April 5, 2007

Hip Hop Fans Take the Stage

Print More

Cornell juniors Sheyen Ikeda, Angad Bhai and Bennett Fox hopped off the stage with sweat on their brows and stars in their eyes. Ikeda and Bhai, fresh off their first-ever public freestyle performance, began to realize what had just happened. They had seamlessly broken the fourth wall, that pesky (and usually strong) one that divides rapper from fan.
Three students joined three professional artists on stage and there was no hierarchy of hip-hop status. Fox, of Beat Box Bard fame, laid down throaty Booms and Baps for his two pals and a throng of female admirers. It was a heartwarming hip-hop moment.
Such was the intimacy of last Friday night’s benefit concert at the Theta Delta Chi fraternity. Under a banner establishing this the domain of Thumpty Nation (an alternative name for the fraternity), Chicago emcees Qwel and Robust, backed by DJ Dallas Jackson (DJDJ?), excited the hundred and fifty or so hip-hop heads in attendance.
In the close confines of the Theta Delta Chi grand room, the DJ exhibited his skillful scratching and mixing for all to see. Robust led off the show crisply smearing his wide vocabulary all over the soulful beats of Dallas Jackson. Qwel, the night’s headliner, stole the show though, spitting dark, punchy and politicized rhymes over droning jazziness. His lyrics often reveal a deep-seated fear of the American Empire: “Let the blind lead the blind to hell/ ’cause I’ma trust in Qwel.” Don’t be shocked if this line never makes it onto American currency.
Qwel and Robust came for their first performance in Ithaca with hopes of boosting their presence on the east coast. The two have strong followings in the Midwest and the West coast, but they have yet to establish themselves in the New York-centric East coast hip-hop scene.
Killian Quigley ’07, the organizer behind the concert, saw the event as a definite success in this sense. While many members of the audience were unfamiliar with the performers beforehand, they had no trouble offering support. Quigley explained that the intimacy of the venue, while allowing the audience a closer view, does require the crowd to create an energy of its own. The situation is almost economic; the energy expended by the crowd in turn fuels the performers. He noted the challenge of “creat[ing] an environment where everyone feels like they’re part of the show.”
Theta Delta Chi has of late cemented itself as the beacon of live hip-hop at Cornell. Since last year, the house has played host to underground hip-hop acts CunninLynguists, Tonedeff and PackFM of the QN5 record label, and independent artist OneBeLo. Quigley, a close friend to the house, believes that these intimate live shows distinguish Theta Delta Chi from other fraternities on campus. And while there is a risk to staging relatively underexposed acts, each such venture has been a success.
And it was all for a good cause. Quigley configured the event with DJ Dallas Jackson and members of Theta Delta Chi, sending proceeds to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. Ticket purchases from those in attendance amounted to a two thousand dollar gift from Theta Delta Chi and Alpha Phi to the MDA.
The night’s energy peaked around eleven o’clock when the three students jumped on stage, blending once and for all the role of performer and patron. Ideally, if the performers recognize the importance of the crowd, a hip-hop show makes no distinction between these two parties. The two performing rappers joined in on the unpremeditated freestyle festivities, amounting to a quorum for a “cipher,” the preferred term for an informal meeting of freestylers. Later in the night, Bhai, still on a high, could only describe the moment as “awesome.”
At the end of the session, the three up-and-comers thanked the professionals for the opportunity, for sharing the stage with the fans. Qwel quickly responded “Nah man, thank you for sharing it with us.”