The Blind Tiger’s Funk Night Showcases Gritty Hip Hop
It’s about an hour before Tuesday turns to Wednesday, and at least three out of the four elements of hip hop are in play at the Blind Tiger ‘— the graffiti kids may well be here too, but their art becomes apparent only after they melt into the night.
DJ SK (AKA Jody Kimball), who heads up the Kaos Mathematics DJ collective, has abandoned his seat at the bar for the stage and is spinning a selection ranging from new-school Jamaican dancehall to LL Cool J’s classic ‘“Mama Said Knock You Out.’” The B-boys are casually popping on the floor. Actually it’s mainly B-boy Chauncey doing head plants, droll mime and fancy floor work while witeboi, Minh and a couple female friends laugh and point approvingly.
Outside in front of the club Chris Smith, a hip hop manager with a rock-solid physique, shoulders a digital video camera over a new oversized white T-shirt, as he holds court with two of his artists, Top Dawg and Alottyrain, along with a bevy of other verbal battlers. They’ve just arrived from a hip hop showcase at Alexander Devereux, an upscale dining establishment on High Point Road, and are still riding in the giddy wake of Dawg and Alottyrain’s lyrical performances.
Top Dawg is a lanky MC who wears a striped shirt and jeans and holds a pile of cornrows in place under a wide-brimmed Yankees ball cap. He bears more than a passing resemblance to the Snoop Dogg, and during his set later tonight he’ll acknowledge a creative debt to the rapper as well. Born Trevor Moore, Top Dawg came up on the east side, but the 21 year old’s songs display a comprehensive knowledge of the Gate City’s housing projects and streets from Summit Avenue to Florida Street.
Alottyrain ‘— a moniker constructed from an anagram of the self-same Tina Taylor’s name, who also works as a promoter with Smith ‘— is dressed in jeans and a colorful top that reveals a broad swath of her back with a tattoo of what at first glance appears to be a phoenix rising from the ashes but turns out to be a seductive-looking bare-assed woman with raven hair ‘— an angel, she says. Tonight, the 28-year-old Alottyrain is not wearing the glasses that perch on her nose during business hours and her bleached hair is teased up into a little pouf at the front of her head.
Back inside, Monte Smith, a white guy who specializes in radical anti-racist spoken word performance, is selling sneakers at a table off to the side of the bar. Clearly, this is not the regular arrangement for the Blind Tiger, a venue better known for blistering blues performances and earthy jam band sessions.
SK is the indispensable element of what the venue euphemistically terms its ‘funk night,’ a standing gig the New Jersey turntablist has had for almost four years. SK books most of the MCs for the Blind Tiger. He also spins records downtown at the Sky Bar for the venue’s ‘college night.’ If hip hop ‘— a genre exploding with the hopes and frustrations of not just black young people but international youth of all races ‘— has a home in Greensboro, it might as well be the Blind Tiger.
‘“People have said this is like the Apollo Theater of hip hop,’” SK says. ‘“I get all kinds of demos. At the Sky Bar it’s more college kids humping each other. This is more hip hop.’”
Now Chris Smith and his posse are at the bar. A couple dudes shoot pool. Alottyrain has a beer dangling in her right hand and she dances around the room, occasionally smiling shyly at the pool players. She does a little popping before Chauncey in what seems part tribute and part challenge. The B-boy just gives a slight quiver and declines to respond until Alottyrain passes by. Then he goes back to his contortions.
In truth, the B-boys are a little down on the scene, especially witeboi, who’s not partial to the hard-edged reggae track currently on the table.
‘“I hate this sh*t,’” he says, making the gesture of strangling himself. ‘“It sounds like [the TV show] ‘Cops.””
Soon the crowd is sufficiently primed for the MCs. Alottyrain, whose album is scheduled for release in September, takes the stage, accompanied by Smith and an MC named Ballistic.
‘“This song is about a fantasy I had,’” Alottyrain says. Then turning to Christopher Lea, the WUAG hip hop DJ standing off to one side of the stage, she asks: ‘“Have you ever had a fantasy, ShoSmoove?’”
SK puts on the instrumental track, an over-the-top cinematic theme with vaguely Bollywood textures that hurtles forward with a sensuous and hypnotic pulse.
Entitled ‘“Give It 2 Me,’” the song verges on pornography, describing in frank but plain terms all the ways a woman and a man can make love to each other, the way a couple overcome with lust would tear into each other in an extravagant session that moves from a bedroom to a kitchen to a balcony to a swimming pool.
‘“Give it to me, put some pressure on it,’” she raps. ‘“Give it to me, beat it down in the hole.’”
Alottyrain is only doing one song tonight, a tease for her Sept. 23 album release. The main act is Top Dawg, who raps over more than an hour of tracks from his mixed-tape demo. Top Dawg raps with a big smile that belies a mercenary lyricism. His songs roll off the tongue in a smooth patter. Like his hero Snoop, Dawg’s relaxed vocal approach only heightens the sense of menace and unease in his rhymes.
By the third track the B-boys have split and Dawg is rapping for a crew of appreciative fellow lyricists who’ve come out to show support. Backed by a bombastic groove that sounds like a ’70s TV action soundtrack, he declares: ‘“Being on the bottom, that’s the bitch spot,’” adding in another part of the song: ‘“The wrong move will get you niggers cut.’”
While many of Dawg’s songs deal with potentially traitorous homeboys, others explore themes of distrust between men and women in romantic relationships. One is addressed to a woman who unfairly suspects Dawg of sleeping around when he’s really spending his time trying to advance himself in the rap game. ‘“Now you’re driving me to drink liquor and wine,’” he calls out. ‘“There’s plenty of hoes for the Dawg, plenty of niggers you’ll find. Go get a nigger that can deal with ya.’”
At a quarter ’til two the entertainment breaks up. But the night’s not over as the bartender scoops up dead soldiers. Outside, the fans are milling in the street as some smooth R & B pumps through the open door of a white Acura parked on the curb and the sweet smell of sauerkraut and grilled onions wafts through the summer air from the hot dog man’s cart.
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