D-Flame, Illo '77, Drew Sparks Project, The Empire, Friday 16

Live Shots

D-Flame
D-Flame (Photo By John Anderson)

D-Flame, Illo '77, Drew Sparks Project

The Empire, Friday 16

Well, that was different. Or, as Mr. Miyagi might say, different but same. Hip-hop and Germans have been intertwined since the very beginning, or close to the beginning, when Afrika Bambaataa built Kraftwerk's "Trans-Europe Express" into the soulsonic touchstone "Planet Rock." Germany has now officially returned the favor in the form of D-Flame and Illo '77. D-Flame, a mocha-skinned fellow from Frankfurt, came on like a human vocoder. His delivery was commanding enough to stand toe-to-toe with the thunderous beats being dished out by companion DJ Stylewarz, a basso profundo similar to Shaggy's, and he demonstrated a BMW-full of braggadocio when he instructed the light man to "turn down the lights because I'm already shinin'." Watching hip-hop in a foreign language really isn't that different from hearing it in English, especially live, because it's more about how the MC manipulates his syllables to match the beats. It's easy to get mesmerized by the sheer sound of the words, the same way you find yourself following soap operas on Spanish television. They call this flow, and it was close, but here, Hamburg's Illo '77 had a slight leg up on his countryman. Not in the beginning, as his first couple of raps were choppy examples of why "spitting" is a popular slang term. But even then they matched the music, as his dual DJs Mad and Mixwell were spinning tracks that wouldn't be at all out of place on a DMX album. After announcing he was about to freestyle in German (if you say so), his cadences smoothed out to the strains of the DJs' rasta-like backdrop. And as amusing as it was to spot hybrid phrases like "Illo am mic" and "check dieses scheiss aus," it was even more impressive that he could get heads nodding even as they had no idea what the hell he was saying. (Some things never change, though: One introduction was, "This song is about the cops in Germany.") He still did a better job of it than Houston's Drew Sparks Project, a trio making their maiden appearance in Austin. Chocolate-and-vanilla MCs Joe and Drew Sparks were hindered by weak beats and the crowd's early-evening lethargy, but weren't deterred from spinning amusing yarns about how much they like "thoroughbreds" (six-foot-tall women), and the lingering effects of 11th-grade Spanish class: "I don't speak it, I just say yo." A little later, D-Flame was doing his thing while out on the street, and a girl rode a mechanical bull atop a flatbed trailer as Houston's Tow Down rapped out the chorus to Kenny Rogers' "The Gambler." Hip-hop truly is a universal language.

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