There’s a ton of dope hip-hop happening all over New England & we want to keep you up to date with all of it. We dispatched Portland MC BRZOWSKI to cover this recent show in his hometown. What follows is his report from the front lines:
I was honored to be poached by the LFOD crew to hijack their social media handles for the evening and offer some human-on-the-ground coverage of one of Portland’s most memorable events this summer season, in Hip-Hops 5 at Oxbow Blending and Bottling on Washington Avenue this past Saturday, August 12. (If you have not sampled Oxbow’s Luppolo or Farmhouse beers, I encourage you to do so, if adult liquid refreshment is your thing.)
After a warm-up by New Hampshire’s scene-godfather and Rap-Night Manchester resident DJ Myth on the turntables, Dylan Raw took the stage with an easy calmness and fluid delivery despite his status as a tenderfoot on the New England regional stage. Raw’s personable nature and mild-manner were a wise placement to introduce the swelling crowd into the evening’s festivities. He regaled the audience with his aspirations to “Do it bigger on a national level than anyone from Maine has ever done it…”, and only time will tell if he can transubstantiate that tall order into reality. Following rung-for-rung the career-climbs of Alias, Sole, Spose, and a handful more Maine acts that have grown to national status will not be an easy ascension, but one can’t help but appreciate his gusto.
Portland hiphop veterans Trails began their stage-time with a heartfelt shout to the loved-by-many Pauly Mumblez, a local pillar of the Portland hiphop community, whose unexpected passing in early August leaves a noticeable hole to all who knew him. This call of remembrance had serious resonance with the crowd, your author included. Shortly following this brief melancholic moment, Syn the Shaman exploded through the Trails set with the rage of a man who has lost a friend and channeling that pain into powerful bars, and a stage-stomping performance. TheLin’s precise turntablism and thickly-mastered traditionalist beats proved a powerful counterpoint to Syn’s bars of uncomfortable realism, with zero affectation to taint their formula. With Trails, the volume of the evening had been turned up by an appreciable margin. Pauly Mumblez would have loved it, and I could not help but picture him there with us, bobbing his head sagely.
Local favorite Ben Shorr had played de facto host of the evening, along with the unflinchingly energetic Rap-Night staple mc Ill By Instinct. Ben began his set with little fanfare, stealthily transitioning from host duties into his first song. Ben ran through some standards I was familiar with, as well as performing newer material from Pyrokinesis, with Akrobatik and Mr. Lif both hopping up to take a turn on the mic for their respective features. Ben Shorr has transitioned from a work-shopper open-mic fixture to a fierce presence both on the mic and in the booth in a few short years. I have to attribute this to sheer tenacity and volume of time he’s dedicated to the craft. His voice and presence have steadied, his content clear (not a rosy, but a positive attitude toward the trials of the everyday), and he is simply relentless in his will to push himself and his abilities. It’s a pleasure to watch him progress, and I’m curious to see where he goes.
With the room full and the floor becoming a wee slick from craft beer being spilled on-beat, the audience was ready for for bona-fide New England hip-hop royalty, in the Perceptionists. The duo of Boston’s Akrobatik and Mr. Lif first took shape on the 2004 mixtape, The Razor, and here we are 13 years later witnessing these two (minus Fakts One on the turntables for this show, filled in seamlessly by DJ Myth) celebrate their first performance after the release of 2017’s Resolution. Their high-impact back and forth lyricism and 90s-throwback audience call-and-response had heads nodding and hands up in the finest backpacker fashion, juxtaposing new and classic material, as well as showcasing the differences between styles: Mr. Lif’s more introspective and political content, Ak’s traditional hiphop bravado and clever social observation.
As the crowd began to thin and the less-resolved patrons begun to cash out, the final act of the evening, “sewage”-style originators Das Efx had their turn, and with the stage presence and conviction of artists half their age, proved unequivocally why they were billed as the headliner. I was in seventh grade when a fellow school-bus rider swapped tapes with me for the week. His Mom would not let him listen to Slayer’s Reign in Blood, and I was interested to hear Das Efx’s yell-y and fast paced Dead Serious. That young-kid excitement was apparent across the room as I saw many a grey-bearded hiphop fan crowd to the front as Skoob and Dray started going in and giving the sound-system a workout. The off-kilter stream-of-consciousness flow and mutated “-iggedy” inflected slang was once defiantly avant-garde, until Das Efx spawned legions of imitators in the late 90s. I for one was happy to see the originators plow through tracks from Dead Serious, Straight Up Sewaside, and Hold it Down.
Sticky sneakers, a mild case of tinnitus, and the Ben Shorr album tucked in my throwback cargo shorts, I was off into the night, glad I’d borne witness to a memorable evening in the annals of Portland hiphop lore. Much like the Stonecoast open mics, The Free St. Taverna Monday nights, the Big Easy’s gestation of what would become Rap-Night, there will be the people that were there, and the folks that will want to say that they were.
BRZOWSKI is a touring rapper, occasional producer, arts administrator and cultural critic from Portland ME.
His latest full-length album ENMITYVILLE drops on all major digital vendors and select physical retailers via MilledPavement Records September 8, 2017. CD and t-shirt bundles through https://brzowskimusic.bandcamp.com/