'Sco Dances to a Funky Hip-Hop Beat
It was like taking a walk down Bourbon Street — the flash, the beads, the music. Last Friday night, a packed ’Sco heard performances by New Orleans-based hip-hop artists Soapbox, Impulss, GPC and Truth Universal as well as Bay Area headliners the Coup.
The show, “Reverberating with the Sound of Healing: Hope Through Hip Hop” was part of Oberlin’s bi-annual hip-hop conference, hosted by the student organization Hip-Hop 101.
The first act, Soapbox, wasted no time in setting the New Orleans party mood, passing out Mardi Gras beads before launching into its set. With a straightforward rapping style, Soapbox favored a couplet rhyming scheme. This style lent itself very well to the down-to-earth nature of his lyrics about hurricane relief efforts in New Orleans.
Storming onstage, Impulss took the party mood to the next level, riling up the crowd and laying down his first verses over a pumping swing beat, courtesy of DJ Scratchmo. Impulss’ rapping style was at times confrontational: in the second tune, his rapping began to call out to the government for poorly handling the Katrina disaster.
Impulss finished old-fashioned, however, flowing over DJ Skratchmo’s slow swing groove with New Orleans-style trumpet samples on “New Orleans is Called My Home,” and got the crowd back into party mode with “On the Bayou.”
The duo GPC had rapper LSP domineering the crowd with a very fluid rapping style, while his hype man kept the energy high, roaming in the audience getting people pumped up. GPC’s set featured songs about everything from girls to Notorious B.I.G. to hearing songs on the radio in “heavy rotation,” and even got political in a couple of songs featuring quotes from the New Testament and the Declaration of Independence.
DJ Skratchmo, backing up these first three artists, created distinctive overall sounds for each act, setting them apart from each other.
Truth Universal was the one that really stood out, representing both New Orleans and his home country, Trinidad. He demonstrated mastery from the rhythmically complex and staggered rhyming of his a cappella introduction to the more straightforward couplet rhyming of “Real Hip,” offering a well-rounded performance.
After several heavier tunes, Truth Universal busted out a more spiritual vibe with laid-back grooves and the soft chorus vocals of “We Survive” that brought the lighters and cell-phones out. Truth called for a moment of silence for all those affected by Hurricane Katrina.
The crowd was full of anticipation by the time the Coup took the stage, and the band certainly lived up to the hype. After opening with a heavy but tight blues jam, the rhythm section bumped it up a notch and locked into a medium tempo funk groove that got the crowd moving.
Although lead vocalist Boots Riley told the audience, “We gonna keep it funky,” the band showed off a much broader sonic spectrum that ranged from Motown rhythm and blues — thanks in large part to the soulful female guest vocalist — to a rap-rock style that at times approached Rage Against the Machine in heaviness and revolutionary spirit. The band did keep a steady funk undertone that continued right through to their closer, “Git Down.”
This potent blend displayed by the Coup was very much at home at this year’s conference; according to the website, the conference “represents a call to action through a discourse on Hurricane Katrina and Hope.”
“I ain’t playin’ with y’all,” Impulss told the crowd. “The National Guard is still right outside my house.”