Hip-Hop Humpday, Mercury Upstairs, January 5
Mercury Upstairs, January 5 Did anyone really think the millennium could stop hip-hop? If anything, the 20th century was only slowing it down. Now with a clean slate, hip-hop is poised to take its rightful place alongside jazz, blues, and gospel as not only an African-American musical institution, but a legitimate American cultural landmark. It's beyond hyphens now; hip-hop is faith, faith in words, faith in rhythm, faith in your crew, faith in yourself. At least it is down at Hip-Hop Humpday. For the MCs, it was faith that rhymes would flash in their minds the instant before leaving their tongues. For the DJ, it was faith that the needle would lock on to just the right bit of wax to push the rappers further and further, while the band needed faith in each other to keep the tempo sharp, and above all, steady. For the breakers present, it was faith in their bodies to spin and contort precisely the way they willed. And for the rest of the people, it was faith that there was a damn party going on, for crying out loud. At least eventually. At 10pm, the lights were still on and the new chalet-styled digs of the Mercury were largely empty, except for DJ Phyfteen warming up his gear with Down South ballers Lil' Troy and Cash Money, then switching to Jay-Z, Wu-Tang, and Busta for a taste of the East. Eventually all the cords were plugged in, the levels adjusted, the lights dimmed, and the stage set for Austin's Tichia and the Lighthouse Band. The quartet commenced a shimmering hour of Afro-Caribbeanisms, focused through Tichia's gliding keyboard and soulful vocals. Mixed around material from the group's CD were a slinky cover of Sade's "Nothing Can Come Between Us" and adaptations of poems by Marcus Garvey and Langston Hughes. After she called for a "happy song," the Lighthouses obliged by ushering out the set with a lip-smacking salsa lick. From then, it was back to the tables, Juvenile's already timeless "Ha," new Q-Tip, and a crushing Kingston groove (plus more Busta) keeping the action on the floor just a few degrees from boiling over. Which promptly went out the window as the Hip-Hop Humpday crew strode to the stage, somehow squeezing three MCs, one DJ, keyboards, bass, drums, and percussion into a space no bigger than a decent-sized walk-in closet. Opening with the Rootsy countoff "1, 2, 3, 4," they brought the crowd into it from the get, daring them not to dance with the "For Love of Money" bassline, and wowing ears with the double-time rapping of "Octagon, Octopus." As Phyfteen cut and pasted like a kindergartener on his first arts & crafts project, Bavu, Tee-Double, and Garyson took turns one-upping each other with rapid-fire feats of verbal alacrity. After the lengthy audience-participation "Feedback," Florinda and Piper contributed some interesting intermission spoken-word while the MCs caught their breath. The second set found more of the same, with rhymes from Tre God an added bonus, and culminated in the onstage crew exhorting the crowd to "Get the fuck up!" -- which most of them already had. The lights came up as Bavu stood on the speaker cabinet, exhausted but beaming. The look on his face said it all: Damn, that was fun. And it was.