May 11, 2012

At Reggie’s, half a hip hop crew make do

Courtesy of Facebook

Go ahead and put your threes up—Black Hippy is killing it.

If that last sentence was gibberish, allow me to explain. Hip-hop-heads are a notoriously hard audience to please and no one has garnered more respect among the hip-hop community lately than Los Angeles foursome Black Hippy. Composed of Jay Rock, Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q, and Kendrick Lamar, Black Hippy is both collectively and individually signed to Top Dawg Entertainment, an imprint of Interscope and Aftermath. They are also all part of what they have termed the HiiiPower Movement—a social consciousness ideology that manifests itself in both the group’s lyrics (in Kendrick Lamar’s “HiiiPower”), and in their trademark three-finger salute, as seen at ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul’s show at Reggie’s Music Joint last Tuesday.

The group’s members have each come to occupy different roles in the Black Hippy roster. Kendrick Lamar, the most famous member of the group, engages in introspective pondering about the troubles facing our generation, and is equal parts insecure youth and social critic. He is also most poised to claim celebrity status, having recently been crowned the “New King of the West Coast” by veterans Game, Snoop Dogg, and Dr. Dre. ScHoolboy Q offers a hardened street-gangster persona, often rapping about his days dealing OxyContin before a criminal associate betrayed him. Ab-Soul is the dedicated stoner in a group full of potheads, offering clever, laid-back lines over beats that sound like he stole them from Souls of Mischief. Jay Rock, featured on XXL’s 2010 Freshman list, is perhaps the most conventional rapper of the bunch—talking up his gangster past like a young Game or less-insane DMX through an extensive mixtape discography.

In April, ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul announced their Groovy Tour. It occupies a strange place in the Black Hippy universe. Label-mate Kendrick Lamar, having recently finished touring with Drake and Jay Rock, is accompanying Tech N9ne on his Lost Cities Tour, which leaves ScHoolboy Q and Ab-Soul to their own devices. For a group as tightly knit as Black Hippy, such a move is far from simple. The group has worked together so long that they can write duet verses without ever needing to be in the studio together. They’re even known to show up on many of each other’s most popular songs as featured artists. Perhaps more importantly though, they see themselves as collectively creating a different paradigm from the rest of hip-hop—able to understand today’s youth in a fundamentally different way from the gangster rappers still talking about crack-dealing and gun-slinging.

Ab-Soul seems perfectly at home being overlooked, speaking frankly about his current status in the group on tracks such as “Top Dawg Under Dawg,” which he performed as part of his Tuesday set. His attitude is reminiscent of Fatlip from The Pharcyde, who has clearly influenced Soul’s everyman persona as well as lyrics and delivery. He came onstage with a goofy swagger, eyes concealed behind his omnipresent sunglasses, and immediately launched into his smooth hit “Turn Me Up.” When Kendrick Lamar’s verse rolled around, he simply let the track fade out and began engaging the crowd—simply excited to be sharing the music he made with an audience who loved it. The crowd responded well to his honest, easy-going attitude, even singing along to songs like “Black Lip Bastard,” which has yet to show up on one of Ab-Soul’s official albums.

ScHoolboy Q took the stage in his trademark bucket hat (whether it’s deliberately un-cool or an homage to late-’80s hip-hop is up for interpretation) and proceeded to launch into a high-energy set complete with stage-diving, a cappella verses, and culminating in his decision to climb down into the crowd to show everyone how to bounce like a Black Hippy. Reggie’s is a venue that is home to flat brims and horn rims alike, and Q kept the whole crowd grooving through smoother songs like “Blessed” and “How We Feeling,” as well as thrashing out for bangers like “There He Go.” It was a powerful performance; his snarling delivery perfectly suited for the venue’s rambunctious atmosphere and punk roots.

But, unlike Ab-Soul, ScHoolboy Q betrayed a sense that something—more specifically, half of Black Hippy—was missing from his set. He seemed most at ease on stage when Ab-Soul returned to join him for a few of their collaboration efforts, including “Druggys Wit Hoes Again,” and he even went so far as to spit the first verse from Kendrick Lamar’s powerful “A.D.H.D.,” urging cheering fans to come see him and Lamar together at Pitchfork Festival. At the same time, cutting off songs after the second chorus to avoid featured verses kept the show moving at a quick clip, maintaining the crowd’s energy.

ScHoolboy Q even managed to use Reggie’s ludicrous 10 p.m. closing time and anti-marijuana smoking policies to humorous effect. He led the crowd in chants of “Bullshit” and “Fuck that.” It was damning proof that just because a show is well-executed doesn’t mean it has to be professional.