Wham Rap: Rap Round Robin at Floristree, August 7
Several years ago when the City Paper first profiled two young, white local rappers named Height and Bow Nâ€™ Arrow, they seemed like a couple of renegades on the outskirts of the local indie scene, dabbling in their own brand of hip-hop. Six years later, Height and the MC that now goes by Mickey Free are ringleaders in their own right, integral parts of the Wham City scene as well as at the center of a loose confederation of offbeat hip-hop acts. And this year, two weeks after performing at Whartscape, they observed their own annual tradition with the 4th annual Rap Round Robin.
Other than the change of location from Load of Fun to Floristree, there seemed to be an â€śif it ainâ€™t broke, donâ€™t fix itâ€ť philosophy in order at this yearâ€™s Rap Round Robin, which featured the same 9 acts as last yearâ€™s show: the groups Height With Friends, AK Slaughter, Rapdragons, and Food For Animals, and the solo rappers Mickey Free, PT Burnem, King Rhythm, Jones, and Plural MC. But most of the acts performed new music from records released in the last year, while each of the three stages had a distinct visual aesthetic and lighting set-up, which kept the proceedings from feeling like a rerun.
Even if the show wasnâ€™t held at Floristree, the indie rock connotations throughout the show were unmistakable. Rapdragons performed a couple cuts off their recent Featuring Baltimore album, which was built around samples of local bands, and played air guitar to Arbouretum riffs. And Mickey Free, whose Beat Babies studio has been turning out a ton of records from bands such as the Art Department and Sri Aurobindo this year, was joined by Wye Oakâ€™s Jenn Wasner to sing the hook on one massively catchy new song.
But the show was, nonetheless, a celebration of hip-hop, in all its many forms: Jones, the Plural MC, Mickey Free, and Rapdragons all puffed out their chests and boasted, in their own ways, while the crowd favorites AK Slaughter injected self-deprecating humor into its party tracks. And others expressed themselves with more abstract or unusual lyrics.
PT Burnem may have been the nightâ€™s single most captivating performer, with an intense physicality matching his deep, commanding voice and dark, dense production. And Height With Friends, with their gang shout choruses and big, chunky beats, were a highlight as always. However, some of the solo performers had trouble keeping the excitement level as high; Jonesâ€™s first two performances were marred by inaudible vocals, and his mild stage presence didnâ€™t come across much better once his mic started working, while Plural MC got his biggest applause of the night for lighting a joint onstage. And King Rhythm increasingly seems to be getting all of his phrasing and mannerisms from Grape-A-Don of Grand Buffet, a Pittsburgh group with a dedicated following in the Baltimore indie-rap scene.
Still, the beauty of the Round Robin format ensured that while there were peaks and valleys, the center of attention kept shifting too quickly for the night to ever get boring, despite a relentless two hour show in which all nine acts had four showcases.