Sunday, March 19, 2017

Review of Hagan Lee's 2nd Saturday 3 year anniversary

17098421_10154159192481415_8117802688896564590_nSince I've been back in the Tampa Bay area, I haven't had much of a chance to get out and see live music. The last few months have been full of getting adjusted and catching up. But I've been slowly trying to get back into the groove and supporting the local scenes.

Like most of the region, the Tampa Bay hip-hop community is often divided by the geographic expanse of the bay. Performers and fans usually don't venture across the bridges to see local shows. Unless it is a national act, it takes effort to pull people across the water.

But St Pete hip-hop artist Hagan Lee specializes in bridging the divide.

For the last three years, Hagan Lee has MC'ed 2nd Saturday, a hip hop show at Fubar, a bar on Central Avenue in St Petersburg. Surrounded by tattoo parlors, boutique small businesses, and other dive bars, Fubar is a small venue that hosts an eclectic array of music, from hip-hop to dubstep to metal. Whatever people enjoy while drinking beer, Fubar will have on stage.

That eclecticism makes Fubar the perfect place to see unfiltered underground hip-hop. There are few places left to see raw music of any kind, where the stage is shared by experienced artists staying in touch with the scene and young artists trying to break in. While it might be easier for a venue to book a DJ to keep known hits spinning, it is nights such as 2nd Saturday that keep scenes alive and foster creativity, giving a voice and identity to communities.

2nd Saturday's 3rd anniversary was a perfect example of an underground scene at its best.

A bit of a disclaimer: I have known Hagan Lee and a majority of the performers on the bill for years. Hagan is friends with several of my FSU alumni friends and many of my local hip-hop friends. So my presence was to not only support a scene, but to support a friend doing his thing. I wouldn't nor shouldn't expect people to ever support my creative work if I never support them. We should all support each other no matter our interests.

Although the flyer said 9pm, I arrived shortly after 10pm. I am not sure if I missed an opening act. The first person I saw on stage besides the ever-present DJ Yeti was Marcel P. Black, an MC from Baton Rogue, Louisiana. Marcel is a social conscious MC with southern hip-hop sound similar to more well known acts Bun B or Killer Mike. Marcel only performed a few songs but between told the audience a several facts about his life, such as that he came from a church family, went down the wrong path, decided to do right for his wife and kids, and now uses hip-hop in his work as a guidance counselor.

That's a strong backstory and a great example of using the language of a culture for the right reasons.

After Marcel P. Black was Aftermarket, a local duo of very lyrically talented MCs. I am usually cautious of white people in traditionally African-American music as they often look like they are trying too hard, but FLUent and KEN The Rapper looked perfectly at ease spitting complex rhymes at rapid speed. Coincidentally, earlier in the day I listened to Fu-Schnickens and wondered what happened to fast rhyming in hip-hop. I forgot what was once a staple to hip-hop curiosities is alive and well in the works of Tech-9, RA the Rugged Man, and Eminem, the latter of which seemed to heavily influence the members of Aftermarket. While not as depressingly tormented as Slim Shady, Aftermarket brought a complex rhyme style similar to many of the members of the Slaughterhouse collective.

My only small gripe with them is as a group, they are hard to find online. "Aftermarket" is not a very search friendly name, even if you put "hip-hop" after it.

In the break after Aftermarket, I slipped out of Fubar to buy some very tasty tacos from a curbside vendor outside the club. This isn't a food review, but those were some good tacos.

Following Aftermarket was Queen of Ex, a female MC with a lot of power to her rhymes. Queen of Ex brought a drummer on stage to accent her performance. Although she has been around the local scene for a while, this was the first time I had seen Queen of Ex perform. She reminded me of MC Lyte, with a strong NY hip-hop presence that controlled the stage and the audience.

After Queen of Ex was Dynasty, perhaps the most acclaimed MC in all of Tampa Bay. Reviews of Dynasty's music are posted all over Tampa Bay music media, so allow me to get personal for a moment. I grew up listening to an era of hip-hop that pushed me, a white kid from suburbia, to aspire for more. It was Nas's "The World is Yours" and Biggie's "Juicy" that pushed me to get out of my comfort zone, not settle for average, and keep going. Now one of my current favorites is Dynasty.

In the fall/winter of 2016, I was staying with family in a spare bedroom, on a mattress way too small for me, sending my resume to several job leads, talking to hiring managers, and driving back and forth across Florida to finish grad school. Often the soundtrack of my journey would be Dynasty's albums. Songs such as "Somebody Told Me" and lines in other songs such as "I've been doing it so long and I'm still aspiring" made me feel all the work I was putting in would eventually lead to an opportunity I wanted.

It's interesting knowing someone personally whose work inspires me. I want to say "Thank you" but at the same time say "What's up? How are you? What's new?" and keep it totally cool.

I know I am not the only person rocking with Dynasty, as when she was on stage Fubar suddenly became crowded with people there to see her set.

Following Dynasty was Aja Lorraine, a soulful singer with incredible talent. Aja might be one of the most vocally talented performers in Tampa Bay. And perhaps the most sultry. There are not many women with her vocal power who also don't mind dropping a few f-words and innuendos in the middle of her song. And when paired with husband rapper Hyfa Tha Prospect, they have an almost reverse LL Cool J "Doin It" vibe.

Lastly, was Hagan Lee himself. Hagan did several songs by himself, and others with frequent partner Foul Mowf. Hagan rocked the mic with hard rhymes about life and living in St Pete - an artistic city with both beautiful beaches and public schools known as "Failure Factories", a place with high class rooftop venues overlooking yacht clubs and dingy dark bars such as Fubar.

Hagan Lee brought the best of Tampa Bay's hip-hop community together to celebrate the 3rd anniversary of his 2nd Saturday show. While in the mainstream, hip-hop might be fubar, at Fubar underground hip-hop is alive and well.

Sunday, March 5, 2017

The original Biggy Smallz

Way back in the day, I heard rapper extraordinaire, the late Notorious B.I.G., stopped using the name Biggie Smalls because another rapper was using the name. The now-more-famous, but-then-newer Biggie (aka Christopher Wallace) only had a demo, a few freestyles, and the "Party & Bullshit" song to his name. He changed his name to Notorious B.I.G., dropped a few hip-hop classics, and the rest was history.

But who was the first Biggie?

Thank goodness for the internet. What was a 20 year mystery for me was solved in 10 minutes thanks to this great article on The Boom entitled "Notorious BIG vs Biggy Smallz: This or That?". According to writer Max Weinstein, the first Biggy (notice the spelling) was a white rapper from LA. He dropped two songs in 1991 then two more in 1993, both before the bigger Biggie released "Ready to Die". So the name was already taken and songs copywritten under the moniker.

Although he could never make a comeback with the same name, the first Biggy Smallz may have been ahead of his time. This song, from his first single, has a total "Uptown Funk" vibe at the 3:14 mark. Unfortunately, his rhyme style, flow, and cadence scream Kris Kross-era teen rap, which might work if he worked under the Disney umbrella.

In 1994, Biggy Smallz released "Cruisin'", along a video for the song. This song was released on Bellmark Records, an Los Angeles offshoot of Stax Records and was produced by Johnny J, who later worked with Tupac Shakur. With that credibility, there is no doubt was legit and Biggy had the name first.

In Crusin', Biggy Smallz not only sounds like Kris Kross, he even looks like a white kid trying to hard to be urban - not even hood, just urban. I knew kids kinda like this, sorta beach bummer, sorta wannabe gangsta, sorta Zack Morris preppy. It is very early 90s and Biggy rocked it well.

This is teen version of Vanilla Ice. And his presence in the hip-hop world made one of the most well-known MCs ever change his name. Not quite the same as a The Quarrymen and The Beatles, but an interesting footnote in music history.

Biggy Smallz other songs were: