Something strange happens at local hip-hop shows. The bands, the music are good. Sometimes great. And I’ll get to that. But it’s the things that happen before the first microphone is check-check one-two one-two’d and the first pair of glossy Nikes heel-toe across the stage, like they did around 9:45 last night at The House of Blues. The strange part is how the night’s fate is defined by the hip-hop elements that occur when the doors open. The pre-show scratching. The live painting. The b-boys and b-girls gathering to trade windmills and freezes on the venue floor.
Real hip-hop happens at 9 p.m.
And if the elements present that early were any indication, Rhyme N Rhythm was about to celebrate another successful “The Elements” hip-hop showcase. For the unfamiliar, it’s named for this sort of earth/wind/fire concept of “true” hip-hop. How hip-hop isn’t just the words that come out of monitors, but rather all the other parts, the aforementioned 9 p.m. parts, that really define hip-hop as a culture versus a genre.
Let me tell you, it was there last night. The booming, thoughtful hooks of Mr. Ebranes and ‘90s, Pepa-esque accompaniment from Youthinazia. The curiously midwestern style of Ekoh, who reminded us of a post You Can’t Imagine How Much Fun We’re Having Slug from Atmosphere (keep your eye on this kid. When he figures out what to do between songs he’ll be an absolute powerhouse). The always incredible beatboxing of JR Beatbox and the white Rick Ross stage presence of Mikey VIP. The Runaway Tribe breakdancing crew, which we’d vote to watch over almost any Cirq show on the strip. And while DJ Miss Joy spins her set, it becomes obvious this was all build-up for what came next.
Around 11:30, the rhythm section of Rhyme N Rhythm takes its place in the back row: Tadow. Coco. K-Nyce. Scuba Steve. (I’m not making these up.) There are no rappers to speak of. The drums open with a hi-hat pattern. The bass and keys fall in with the guitar. Still no rappers. Louder and louder, the melody rises like bread in the oven. At its breaking point, Jerry Wayne half skips, half sprints from offstage to front and center, shouting the opening lines of “Natural Disasters” as the sound crashes down around him, paving the way for Freddy Tiff, A-1ne and Bob Cane to join in the front. Dressed in a tracksuit, big shades and a bigger beard, Cane looks like Sacha Baron Cohen’s Dictator as he stands at the edge of the stage, a four-voice backing chorus easing the crowd into “La La La.” A-1ne’s voice is thick. Standing in front of the monitor during the chorus of “This Track Right Here” feels like getting slowly pushed down beneath the weight of a mattress. They’re getting louder. The rhythms. The rhymes. The audience during a cover of Andre 3000’s “Prototype.” A lone chorus singer breaks into Erykah Badu’s “Tyrone” — emphatically accompanied by most if not all women in the audience.
Say what you will about the band’s lyrical complexities and delivery, as sometimes people do. RNR is the most consistently “on” rap outfit in Las Vegas. When they close the night with “Ridiculous,” the rhythm section doesn’t just play the uproarious chorus. It inhabits it. It lives in it. It pays rent and adheres to curmudgeony HOA standards in it. And it’s in that chorus a bafflingly on-beat, curiously polite but still enthusiastic mosh pit breaks out in the center of the floor. And for good reason. The whole night has been building to this point, to this mosh pit in which a group of mostly unfamiliar faces and Las Vegas hip-hop newcomers sweat out their button-up shirts. And that’s what The Elements is for.
But the night wasn’t over. At least, not on paper. There was still the Kismet/Misty Reign/Roxie Feathers empowering spoken-word trio piece, Marion Write’s expectedly solid and scene-empowering live set and former Las Vegan Isaac Sawyer’s closing performance. But the crowd looked post-coital. RNR already played the closing, throw-bouquets-onstage, hug-the-visiting-relatives performance. They just did it three sets early.
Either way, The Elements was on point. The performers, dancers, artists and DJs were on point. It was a great night to participate in Las Vegas hip-hop.