Why is it that, after eight years of touring and recording, the best hip-hop act I’ve ever seen is still flying so far beneath the radar? The Crown City Rockers played the House of Blues in Hollywood last week, opening for New Orleans funk-fusion masters Galactic, and not only were there less than 70 people or so on the floor, every last one of them was white.
Emcee Raashan Ahmad, producer/hype man Woodstock, keyboardist Kat Ouano, bassist/producer Headnodic and drummer Max MacVeety form the azz-funk hip-hop known as Crown City Rockers. They mix classic soul samples and funktified beats with classically-trained live instrumentation that creates a rich, full sound behind Ahmad’s introspective, socially conscious lyricism and party-rock flow. Sure, it’s a no-brainer that white kids find easy immersion in the Tribe Called Quest lineage of hip-hop that Crown City belong to- it’s music they (we) can understand and be a part of without resorting to retarded hand gestures, bored, recycled misogyny and tacky materialism.
By association, it seems, this kind of music- the backpacker genre, if it can still be called that- isn’t nearly as cool to be into as the repetitive autotune-soaked bullshit that acts have been piggybacking and riding the lowest lyrical common denominator (bitches and money) for every last cent. Hell, FM radio eats it right up. I know I’m not alone in believing that nobody in hell should know who 50 Cent is, much less have to deal with him trying to use his staggering success to hock movies, shoes, sports drinks and other such nonsense that has nothing to do with music. Sure, white culture mimicks black culture with a three or four year delay (I’m starting to hear the f’shizzles again), but does black culture then, by default, shoot itself in the foot by abandoning a magnificent art form?
Crown City Rockers, however, stand for something more than product promotion and diamond grills. There’s genuine meaning behind the songs, not the standard materialistic flavor-of-the-week fad phrases, liquor/shoe/car brand name-drops and giggly cock-strokage. That shit might move units among the wagon riders, but it doesn’t begin to approach artistic depth or serve as any kind of fuel for musical evolution.
CCR’s greatest strength is the group’s collective ability to sonically gel. Each member plays a pivotal role, and personality shines through the sonic tapestry like multicolored rays. After eight years of being a group, the members of Crown City nail all their cues and mesh together in a way that looks effortless onstage. Raashan Ahmad’s flow has never been sharper, undoubtedly honed by his work on The Push, his slammin’ first solo album that we reviewed back in May. His rich flow and enthusiasm on the mic kept the energy at a consistent high throughout the set.
There was no need to win the House of Blues crowd over- by the second verse of the first song, everybody on the floor was fully engaged. They tore through all the best tracks off their debut Earthtones, while sampling some new material and pulling from Raashan’s excellent solo record, The Push– particularly the call-to-arms track Fight.
The stripped-intro B-Boy was phenomenal, lush groove surging the track’s energy to new heights before a breakdown that allowed each member to solo and riff off on their individual flavor. It was here that the band’s not-so-secret weapon was revealed: Kat Ouano whose fingerwork on the keys adds a mesmerizing psychedelic depth to the Rockers that’s become a cornerstone to their sound.
Surrounded by keys, she riffs over the beats, adding an assortment of colors to every tone and guiding the songs beyond just a live hip-hop show. She also goes by the name Kat 010, and her Natural Phenomenons solo album is a downtempo trip through an ambient dreamland. Good shit.
The highlight of the night came during the track Sidestep, when the oh-so-very pregnant Destani Wolf appeared onstage to sing her part. Singing barely covers it though- I’ve never seen such a glowing example of a pregnant woman’s soul pouring through her voice so powerfully and passionately- she put everything she had into her last note in the song, and held it, one hand caressing her belly, eyes closed, soaring over the groove for what must’ve been a full 30 seconds. I remember wondering what it must be like to be the kid in her belly, feeling the pulse of the kick drum three feet away, the energy from the crowd, the dreamy keys, and that familiar voice filling everything with a booming, beautiful melody. Hell of a way to start a life.
Support is support and it’s good to have any kind of audience, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why this kind of music is being left behind by the purveyors of cool in the urban community. It doesn’t take anything away from my experience that I’m rocking the fuck out next to a bunch of dorky white kids, but I find it astonishing that this level of excellence, this breath of fresh air in a pungent climate can be so under-appreciated by hip-hop fans.
Or maybe I’m just another white guy who doesn’t understand what “real” hip-hop is.