By John Hanley
In the high ceilinged, dimly lit bar atmosphere of Spanish Moon, booms and baps echoed across the empty floor. As classic hip hop songs like “NY State of Mind” blared for two hours at the hands of DJ Automatik, people began to shuffle in, grabbing drinks and waiting patiently. Thus began an event from Marcel P. Black’s Baton Rouge hip hop project, Hip Hop Is Alive.
The show consisted of exactly what you’d imagine—four underground hip hop acts embodying the message that hip hop in Baton Rouge is, indeed, alive. First up: Jabee.
Jabee has played opening sets for alternative rap giants Run The Jewels (rapper-producer El-P and rapper Killer Mike) and even played a song of his produced by El-P himself. The rapper spent some of his set freestyling, jokingly pointing out a girl in the audience and rapping over a sample of Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” (making sure to let it be known that he didn’t want any trouble when it was discovered that the girl was taken). Jabee’s finale consisted of an a capella in which he detailed his personal issues of feeling alone and having to be his own support.
Following Jabee was duo Ill Relatives out of Chicago and Baton Rouge. The two emcees, who have worked with the likes of David Banner and Kamikaze, got the crowd jumping with a single off of their upcoming EP called “Lite Em Up.” They kept with the theme of boom-bap, working off of each other both in their songs and as they spoke between songs. They were followed by an alternative duo, rapper 7evenThirty and DJ Gensu Dean.
7evenThirty swaggered out onto the stage in a fedora, sunglasses, and skinny jeans, only to be described as a nerdy Andre 3000. All of 7evenThirty’s songs were from his newest album, The Problem, which was entirely produced by Gensu Dean and features underground hip hop celebrity Sean Price. 7evenThirty danced his way through fast tempos and jam-packed lyrics, asking for all of the crowd’s energy. The rapper himself noted his alternative style in an interview after the show:
“It was the Pharcyde ‘Drop’ video where everything was backwards—I’m like ‘Yo, I want to do that shit,’” he said. “Watching Busta Rhymes, Redman, Ol’ Dirty [Bastard], all that crazy shit—that’s the stuff that really stuck out to me, the weird, crazy shit.”
Even with heavy ‘90s-era boom-bap influences, his unique style shines through. But his self-ascribed quirkiness is not to be taken as a lack of professionalism or sincerity.
“I’ve learned to not take things so seriously, but be dead serious about what I do,” he said. “I approach everything with a sincerity and a seriousness even when I’m not being serious. That’s kind of where I feel like I am right now.”
Following 7evenThirty’s energetic show was an equally energetic, but deeply conscious-based set from the main act and organizer of the show itself, Marcel P. Black. Many of Black’s songs involved social commentary about subjects like the school-to-prison pipeline, gangs, New Jim Crow, and other race issues, and he made sure the crowd heard what he had to say by performing frequent a capellas. Black admitted his past in gang life, but made it known that he has moved on. He has spent several years in youth development, the past five of which he has spent in education.
As far as the show, Black said, “I’m just trying to show that there is real hip hop [in Baton Rouge]. I’m a mentor by trade, so as it pertains to hip hop, I want to provide a platform for underground independent artists to own themselves and hone their crafts and network.” Black says he “may or may not be dropping an EP next month.”