Heavy Contact celebrates a DJ birthday

by Dave Roberts

An eerie green glow haunts the guy manning the decks on stage in the back of an empty room. Stationary spots of similarly emerald light are spattered at even intervals on the black walls and floor. On one wall, on a six-by-eight-foot screen, is projected a DVD retrospective on the life of Tony Bennett. The solitary figure at the booth is, appropriately enough, DJ J Lone, and he’s setting the mood with a well-rounded selection of equal parts classic and contemporary hip hop as the first attendees arrive at Club Peppers in High Point for Scoop’s Eff’n Birfday Slapfest featuring Heavy Contact.

It’s the right kind of place to hold a party: It has enough open space for free movement and crowding about the stage, yet small enough to create a sense of intimacy between artist and audience. The décor almost seems a work in progress. Schizophrenically split down the middle, the bar area is ornately appointed, row upon row of glasses hanging upside down behind the bar among neon beer signs and liquor displays and a brace of flanking TVs showing college football, while the dance area is Spartan – standard tables and chairs of Formica and vinyl, the latter of which shudders in the heavy pulsing of the bass notes off the speakers. It’s as if a sports bar was surgically grafted onto an underground club. Open for a little over three years, the club came by its unusual name, which might lead one to expect a psychedelic atmosphere frequented by Beatles cover bands, when the owner wanted to describe a place where “everything’s hot,” according to his fiancé, who’s tending bar.

As the first few acts, an interchanging group from On Our Game Entertainment, take the stage, the sense of intimacy continues. Rather than rigidly separated sets, the artists swap the stage back and forth among each other, like a rhyming relay race. It feels like a party, not a performance, with the relaxed atmosphere of a karaoke machine at a friend’s house. But this is one talented group of friends. The On Our Game crew whips the crowd up with rapid-fire flow and well-chosen back beats.

The main event, Heavy Contact, steps up to the mikes with the crowd primed and ready. Composed of Tenacious, Phorensics and Scoop the DJ, they’re on a tad early because, as Tenacious puts it, “It’s Scoop’s birthday and he wants to get his krunk on.” Tenacious has been rapping since second grade, back when he was imitating the Beastie Boys. The influence is noticeable, and not just in his outfit, a black suit jacket with aviator shades. There are echoes of the Beasties though a Southern flavor is dominant throughout both his and Phorensic’s flow. Their songs come, as Tenacious puts it, “from life experiences. I find an instrumental that fits the emotion I’m trying to put out. Then I find a hook and fill in the verses.”

Those life experiences make for some engrossing lyrics. Their song “Better Days,” which co-opts its hook from the Shirelle’s “Mama Said,” possesses a despondent, almost angry beat as the frustrations of trying to get recognized in the world of hip hop compete with the hope of the artist. “The Deep South” embraces the artists’ “North Cack” roots in its lyrics and its sly insertion of a fiddle strain in the beat, while “Fire Music” serves up the traditional theme of chest-thumping self-promotion that dominates hip hop. The surprise mid-song introduction of trumpet player Dustin Jennings delights the audience, who clearly was not expecting live instruments. In a club featuring any other genre of music, it would be fairly common, almost expected; here it’s a novelty that brings whoops and squeals of mirth from the small mob surrounding the players. Behind it all Scoop focuses on his boards, a slight figure with a full beard and dark glasses.

Their set ends and the last act of the evening, Hosanna, steps up. A rapper out of Hawaii, he lets us know he drove 10 hours from Florida just to be here. His DJ adds extra elements of synth and electronica to his staccato lyrical bursts. The crowd has started to thin out, and if Hosanna’s a bit peeved that he came all this way to perform for five or 10 people, he only lets it out in the intensity he brings to his stage show. A fireball of energy in a hoodie and jeans, he pounces around the stage and, turning drawback into opportunity, takes advantage of the thinning group to descend among them and rap with them, not just to them. It’s a marvelous bit of impromptu stagecraft, and it works, enticing those seated at the tables to join him in dancing. As he climbs back on stage, he wishes Scoop, who’s getting yet another shot bought for him at the bar, a happy birthday, capping off a successful night.

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