To be honest, the name Blackalicious remotely reminded me of a Destiny’s Child song, but beyond that, the name meant nothing to these ears. After a little cyber sampling courtesy of LimeWire, an evening with Blackalicious planned to be quite exciting. So, on Monday night after a predictably miserable day, the doors of the UCen Hub opened and the loyal citizens of the hip hop generation filed in, readied for a night of live hip hop.
First on stage was the quartet Green City. Being the leadoff group is usually pretty tough – crowds are still sleepy and all the terrible technical problems must get worked out during the set; however, Green City braved the seas well enough. The Bay Area group only played five songs, one of which was an imitation club song reminiscent of the Ja-Rule-featuring-Ashanti days.
Hip Hop is about being able to speak one’s mind and communicate, about being “real.” The intimacy of the Hub requires a great deal of honesty between performer and audience. Small audiences don’t want to be bullshitted, especially if the bullshit is three feet away, up on stage.
That said, we came to the second “act,” AWOL One, a performer who was without his cohorts from hip hop group Visionaries, taking tonight to perform solo. As soon as he took the stage, it was clear that AWOL One had had one too many. If Mr. One wasn’t sloshed, then he should have been; such a horrendous set of music might have been funnier that way. AWOL One’s performance was marked by his rendition of Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” and asking for “all the trust fund babies in the audience to make some noise.” Remember that honesty we talked about earlier? The good people of the Hub made it very clear to AWOL One that just because one has a microphone does not make it OK to talk shit on the very place where one is performing. One was a disgrace to hip hop performers everywhere and somehow managed to stumble across the finish line before things got ugly. Maybe he was having an off-night, or maybe he is a consistently crappy performer. Either way, AWOL One is no friend of Santa Barbara.
Anyone at the show would probably say the same thing: they were really waiting for Blackalicious. At a quarter till eleven, Chief Xcel and The Gift of Gab, the duo responsible for Blackalicious, took the stage to the howling relief of the two thousand or so people lurking in the darkened food court. Gab promptly grabbed the mic and said, “Oh yes Santa Barbara, we’re having a party tonight!” The duo played track after track from all seven of their albums. Gab’s impromptu freestyle, which he performed while sipping tea to aid the healing of a cold, more than made up for your particular favorite not being heard. Every song, from “Blazing Arrow” to “Alphabet Aerobics” and “Rhythm Sticks,” had people moving and jumping from start to finish. After each song Gab would stop and look around at his audience with a charming smirk of disbelief. Towards the end of the set Gab had complete control over the audience, commanding our screams to slogans aimed obviously at the bang-up job our government is doing nowadays. Towards midnight the duo thanked Santa Barbara and left the stage. This was not enough by far and the crowd demanded an encore. Blackalicious came back out, surprised, asking, “So? You think you can handle more?” To finish out the night, Blackalicious played “Chemical Calisthenics,” which ended in such a roar that surely kept all the freshmen in Santa Rosa and San Nicolas Residence Halls from studying quietly. You simply cannot keep going after an encore like that; it was the perfect cap to the whole night.
While everyone else’s attention seemed to be placed on some other music festival taking place last weekend, it was easy to forget about the small Blackalicious show. For those of us who were there, it is sufficient to say that the expense of our voices was worth a show that bordered on epic.