Kabal turns Walnut into Beat Street.

Wednesdays Gone Wild 

Kabal turns Walnut into Beat Street.

Kabal, the city's latest attempt to bring beats, rhymes and nightlife north of Westport, is already attracting local-celebrity guests such as Mayor Kay Barnes. Though she wasn't busting any moves when spotted at the club on January 21, the mayor did rap with a decent-sized crowd about her plans to revitalize the area. (Asked if it might be advantageous to focus on downtown in particular rather than everything from the River Market to the Plaza, she freestyled this stunner: "Often, I would agree with you. When I say often, I mean many times during the city's history. Personally, I don't think it's the right way to do it now.")

About thirty hours later, Kabal patrons witnessed even more dazzling wordplay: I'm a true master you can check my credentials/'Cause I choose to use my infinite potential ... The word of the 3rd stands true, so no panickin'/Man versus man/You freeze up like a mannequin. Those lines, from Jeru da Damaja and 3rd Bass, respectively, were among the hundreds of hip-hop quotables DJ Mike Scott mixed in the club's basement space. Head-nodding old-school aficionados lined the walls and mouthed the words, giving wide berth to a few breakdancers spinning at the center of the floor.

Upstairs, DJ Taha mixed newer underground tunes, but folks weren't feelin' it. Foot traffic was consistent, thanks in part to a no-cover-charge policy that encouraged sampling, but most clubgoers bypassed Kabal's street-level space, despite its sharp metallic décor and regal high ceilings, and followed the bass blasts downstairs. Scott's sweet segues -- most spectacularly the Beastie Boys' backmasked "Paul Revere" into Pharcyde's similarly loopy "Passing Me By" -- maintained a steady heartbeat that was loud enough to crack surrounding ribs.

Kabal's night-to-night take can be erratic -- last Thursday, the house DJ collective Simply Soul Syndicate drew only dozens on a rainy evening. But even though dance music remains an uncertain draw, one that couldn't sustain the late Spark Bar during its run just a few blocks from Kabal's 534 Walnut location, high-quality hip-hop nights are becoming the closest thing clubs can claim to a sure thing.

With the Hurricane's Monday night Essence events (at which Chuck D recently made an unbilled appearance) and monthly Lyricist Lounge gigs, the Brick's Tuesday hip-hop rumbles, Kabal's Wild-Style Wednesdays and El Torreon's upcoming Chop Shop producers' showcase, local club calendars are suddenly rap-happy. Nearly all of these forums cater to the burgeoning conscious movement, but Kabal's DJs go straight to the source, spinning gold from the era (the late '80s and early '90s) that today's positive MCs alternately pine for and attempt to recreate.

Readers of the modestly distributed pamphlet River City Times voted Kabal's opening "the best thing to happen in 2002," and though thin competition and a meager voting pool might dilute this accomplishment, the club's emergence as a midweek fixture could eventually earn it large-scale accolades.

What north-of-Westport entertainment districts need most is a hook. Nights such as Wild Style get people in the habit of going out even when top touring or local acts aren't active. They also establish informal communities, groups of interactive regulars with unique dynamics. Once there are a few more places like Kabal downtown, clubs that help establish an identity for the area, it will make sense to build an arena there -- people will have somewhere to go before or after a concert or tournament.

Speaking of the mythical arena, storefronts along Walnut taunted Barnes with "No New Arena: Stanford Glazer for Mayor" posters in their windows. Having already cased the place, Barnes should retort by challenging Glazer to an MC battle at Kabal, with the loser dropping out of the race.

Taking the floor to L.L. Cool J's "Mama Said Knock You Out," the incumbent could alter a handle formerly used by a fringe EPMD member until it fits her needs: Kay-SoLo. The challenger, presumably no slouch in the hip-hop department after witnessing open-mic events at his nightclub, Stanford and Sons, could borrow Everlast's alias Whitey Ford and emerge with "Jump Around" as his theme.

If the skirmish proved spectator-friendly, developer Dave McQuitty could move his proposed political-themed bar from Westport to the City Market, tweak its format to incorporate hip-hop and create Def Jam Debates. Now that's wild style.

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