I just started a new job last Monday, and on Thursday I was asked to introduce myself in front of the entire company. Yall. That’s like 250 people. It was terrifying, but I did it. Got up in front of a full room and said my name, where I’m from, what I like to do in my free time, and a fun fact about myself. It went a lot like this.
[Lydia walks up to the mic. She is approaching the mic to grab it from the CEO who is one of her heroes. Her knees are shaking a bit.] “Hi everybody! My name is Lydia Simmons, I’m originally from Houston. [People around the room start cheering. What up, Texans!] I moved here from Durham, North Carolina for the job. In my free time…I spend a lot of that time maintaining a music blog called Sunset in the Rearview. I really like hip hop music. [People in the room giggle a little. Most likely they’re thinking ‘This little girl likes hip hop music? That’s weird.] Fun fact I guess would be that I lived in Kenya for a little bit and used to speak fluent Swahili. Really excited to be here!”
It was awkward and terrifying. But like I said, I did it.
The best part of it was that some people came up to me afterwards asking about my blog and what type of hip hop I like. That prompted this post, I suppose. Lately I’ve been digging up old school hip hop that I can’t help but love. The old school stuff built the platform for today’s stars to stand on, even if they don’t echo the sound. It’s an ever-growing genre, but it’s always great to see current bands sticking to those old school roots. A group that’s great at doing that is People Under The Stairs. Man, I fucking love those dudes. Pardon my language, but I just needed the oomph to emphasize how great they are. If you’re not onto them, you need to be. They recently released an album called Highlighter that is incredible. The album almost went unnoticed by me, because of the bold move by People Under The Stairs to release it independently in an effort to avoid low-quality MP3s being released. They worked really hard to release a high quality album: from hand-printed and packaged physical album artwork and only selling digital versions on their site at very large file sizes, People Under The Stairs went to extreme measures to maintain the quality of their sounds, at the risk of losing money. It’s great to see that they’re not all about the profits, as you rarely see that from professionals anymore. The good thing for us was that the music itself was quality, too. Some of their beats sample rock songs from my childhood (think Red Hot Chili Peppers), which only enhances the experience. Like hip hop that reflects on old school flows and is set to incredible, full-sound instrumentals? Highlighter is the album for you.
Now here I am being a douchebag and giving yall an MP3 of one of the songs – but I only intend for this to get you to fall in love and buy the album. Seriously. You need to.
So many people ask me how I can stand hip-hop or “rap music.” The thing is, most of the hip hop that I love will never be played on the radio. And I have a love/hate relationship with that fact. I love it because, well, partly because I’m a music snob these days (I’ve admitted to it and I’m okay with it) and I like having some sort of ownership of what I listen to. But I love it mainly because it means that the songs will remain respectable and not overplayed; songs that make it to the radio quickly get overplayed to death and become resented by many. (Read: “Pumped Up Kicks.”) But I hate it because it’s sad that the radio is in such poor state. It makes sense, financially (with the cost of radio streams and all that), but it doesn’t make sense morally. The artist who work their asses off to create great music don’t get the same type of money that the artists who are represented by major labels do. But whatever, it is what it is, and I’m not about to say I have the recipe for changing the system. So I blog instead.
To get more into what type of hip-hop it is that I love, though, I think it’s easiest to say that I love hip-hop that’s easy to listen to. I like melodic hip-hop. I love lyrical wordplay. I love an artist who is conscious of their surroundings. I love hip-hop that could easily be an indie-rock song if the person was singing instead of rapping. I love hip-hop that gets you moving. I love hip-hop that’s played witha full band. That’s about it. Not much more to say other than I love it. With all of my heart. Hip-hop is part of me. It always will be. Even when I’m a grandmother, I think I’ll still love it. Maybe not what the kids will be listening to then, but I’ll still have a love for hip-hop that I grew up loving. Something about that tells me that I might be the coolest grandmother EVER, and I’m cool with that.
Here are a few more new songs that embody all that I love about hip-hop. Press play on “8-Bit Kid” and tell me that couldn’t be an electronic song on its own.
MP3: “8-Bit Kid” – LiLa
What’s Left: 92 Days. 45 Bands.
Band #55: LiLa
When/Where: June 2, 2011, Motorco Music Hall, Durham, NC
Expectations: I hadn’t heard much music from LiLa before the show, so my expectations were minimal. What I did know is that they’re quickly gaining steam in Durham as a somewhat DIY indie hip hop group. I was told before the show, though, that this was a rather candid performance. Not much of a formal showing from LiLa…so my expectations were low.
Concert: This show was put on in honor of a bartender’s birthday, so it was almost like a private showing that took place after several drinks at the bar. It was intimate and entertaining, though clearly somewhat unrehearsed and impromptu. LiLa, composed of frontmen Jon LeSueur and Eli McDuffie, brought out a somewhat full band that resembled a mix of hipsters in skinny jeans and striped shirts and bros wearing lax pinnies. The eclecticism struck me as just as appealing as the presence of electric guitar, acoustic guitar, drums, trombone, bass guitar, and vocals.
The music, I came to realize, is almost closer to punk-hop than straight up hip hop. The full band was reminiscent of The Roots, but the sound itself was closer to Beastie Boys than anything else. Nearly everything about vocalist Eli McDuffie’s performance embodied a sense of punk rock – from the rigid dance moves to the old school flow – the only difference seemed to be a lack of anger in his persona. I was perfectly okay with this. The only part I struggled with at first was the semi-awkwardness of Eli’s dance moves, but it was masked by his pure excitement to be on the stage performing. The moves make it seem as though Eli is dancing to every 16th note, almost like a bunny on steroids. It made me a bit uncomfortable at first, until I realized how much fun he was having and let myself allow him to revel in the moment. As time went on, I realized it married his personality perfectly. He’s a comedian who you may have to warm up to at first, but his jokes light up the stage and bring the whole band together. Probably the best one of the night, after tripping on the stage a little bit while reaching for his beer: “I accidentally tried to drink the microphone. …Whats up!”
LiLa played a wide range of songs, some of which started out and sounded like folk songs, only until they paused for a brief moment, the beat dropped, and Eli started spitting. Their sound is as eclectic as their appearance. Jon, aka J-La, is the lead singer and has an incredible voice. Together with the old-school rap flow and full band, their sound is large and memorable. I wouldn’t be surprised if this band made a significant mark on the North Carolina scene before too long.
Concert Afterglow: If a show with that much energy was a candid appearance, what does a real show look like?!?
Recommendation: Give LiLa some time to fully round out their sound, and they’ll become a known name in this state. Check them out – it’s entertaining.
Song: “Out With A Bang” – LiLa (Beautiful footage of Durham, NC!)
So as you may know, Sunset in the Rearview is hosting it’s second-ever concert on February 24th in Durham! The headliner is Hoodie Allen, the second opener is Anthem, and the original first opener had to back out. So instead of autonomously picking the first opener, I figured I would open it up to all of you to pick. If you plan on coming to the show, please send this link to all of your friends who are coming so they can vote too. I’ll leave this up for 3 days (to be taken down on Friday at 5:30 PM) and whoever ends up with the most votes will be asked to perform. You are allowed to vote one time every 6 hours. There are some audio samples to help you make your choice. Happy voting!