Clear Soul Forces performing on Saturday of A3C Hip-Hop Festival 2012. Photo by Jeff Pearson.
That bittersweet feeling of the festival coming to an end that I felt on Friday night was nothing compared to Saturday morning. I woke up with a mixture of happiness and appreciation for the entire experience, but sad that it was to be the last day. It had already been an enlightening and inspiring, not to mention fun weekend full of hip-hop music, and Saturday was set to be one of the best days of all. Jenna and I made our way to Little Five Points a little early to take in some shopping at the ever-cool thrift store Rag-O-Rama and to peruse the dollar record bins at Criminal Records before the music was set to start. We allowed ourselves to grow hungry enough to make the stir-fry buffet Chow Baby worth the wait. Chow Baby is some of the best eating in town; you prepare your noodles or rice with whatever vegetables you’d like, and pile a bunch of meat into a bowl and wait for them to cook it. On our second bowl each, we were both filled with deep regret—the type of regret that only eating way too much food can bring. However, we’re committed, and we showed that commitment in going to get a dessert that we had already decided upon before settling into Chow Baby—we got a couple of delicious chocolate sea salt popsicles from the Atlanta staple King Of Pops, a decision that no one will ever regret. We made our way to the Masquerade for our last night of music, perhaps slightly more sluggishly than we would have hoped, but just as excited, nonetheless.
We made it just in time to see Boldy James as part of the Detroit showcase going on that evening in Purgatory of the Masquerade. James worked his way through a set of syrupy bangers as he assured the crowd that he made true gangster music and didn’t “fuck with that candy coated pop shit.” As he confidently maneuvered around his bass-heavy tracks like “I Sold Dope All My Life,” he proved just that. There was something menacing about his streetwise flow and demeanor as he commanded the small stage; there is little doubt that the stories he tells in his music are probably true. He had the entire room shaking with huge bass and perhaps those within it with fear.
Boldy James by Jeff Pearson.
Up next, for the second time during the weekend, was Clear Soul Forces. In their short set on Thursday at the Highland Ballroom, they worked hard through technical difficulties and wowed the crowd with only one working microphone between the four of them, and they definitely took advantage of the improved situation that the Masquerade provided on Saturday. They wasted no time plowing through “Keep It Movin’,” the signature track from this year’s Detroit Revolution(s), bouncing around the stage and ripping through their verses with absolute ferocity. In a chance encounter later that evening at the Italian ice stand with E-Fav and Ilajide, after telling them how infectious their nonstop energy is onstage, E-Fav told me, “We just do the things that people are only thinking in their heads, thinking, ‘come on, mother fucker, just keep it moving!’” They do just that onstage; the quartet of emcees are a blur of energy, passing back and forth a microphone so whoever has the lead verse at the time has two mics to amplify their voice over the electric music. Perhaps one of the best indicators of what Clear Soul Forces is all about was in “Get No Better” as Noveliss said, “In the park shooting jumpers while others was flipping yay.” They are such an enchanting and refreshing group, bringing soulful and old-school vibes in their music and mixing that with an amazingly raw energy and thought-provoking lyrics. All of these factors—you can just see their love and passion for what they do with every beat, every word—are what make Clear Soul Forces such a standout act at A3C. They have headliner potential, and the drive they show on Saturday during their all-too-brief set shows that they will do anything to realize it.
Clear Soul Forces by Jeff Pearson.
The uplifting music of Clear Soul Forces was exactly what A3C’s Detroit showcase was all about, and the next performer, Jon Connor, also embodied the positive message that hip-hop has the ability to bring to crowds. Connor has an interesting blend of deep and reflective lyrics over giant, chest-cavity shaking beats, which he would often drop to deliver soul-searing a capellas to the crowd. The timeslot that Connor was given, in between the electric Clear Soul Forces and living legends Slum Village was a tough one for the Flint, Michigan emcee, but he made the most of the spot before the eager crowd. He won over a lot of people with his dynamic flows, transitioning from the rapid-fire to the slow and languid, always intriguing and thoughtful.
Jon Connor by Jeff Pearson.
The way that the up-and-comers set the stage for Slum Village was a beautiful thing, amping the crowd up and representing Michigan to the fullest. It felt less like Detroit coming to represent in Atlanta and more like we were all taken there, the artists taking everyone on a tour through their neighborhoods and letting us into their lives and city. The homecoming party culminated in the Detroit legends Slum Village, emcees T3 and Illa J once again bringing high energy, soulful hip-hop to the Masquerade. Illa J was wearing a shirt that read “Yancey Boys,” a tribute to his fallen brother J Dilla, and once again, as I assume each beat and rhyme that Illa J creates, the set felt like a tribute to the loss that left such a huge hole in not only his life, but in music in general. Slum Village utilized their slightly longer set time on Saturday to include more tracks to balance their high-energy attack with low-key melodic numbers such as the hits “Selfish” and “Fall In Love.” The tracks showcased the balance between Illa J’s soulful singing and T3’s rhyme skills balanced atop Jay Dee beats. There was just something special about seeing Slum Village at A3C, all of the history of Detroit’s music held within their subtle bars, all of the highs and lows perfectly represented.
Slum Village by Jeff Pearson.
We went outside to enjoy some fresh air—the festival couldn’t have fallen on a better weekend, weather-wise. Astonishingly, as is nature, though we thought we might never be hungry again after our big lunch, we knew this might have been our last opportunity to get a minute to eat, so we got a Huey-style hot dog (the Fritos on the chili dog now replaced with Cheetos) and fries from the Fry Guy food truck. After enjoying our dinner and taking in all of the beautiful October night that we had time for, we headed back to Purgatory to check the Mello Music Group showcase to be headlined by Oddisee. Unfortunately, Oddisee was stuck in travel trying his hardest to get there, and he and his group Diamond District weren’t able to perform. The showcase wasn’t a total bust, however; in fact, it was quite the opposite. Producer Apollo Brown treated the crowd to a wonderful set of beats that literally made the fillings in my teeth hurt because they were so bassy and massive. He played a lot of cuts from his and Guilty Simpson’s upcoming record Dice Game which really sold me on the record that’s due out in November, based on Brown’s production alone. Next was The Black Opera, a pretty surreal experience. The duo combined live instrumentation and a myriad of wardrobe changes to show a more fun-loving, though dark, side of hip-hop, and yU & Slimkat followed, bringing poetic clarity and a live band to the event. It was unfortunate that Oddisee couldn’t perform, but the rest of the Mello Music Group provided a fun atmosphere for those in attendance.
Back outside in the Music Park, the Kansas City, Missouri veteran Tech N9ne was rocking an energetic crowd. The atmosphere out in the field was an absolute party as Tech N9ne worked through hits from across the span of his nearly fifteen-year recording career. The face-painted emcee played the hit from his latest record, E.B.A.H., along with older hits, using his fast-paced lyrical flow to energize the crowd even further. He seemed genuinely floored at the crowd response, telling them after playing “Caribou Lou” that his fans are the best in the world, making that track a gold record without any radio play whatsoever. In that regard, Tech N9ne is a true underground marvel, gaining large success while remaining mostly underground. His set felt like a celebration of that success, the entire crowd rocking with every song.
Tech N9ne by Jeff Pearson.
The atmosphere was a party just about everywhere we went on Saturday night. Back inside the Masquerade, Chicago-based machine-gun lyricist Twista was getting the crowd live in the upstairs venue, Heaven. Twista brought all of his Chicago friends with him, and just like Slum Village had felt like a city-wide celebration for Detroit, so too did Twista’s set feel that way for Chicago. He proved that he is not just a fast spitter, but that he has been a veritable hit machine throughout his tenure in the hip-hop world. He got the crowd going immediately with his and Kanye West’s “Slow Jamz,” lifted by a huge Jamie Foxx hook; the crowd sung along to every word to Kanye’s verse and Foxx’s chorus, with only the diehards able to keep up with Twista. The party was over in a flash, Twista working through songs like “Celebrity Overnight” and “Girl Tonite.” The depth of his catalog was on display all throughout his set, not resting simply on his skills to wow the crowd but delivering a fluid and fun set.
Twista by Jeff Pearson.
The plan was to book it over to Little Five Points to see Smoke DZA and Ab-Soul close out the weekend for us, but as they say, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. When such big stars are set to play a small venue like the Star Bar, plans of showing up right at showtime were destined to go awry from the start. The venue was absolutely packed, with a line out the door, so we decided to head back to the Masquerade to finish our night off there. Going on at the Jakprints stage in Purgatory was a 9th Wonder-curated showcase where the Raleigh DJ, of Little Brother fame, was spinning to an energetic crowd and cycle of emcees. The entire event was fluid and high-energy; each set blended perfectly into the next, from 21-year old Chuuwee all the way to the up-and-coming superstar in the making Rapsody. It was really representative of what the event was all about—9th Wonder had cultivated a very familial and intimate atmosphere by having all of the brightest stars from his Jamla label showcase their talents while he showcased his. The inclusive nature of the whole event was on display in this showcase, and, to me, showed that true power of hip-hop that I’ve been pondering all weekend while at A3C. When it comes down to it, egos are just not important in the grand scheme of what hip-hop is all about, what the genre means to the world. It’s just about the music and being together. It’s about unity and being one. White, black, rich or poor, we were all under the same roofs this weekend celebrating the same thing, and there’s not much more powerful than that.
9th Wonder by Jeff Pearson.