As Flannery O'Connor would sympathize with: A good hip-hop and punk fusion group is hard to find. Luckily, Lawrence discovered one at the Jackpot on Thursday night--Minneapolis' Eyedea and Abilities. In a true convergence of hip-hop with punk and rock influences (think about what Linkin Park would sound like if they didn't totally suck balls), the duo pairs Eyedea's furious flow with Abilities' dark industrial beats, forming a brooding, moody fusion that has been pegged as "emo rap" and "urban intellectualism."
One thing's for sure: whatever it was that Eyedea and Abilities churned out on stage at the Jackpot on Thursday night was hypnotizing.
Eyedea, whose real name is Michael Larsen, is a weathered battle rapper who sliced and diced his way to victory at HBO's "Battle Blaze" in 2000. He and his producer partner DJ Gregory "Max" Keltgen (better known by his stage name Abilities) grew up together, later signing to Rhymesayers Entertainment's label, home to other politically conscious hip-hop acts like Atmosphere and P.O.S.
Eyedea and Abilities combined raspy cynicism with a powerful punk thrust, creating a melding of styles that stretched the limits of hip-hop's comfort zone. Eyedea leaned over the crowd, sputtering rhymes that were both incisive and introspective over Abilities' chunky bass lines.
Eyedea sputtered, spat, smoked, and screamed throughout the duo's surprisingly short set (or perhaps it only seemed short. Ripping through numbers with a furious intensity, time flowed without any rhythm other than that spouting from Eyedea's mouth). A hipster with a molestache, Eyedea rocked the green chucks, rolled jeans and a plaid button-up as he tore through his opening number with a bleak sincerity: No matter how hard I hit the ground / I smile. "People get lost in the looks," Eyedea admitted, with a swagger that was more punk-rock-asshole than high-rolling-rapper.
Swinging the speakers, playing with the mic stand and fucking with the ceiling tiles, Eyedea futzed around the Jackpot's stage as he rolled out a flow of metaphors that seemed effortless--that is, until he roared into the mic, bending over in wrenching agony. A relentlessly charismatic performer, Eyedea didn't simply interact with the crowd; he physically assaulted them. Grabbing a kid's shirt, Eyedea lifted him by his collar and commanded him to dance. (He actually tried to grab my camera away from me at one point, and successfully managed to snatch some chick's cell phone.)
In a move most MCs reserve for the climax of their sets, Eyedea hopped off stage into the crowd within the first few numbers. "Is this a concert, or is this a poetry reading?" He asked. Eyedea and Abilities' numbers are arguably both; but, as Eyedea ground his mic into the ground and flailed about the stage, he was clearly working the crowd into a frenzy that was distinctly animal. "Whose pitcher of beer is this?" Eyedea asked, before promptly pouring it over himself and launching into his next number. Fumbling through his jacket, Eyedea lit a cigarette on stage as Abilities ripped on the turntables in the background before sauntering up to the mic stand and taking drags between verses.
But the Eyedea's ranting antics were tempered by the bleak, cynical and at times, self-loathing content of his verse. As the duo catapulted into Eyedea and Abilities' new single from By the Throat, "Burn Fetish," Eyedea gazed out into the crowd with a desperate look, as if taken aback by the confessional power of his own lyricism. Suddenly, with absolutely no fanfare, Eyedea hopped off stage, storming off through the crowd and abruptly ending this set. The audience looked around at each other, dumbfounded, before dispersing back into the Jackpot's booths and barstools.
But lo and behold, five minutes later, a sweaty and beer-soaked Eyedea could be found behind the merch table. I shook Eyedea's hand after the set, admitting that he was the first person I'd ever seen to light a cigarette on stage at the Jackpot. "I'm a bit of a rebel," he said sheepishly.