allowing them to infect his worldview (“I got no hate in my heart,” he pledged on one tune), the rapper skillfully sloughed them off, spinning imaginative bars atop beats that ranged from jazzy interludes to air-raid-siren screams.