Last Wednesday, the Nectar Lounge hosted a show with three of underground hip hop’s most talented artists offered by independent record label Strange Famous. The lineup for the night highlighted artists Cecil Otter, B. Dolan, and Northwest local, Sleep (of Oldominion).
When you type the word “Chill” in to Wikipedia, there ought to be a direct link to Cecil Otter’s MySpace Page. Taking the stage first, Cecil laid down rhymes with his intensely laid back Minnesota style. To see someone put together such technical and poetic verses while seeming so relaxed was beyond impressive. Nearly every word of Cecil’s unique and mildly dark poetry came out perfectly smooth. I’m not sure how he would take this, but I wouldn’t hesitate to call Cecil hip hop’s Bob Dylan. The enlivening style of his music and lyrics is something not commonly heard in hip hop. Cecil’s distinctively calm delivery of both couldn’t have been a better way to start the night.
Founded by Sage Francis in 1996, Strange Famous is a record label known for supporting artists who create and perform generally unconventional music and lyrics. A master of persona and stunning wit and knowledge, B. Dolan is the true definition of one of these artists. Changing costumes throughout the set (everything from a mask to sunglasses to a grand finale involving an Evel Knievel outfit while leaping over a heckling audience member), his hour on stage was just as much a performance as it was a set of well-written songs and spoken word creations. He exhibited a great sense of meaning and intense emotion with every movement of his body and expression of his face, giving the crowd the sense that not only did he feel strongly about what he was saying, but so did we as an audience. I could tell I wasn’t the only one blown away by the song “Joan of Arcadia”. He nailed every well-thought, controversial rhyme with a forceful precision that drove the song’s message powerfully forward from the stage, holding everyone’s attention from the second the first verse left his mouth until the last word reached our ears.
Sleep hit the stage last, backed by DJ Zone and Chase Pingree on drums. It’s hard to describe exactly what happened on that stage, but it was nothing short of absolutely amazing. When you combine the lyrical technicality of someone like Sleep with a DJ mastermind like Zone, you’ve got a damn good duo. Throw some live drums in there and it’s a whole different animal. While Sleep rapidly weaved intricate patterns of numbingly fast, yet surprisingly comprehensible rhymes over Zone’s elaborate beats and samples, Chase was pounding his drums with a ferocity that caused at least one broken stick.
Adding live drums to a hip hop set is one thing, but Chase is a self-taught drummer with a well-rounded style that is the product of an extensive history of drumming with various musical groups from technical metal to punk rock to jazz. Never one to be a slacker, Chase is known for bringing his best and going as hard as possible every time he plays, no matter what music he’s playing or where he’s playing it. The previous night in Portland, Chase brought a little punk rock flavor to the hip hop stage by repeatedly stabbing a drumstick through his snare drum on beat to Sleep’s final song of the night.
After talking with Sleep backstage for awhile before the show, his passion for life, hip hop, and family became apparent. He had much to say on the topics of the Northwest hip hop scene, family, old friends, and his crew, Oldominion – all of which are subjects of his songs. It’s obvious there’s a lot going on up in his head. As I mentioned before, Sleep raps incredibly fast – sometimes so fast, you think he’s not using full words, but they’re all there. I have a feeling he raps so fast because his mind moves at that same speed. If you listen closely, the words are complete, his thoughts are complete, and his message comes forward loud and clear.
More photos from the evening can be viewed here.