Tonight I watched Astronautalis, a Florida-cum-Minnesota rapper I've seen once previously at SXSW, who was soon thereafter added to iPod playlists that include P.O.S., Poliça and most if not all of the Rhymesayers Entertainment squad (disclosure: the writer briefly interned at the label), and inevitably, recommended to anyone who asked me off hand whose album I'd recommend they listen to next.
He is, hands down, my favorite rap performer to date, and he put on one of the best shows I've watched at the Hard Rock Cafe. There are nights on which that stage looks massive. Even performing with a modest two-piece band, the man formerly known on playgrounds as Andy Bothwell made it look tiny, prowling the stage and dancing in what looked like something between mosh pit plyometrics and witnessing Holy Spirit consumption in a Pentecostal church.
It was really, really incredible stuff.
He played what you'd consider the hits: "The River, The Woods." "Dimitri Medeleev." "Contrails." "Measure the Globe." Songs that not many in attendance knew. But then, that would imply the crowd was many in the first place (it was maybe 40 at its fever pitch).
For the unfamiliar, Astronautalis' big cocktail party trick is freestyling for a pretty remarkable amount of time (like a song and a half by mixtape standards), based solely on the audience's topic suggestions. You can look it up on YouTube. It's very seldom anything less than awesome. For some reason, the Vegas crowd, when asked for topic suggestions, went what I guess you could call intellectual. Sociology. Thermodynamics as they relate to social interaction (or something). Caligula. Orphan revolts (that was mine).
This was the part when you saw what a good showman Andy Bothwell is. When he'd freestyle, he'd dig into a topic. Then, after running through the list, when it was time to come back to the topic and tie it back in, he'd find the suggester's eyes and smile. (See what I did there?) And you couldn't help but smile like a doofy little kid. I sure did.
Here's the part where I have to get a little macro. Having a rapper like Astronautalis (and like Aesop Rock and Heiroglyphics shortly before him) play Vegas in any headlining capacity says something important about Las Vegas that we hope to God is true: that our local hip-hop scene is growing enough both in talent and enthusiasm to get noticed outside of Clark County. It's like getting a more extensive cable package that includes all the little indie flick channels. We already had Atmosphere and Murs, and a (welcome) onslaught of just straight up capital-r Rap music. But we could soon be in a position to get, on a repeat and regular basis (that's the important part), Doomtree, Black Milk, Brother Ali, Rhymefest, et fucking al.
That's this writer's 2013 wish list. What's on yours?