On the Harpoon's mind of late has been whether Kansas City will figure into the history of hip-hop the way our city is landmarked on the jazz timeline. The underground rap scene here is more vibrant than most people realize. But unlike the Mafia-muscled days when jazz, sex and drugs were the pillars of mainstream nightlife, KC hip-hop is stifled -- by the club owners, by the cops, by an overall establishment that just doesn't want to deal with the fans and, to a large extent, by the gangstas and wannabe thugs who come out in swarms, intimidating people and initiating macho contests with one another (namely, the Bay-area biters).
While Fat Tone's crew has been busy killing off Mac Dre's crew and vice versa, some undeniably impressive shit has been dropping in the sonic alleys of original, local, independent hip-hop. SoundsGood's Biscuits & Gravy is easily among the finest indie hip-hop albums on the market anywhere. The Lawrence duo of Approach and DJ Sku has developed the jaw-dropping improvisational chops of legendary sax-and-bass virtuosi Don Byas and Slam Stewart. Mac Lethal is recording an album for the prestigious Rhymesayers label. Deep Thinkers and the various artists associated with StyleNetCru have the conscious beat down to a science. And now Negro Sco and his instrument-wielding band, the Cosigners, are reportedly bringing a rare organic liveness to the scene.
Thankfully, most of the MCs name-checked above make a point of representing KC in their rhymes. Gates Barbecue gives me superhuman powers goes the oft-quoted Mac Lethal lyric, which, with any luck, will be on the tongues of kids in Oakland and Chicago. Likewise, when Joe Good raps about gettin' nervous while driving in Johnson County, kids who have never even heard of Overland Park's white folkways will somehow understand perfectly.
But before that happens, these guys need to be heard in Kansas City.
Luckily, there are at least two places to catch some spontaneous spittin': the Red Vine Cajun Restaurant and the News Room. The open-mike forum known as Soulistic Tuesday goes down every second and fourth Tuesday of the month at the Red Vine, presenting one featured artist (who, along with the DJs, gets the proceeds from the $5 cover) and a free-form lineup of rap, spoken word, a cappella soul singing and regular spinning by DJs Yady and Funguy.
The Red Vine's laid-back, classy environment, coupled with a 9 p.m. kickoff time, makes for a good entrée for the easily intimidated (or the fatigued old farts) to sample the local scene. In addition to rap, they'll see widely respected soul vixens such as Miss OnJaLee and gifted upstarts such as TriEssence make the walls sweat with lusty a cappella numbers, and they'll get street poetry from the spoken-word crowd. The headliner at the most recent Soulistic was rapper James Christos, who delivered aggressive (but not gangsta) lyrics over old-school beats and scratches (courtesy of Yady), accompanied by the guitar of tattooed and extremely affable "Pretty" Rick Mullins.
Soulistic Tuesday, though a lot of fun and attractive to a diverse crowd, has the harmless feel of a talent show. So naturally the Lyrical Harpoon took the bait when Christos' crew hyped Wednesday at the News Room as the real underground tip. As reported in the Harpoon's April 21 column on live music at this Broadway bar, the journalistically themed dive's back room serves as the stage, a cramped, grungy space that fills up quickly with an eager crowd. At 11:30 p.m. one night, the only kids present included the DJs from the Red Vine and Mullins, plus a freak-dancing older black couple and two idiotic white dudes who came in, rapped in the faces of complete strangers like they were on coke (had they disturbed the Harpoon, he would have speared their asses), then settled down when it became clear that they weren't winning any friends.
Yady, born in Jamaica, Queens, took turns on the decks with JoCo's own Funguy (real name Alex Doll), who, it should be noted, is just a skinny white dude who always wears sandals and looks more like the kind of guy an OG like MC Harpoon would steal a calculator from in ninth-grade geometry class than the kickass selector and scratcher he is. For that alone, he's automatically one of the Harpoon's favorite spinners in town.
An hour later, the tiny room was packed with a multiethnic crowd of kids bending at the knees as a group of MCs (mostly gangsta, unfortunately) passed the mike, all of them showing wonderful bravado but few showing true wit and versatility as the Yady and Funguy laid down beats from both coasts and down south.
Sorry to ruin the climax, but MC Lyrical Harpoon had to go home and crawl into his rhyme incubator before his turn came at the mike. But not before pronouncing the scene dope, fresh and unequivocally ill.