Oh No performing on Thursday of A3C Hip-Hop Festival 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
It is often said that hip-hop is one of the most powerful forces on the planet. Whether that is true or not remains to be seen, but the All 3 Coasts Hip-Hop Festival seems bound and determined to prove it with its eighth annual edition. Held in Atlanta, one of the world’s biggest and best hubs for hip-hop music, A3C started as a small showcase for up and coming talent and has slowly grown into the monster that we see in the 2012 edition. This is the first year that A3C has ventured out of the Masquerade; while still making use of the club’s four music venues, the festival has expanded to other clubs orbiting the area in East Atlanta. Hip-hop is making its broadest grasp at the city of Atlanta, the sprawl of the festival somewhat representing that universality and power to move people to unite. A3C has launched a full-scale attack on the city, bringing in not just the best and the brightest stars in hip-hop to showcase their talents, but from all over the globe. If ever there was a time when hip-hop felt truly universal, this is it.
To start off the night for my girlfriend Jenna and me was CunninLynguists, the Atlanta/Kentucky hip-hop group made up of Kno, Deacon The Villain, and Natti, one of the most intriguing and innovative sounds coming out of the south today. Unfortunately, Natti was unable to get to the show due to a family emergency, but Kno and Deacon gave the crowd an off-the-cuff performance that felt very loose and free-flowing. It was a strong signifier of what was to come when producer/emcee Kno ripped up the setlist before they ever played a song. The group handled the setback like the professionals that they are, ripping through a rapid-fire set of their biggest hits, with Kno handling Natti’s verses. The set was full of the best cuts from across their career, focusing mainly on 2006’s dynamic A Piece Of Strange, a record in which Kno mostly stayed in the producer’s role. It was interesting to hear Kno and Deacon rattling off verses on those songs; their lyrical interplay was what propelled them to the heights they are today, and though Kno doesn’t take the mic quite as much as he used to, he proved it’s merely out of preference rather than lack of skill. As CunninLynguists ended their set with “Lynguistics,” the first song they put out as a group, it seemed to put their career into perspective, showing how far they’ve come from the more straight-forward approach to the otherworldly style they possess today.
CunninLynguists by Jeff Pearson.
We high-tailed it over to Terminal West after CunninLynguists’ set was done, hoping to make it in time to see the Atlanta legend Big Boi perform. By the time we got there, however, the line was out the door and there didn’t look to be any hope of making it into the converted arts center, so we developed a new plan of attack. The new break in our schedule allowed us to head back into Little Five Points at a leisurely pace, breathing easy for the first time that night. We made our way to the Highland Ballroom, a quaint venue underneath the legendary Highland Inn. As we descended the stairs going into the Ballroom, beats pumping out of the small room grew louder and more impactful. We walked in just as the up-and-coming Detroit group Clear Soul Forces was working through technical difficulties and kicking off their underground hit “Keep It Movin’” Emcees Noveliss, E-Fav, and L.A.Z. were trading off ferocious verses, all bouncing around the tiny stage trying to get the intimate crowd hyped. One of the most impressive pieces of Clear Soul Forces is producer/emcee Ilajide, who one minute was pounding out some old-school beats on his MPC, and the next was setting fire to the Highland Ballroom with lyrical napalm. The set was over in a flash, but the group proved in their short time allotted that they truly are a force to be reckoned with in hip-hop.
Clear Soul Forces by Jeff Pearson.
Part of what makes a festival like A3C so special is the aspect of giving young artists like Clear Soul Forces a showcase for fans of the genre that may not be familiar with their music. Over at the Five Spot, in the heart of Little Five Points on Euclid Avenue, just that sort of showcase was happening. As we wandered in from the rapidly chilling night, OCD: Moosh & Twist were delivering an impassioned performance for the packed room. Still in their teens, the Philadelphia duo bring a youthful flavor and fun-loving atmosphere to hip-hop, something that is refreshing in a constantly morally challenged genre of music. It’s refreshing, in fact, to see people so young and full of promise using their talents to convey positive attitudes and messages using their position. Not to mention, of course, that they kept it live for the A3C crowd, bouncing around the stage, sharing verses with smiles on their faces. Seemingly like most of the great shows I’ve seen, this one was over too soon.
OCD: Moosh & Twist by Jeff Pearson.
By the time OCD: Moosh & Twist were done with their performance, there was a palpable buzz in the small club. GOOD Music rookie, Stone Mountain native, veritable walking hype machine CyHi The Prynce was set to come out next. To the thunderous bass drops of “Mercy” and then “Clique,” two stand-out tracks from GOOD Music’s Cruel Summer compilation, CyHi took the stage before the eager crowd. He immediately rolled through some of his best GOOD Music collaborations, from the sinister “Sin City” to his breakout verse on Kanye West’s “So Appalled” from My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy. CyHi was obviously intent on showing the hometown crowd that he has done a lot for himself in his career, giving the nearly capacity crowd at the Five Spot a sampling of some of his biggest tracks across his four mixtapes, and even giving them a taste of what’s to come on his debut record. Overall, CyHi actually felt like a surprise headliner of the evening, his hometown buzz and infectious personality cultivating a party atmosphere in East Atlanta.
CyHi The Prynce by Jeff Pearson.
As we wandered into the Drunken Unicorn, where we were to close our night, it was obviously—and immediately—apparent that the atmosphere was completely different from the one we had just left. There was a smoky haze hanging in the air, many attendees drinking red wine and letting Floyd The Locsmif’s experimental beats wash over them. Another Atlanta native, Floyd The Locsmif has a sound that is immediately sweeping, compelling the crowd to dance, red wine swilling in their glasses. The change in atmosphere was incredibly welcome, the beats doing all the talking and providing a great wind-down process. Floyd The Locsmif showed where hip-hop came from, a couple of turntables and a will to dance.
The blunted beats of Floyd The Locsmif segued perfectly into the even more blunted beats of Oh No, taking the Drunken Unicorn out into the atmosphere with transcendental instrumental hip-hop. Oh No has hip-hop running through his blood, brother of Madlib and son of funk troubadour Otis Jackson, the sounds emanating from his fingertips are like the breath in his lungs. Each time he puts a needle into a new groove of a record, it’s perfectly placed and with purpose. Oh No has a gift of displaying that global power of hip-hop that seems to be A3C’s main goal; at any given moment on Thursday night he was ready to throw a hazy sitar line over a thunderous hip-hop beat, bringing the bass to the opium den—or perhaps vice versa. The tired crowd actually showed more life than any of the evening so far; it was obvious that everyone there was really appreciative of just the opportunity to see Oh No work, let alone to dance the night away to his incredible handiwork. As he sent the crowd back out into the night to grab either another glass of wine or those much-needed few hours of sleep before doing it all again, it felt impossible to argue with the power of hip-hop.
Oh No by Jeff Pearson.
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