“Do you love hip-hop…and I mean real hip-hop?” MC Cota of Santa Rosa’s The First Committee asked at a recent performance at The Underground.
Admittedly, I kind of did that pantomime jack-off motion in my head when he said it, but within the first 30 seconds of the set, Cota and MCs Mic Swift and Majik Marc showed me they were indeed for real.
No bullshit Auto-Tune, no irritating hype guy screaming “YEAH! HEY!” in the background. It was straight up, no frills hip-hop with subject matter ranging from the power of music to loving your mom.
“We try to listen to everything,” Mic Swift (coolest MC name since 1987) tells SFR.
“No shit!” Majik Marc adds. “I’ll bump Miles Davis and Dean Martin. There’s just no such thing as bad music, and we don’t want to limit ourselves to only like hip-hop, or only liking rock or whatever.”
After The First Committee came Soulz of the Sun, a collaboration of MCs and DJs who collectively have approximately 6,000 years of hip-hop experience. Though Soulz is made up of five members, Tutu Spinx and Shannon Walker were the group’s main focus. He rapped; she rapped. He rapped some more, and she busted out with a voice you wouldn’t believe unless you were there.
“I’ve been singing forever,” Walker says. “I was doing jazz and soul and funk, but it’s not quite as satisfying singing covers. When I met Spinx, he was working on an album and had me come in to sing some hooks. We started writing original songs, and we’ve been making music together ever since.”
Spinx says, “We’re all about love. And giving people something to do in this town.”
Soulz of the Sun is unique in that it has three DJs producing the bulk of the beats. Ron Dada, Cas Uno and Mad One share MC duties and drop rhymes perfectly, and their mishmash of different influences makes for some excellent music. Cas Uno is more of an old-school fan, while Mad One and Ron Dada employ more contemporary sounds. The beats are more than just accompaniment and well worth paying attention to. Ron Dada and Mad One are cousins who grew up together in Santa Fe. The family connection is apparent when you watch them perform. They seem so comfortable with each other it’s almost sweet.
The Underground was the perfect space for the event. The low ceilings gave the show a totally, dare I say it, underground-show vibe. Everyone was packed in shoulder to shoulder, but not for an instant did I feel anything other than awesome energy from everyone, save the guy who kept yelling at everyone that he would beat them in a freestyle battle and then would freestyle at you even though you asked him not to.
Certainly there is a place for gangsta rap and hip-hop inspired by a tough life on the streets. I love the imagery of objectifying women and cappin’ fools as much as the next guy, but there is a lot to be said for MCs and groups that try to keep it positive. Both groups steer away from the negative aspects of the genre, proving that hip-hop has the power to unify and inspire.
“I’ve got a wife and kids, man…I have to keep that shit on the up-and-up,” Cas Uno says.
At that point, I tell him he should write a rhyme about dropping his kids off at school and going to the store. I don’t think it’s going to happen.