Camp Lo head up pre-holiday hip hop at Greene Street
There’s a special kind of warm, fuzzy feeling that hangs in the air of bars just before Thanksgiving or Christmas. The looming long weekend clears the head of ancillary concerns, and the emptiness amplifies it into a Zen-like state.
Conversations with the few other faces, usually familiar ones, seem richer, music sounds better and there’s a far greater appreciation for the drink in hand. When hip-hop survivalists Camp Lo hit Greene Street Club for a Tuesday night date on Nov. 23, along with them came all the trimmings of the quintessential hip-hop experience, and the tranquility of a pre-holiday crowd.
Nearly an hour after the night’s scheduled start time, and DJ SK is still alone onstage spinning crowd warmers. Not that anyone was complaining early on; there weren’t enough paying customers present to mount an objection, and anyone at a hip-hop show on a Tuesday night wouldn’t be offended by 45 minutes of J Dilla and Big L. SK stuck around to deejay for Durham duo the Presidents, who were the first beneficiaries of a rhyme-starved crowd that was slowly starting to trickle in, and were the first in a round of North Carolina hip-hop acts who would ultimately be the night’s real assets. The Presidents’ scored one of the most timely album titles of last year with their Stimulus Package mixtape, but the duo’s close-knit chemistry and Bull City lyrical bravado were a shot in the arm to a room on the verge of impatience.
Though they were a little wanting in the stage swag arena, KO Kid brought enough for everyone. The gifted Chapel Hill emcee and pre-med student’s set was everything the buzz around him promised; concise, intelligent lyr- ics with creative sampling, and an irrepressible stage presence. Though references to KO Kid typically are intended for Kobla Hargett, it’s more accurate to include his battery mate, rap- per and producer Paul Barker, also known as Ladro. His beats are what distinguish Hargett from most other hungry young emcees, but his sampling also gives the act cross genre appeal. Point in case, the vocal snippet and piano tap from Grizzly Bear’s “Two Weeks.” Hargett was joined by Greensboro’s own hip-hop star in the making, Afika Nx, for “Ride Tonight,” an unreleased collaboration that may still find its way onto Nx’s forthcoming mixtape
Finance & Fashion. The Tuesday show was originally intended to be the mixtape’s release party, but there’s concern that overlap created by the arrival of new material from Kanye West, TI, Lloyd Banks and Curren$y would create too much saturation in the hip-hop listen- ing market. Instead, he simply chose to drive anticipation skyward with a sound he calls “a little bit of Kanye and Röyksopp.” Word arrived that Camp Lo were running late for their set just as Nx was finishing his — curious in that they were playing in Chapel Hill only 24 hours earlier. New York deejay Terry Urban filled the empty space with mixes recognizable from his Sirius/XM show “Press Play.” The crowd brushed to the sides of the room as a pair of onlookers were inspired into their B-boy stances.
As unseasoned as they were, the sheer spontaneity drew every pair of eyes in the room, which almost seemed a deterrent as Urban gave them Melvin Bliss’ “Synthetic Substitution” on which to perform. To his dismay, both seemed to have called it quits. A quick reprimand — “I give you the greatest break of all time and you don’t step to it?” — got them back for an encore, however. Finally, Camp Lo’s arrival to Greene Street shed a little bit of light on the inexplicable delay.
The moment they stepped out of the van and into the open air, an uncorked bottle of Patron earned them an open-container viola- tion from a pair of cops passing by. DJ SK, who toured with them for more than a year, confirmed that in addition to fighting like a married couple, this was pretty typical behav- ior. In any event, their lateness pushed Stalley off the bill entirely. It’s probably fair to call the duo of Sonny Cheeba and Geechi Suede a “classic” hip-hop act by this point, though they’ve experienced a mild revitalization in recent years, with Greensboro-born producer Ski eschewing their traditionally jazzy beats for a more rugged edge on a pair of 2009 releases. Lyrically, the songs just don’t carry the same effortless cool as the first release. The hook “hands in the air/ wave ‘em like you just don’t care/ and leave ‘em there” from the title track to Another Heist fell flat, as the crowd looked mildly disinter- ested. Maybe it’s the curse of Big Willie Style, but no legit emcee ever really comes back from guesting on a Will Smith album — just ask Tra-Knox. Their moment in the sun came more than a dozen years ago with Uptown Saturday Night, the album that spawned their biggest hit “Luchini AKA This Is It” and “Coolie High.”
After that, though, it took them five years to produce another proper offering, and yet another five years after that for the third record, practically a death sentence for most. It’s no surprise that both were the only instances where the crowd could sing along — “Luchini falling from the sky” is one of the all-time great hooks, and “Coolie High” is still smoother than top- shelf liquor. For that moment in time, however, the warm feeling of two throwback joints done live felt good enough.