Houston in the house

by Ryan Snyder

As situational irony in hip hop goes, rappers Fat Tony and Tom Cruz dispensing “Denim Guinness Boys” in the middle of a pool hall is about as striking a specimen as you’ll ever observe from an artist out of the historically visceral scene. The song itself is a mission statement of sorts for Fat Tony, a young rapper whose approach is so old school it pales the current crop of day-glo and snapback obsessed junior throwbacks. “Denim Guinness Boys,” I suppose, could be construed as an ultra-meta mockery of Southern rappers who fancy style over substance. “Drink Guinness, wear denim,” the song’s refrain goes, but during the duo’s set at Longshank’s on Sunday night, it seemed totally practical.

The hip-hop scene at Longshank’s is still technically in its infancy after only a handful of low-key performances, but the bookings themselves were the inspired sort — Oakland weed rappers Main Attrakionz, megatrill prep stars Dark Sister and now the ultra resourceful Tony and Cruz. In this case, it was timing par excellence, and not only because of a surprise intro by Brooklynvia-Winston-Salem emcee Jams F. Kennedy who was coincidentally in town for that night. Cruz produced Tony’s 2010 debut album RABDARGAB and the pair dropped their first album as a collaborative duo entitled Double Dragon which, you guessed it, is built on beats sampled entirely from the beat-‘em-up video game series.

Anyone who’s ever played the actual 8-bit Double Dragon video game can probably attest to getting pissed at a friend for landing combos intended for the crowds of Ropers and Lindas square on your noggin instead and then laughing about it while your third life blinks away. These Dragons don’t have that problem. Tony and Cruz traded precise, efficient, overlapping rhymes on “Back At the Ranch,” a treatise on not blowing your label advance while keeping it real and keeping your ferns alive while out on tour. They made room for the soulful chanteuse 10ille, their own Marian, on “Young Girl.” “Just think of me as your tutor/ I’m underpaid, I motivate, and I like to fornicate with my students,” Tony raps in one of the set’s more droll moments.

Jams had suggested dropping a few verses alongside Tony and Cruz, but it never came to fruition, even though Blunt Fang’s countrified part on “Inventory” feels straight out of his oeuvre. The other local act in the set, Greensboro’s GeeKs & azWHOLEz, set the tenor for the smallish but rowdy crowd. Frontman Beast epitomizes the duo’s hyphy weed rap and Beastie Boys-inspired instrumental, stoner-funk dynamic, one moment break-dancing between verses, the next laying down groovy basslines and then sprawling across a barstool while swimming through the imagined space of Uniqkewayz’s ethereal beats. Their sets border on the unpredictable, breaking the fourth wall between them and their audience, and compelling anyone who’s willing to de-shirt along with frontman Beast, ladies included. It can get a little weird at times, but hey, like Longshank’s is doing, they’re building something here.