It's Your Anniversary: Underground hip-hop Project Blowed is 17
Once upon a time, there was the Good Life, a health food spot by day-turned-open mic at night. Held each week in Leimert Park, the spot incubated the most creative underground talent the West Coast rap scene had ever seen, including Freestyle Fellowship, Abstract Rude and Jurassic 5. Eventually, the Good Life became Project Blowed, a Thursday night open mike that doubled as a "graduate university" producing astoundingly virtuosic rappers that approached the genre with the wild liberation of an Albert Ayler.
Sometime in the last several years, the Blowed ceased to be the rap factory that it once was, but in 2011, its last few classes of graduates had banner years -- alongside veterans that the place churned out during its heyday. This weekend -- Friday night at the House of Blues on Sunset and Saturday night at the HOB in Anaheim -- the Blowed is celebrating its 17-year anniversary.
In honor of a very creatively successful year that Pop & Hiss covered at length, here's a look back at some of the best projects released by Blowedians (almost all of whom will be playing the anniversary shows):
- Freestyle Fellowship -- "The Promise" (Decon)
What we said: What's clear is that unlike many of its '90s peers, the Fellowship has not lost its ability to rap better than just about anyone on this planet.
Its collaborators have frequently described the group as being "made of music." And while that's slightly trite, the group still buries gems in its double-time flow. "Madness is beautiful," "literature literally grows in intervals," and a lot of references to manuscripts and being better at rapping than other people. The style might be anachronistic, but some things are immutable. Hearing four hyper-literate, musically gifted artists run relay-race raps is rarely less than ebullient.
And it's still conceivable that a 13-year-old could hear this today and pick up a mike.
- 2Mex -- "Songodsuns" (w/ DJ Nobody) (Nobody's Home)
What we said: "Do That Trick," finds 2Mex and Nobody channeling the Cure, "getting high in the park in Highland Park," creating anti-"American Idol" art, meeting South Central sailorettes and inventing new ways to pay the rent. Nobody creates a scuzzy minimalist banger that allows 2Mex an ideal canvas to "crank call Russell Simmons from Brussels."
- Nocando & Busdriver -- Flash Bang Grenada's "10 Haters" (Hellfyre Club)
What we said: There are dozens of determinants that comprise a great rap album. You can boil it down to beats and rhymes, charisma and hooks, voice and ideas, concepts or relatability. Or you can couch it in terms of expectations: Great records should inevitably be sonically progressive, fun or smart — ideally some combination of the three.
It’s rare when an album boasts all those qualities in equal measure, so credit Flash Bang Grenada, the ad-hoc union of local rappers Busdriver and Nocando, for "10 Haters" — a smart, subversive swag-rap record.
- Open Mike Eagle - "Rappers Will Die of Natural Causes" (Hellfyre Club)
What we said: Open Mike Eagle rolls down Slauson bumping ’97 Weezer. All his favorite songs are from when phones had receivers. He stops to orders food truck tacos (heavy sour cream, no cilantro), shouts out the "ever-present gay ghost of James Baldwin." He thinks he would’ve made a great Black Panther. Caustic and incisive, the Chicago-born, Los Angeles-based art rapper establishes himself as one of the genre’s smartest voices, one “immersed in the circus in service of the art.” Translation: He’s exhausted by the preponderance of charlatans, shock gimmicks and “post-modern rappers who are style orphans.” A Vonnegut fanatic, Eagle plays hip-hop’s Billy Pilgrim, a rapping, singing anachronism unstuck in time.
Dumbfoundead - "DFD" (Self-Released)
What we said: So what it took Dumbfoundead a half-decade to make a viral YouTube smash, that's fine. He used that gestation period to develop a rabid and extensive fan base that even some major label rappers would envy. Nearly 60,000 Facebook friends, YouTube videos that regularly tread well into six figures in viewings, and tour dates all across the globe.
He's been able to amass fans on the Grind Time Battle League circuit, but he's also cultivated a groundswell of support from the local and national Asian American communities, and just regular rap fans. Proudly Korean American but never resorting to cheap flag-waving tactics, he's opted to rely on a slick creative flow and strong storytelling skill. Plus, the Project Blowed pedigree never hurts.
-- Jeff Weiss