I Self Devine at 7th Street Entry: The Culture Series Part 2
With I.B.E, III Chemistry featuring Desdamona & Carnage and Maria Isa
First Avenue, Minneapolis
Sunday, February 19, 2012
Add "curator" to the long-ass list of titles I Self Devine holds. The man can already be referred to in so many different capacities, but damn if he doesn't put together a high-quality bill as well. Everyone who performed sat in the middle of the multifaceted man's Venn Diagram as longtime friends, fellow community organizers, and generally dope artists. Once again, 7th Street Entry was sold out and packed with genuine supporters, many from the music community. There's a fine line between being prolific and flooding the market, but I Self's recent monthly output has stood up as some of his finest work and people stay appreciative. The room was teeming with good vibes all night.
I Self Devine gave one slot to his backup rapper I.B.E., one of the hardest working MCs out, and the energy he brought to the table set things on the right foot. When I.B.E. asked the crowd to take their "cool off" and clap and stomp when cued, the whole place seemed engaged. There was also some classic beat juggling from DJ Todda in the back, and the rapping moved smoothly between wholly different four bar patterns. This is a tricky thing to pull off well and of course I.B.E. made it look easy. Guest like Toki Wright and the other two members of TUSS music were other highlights, and I.B.E. has a pretty uncanny ability to both command individual attention and work well with others.
Another slot went to the aptly named Ill Chemistry, fresh from France where they recently penned a deal with an overseas label. Carnage and Desdamona together are a rare treat live and they always come with a unique sound. Even just watching Carnage set up his gear, mouthing along to Run DMC and giving DJ Plain Ol' Bill gestures of approval, is entertaining. Once he gets his loop pedal going and begins to create beats from thin air, there's almost a chill that runs through the audience. Carnage is a beatbox composer, layering clicks and snares and raspberry bass onto each other in a way that feels crisp and organic, and you begin to sink into the vibe so much that you forget he made that shit on the spot. Desdamona's rhymes add a solid counterpoint to both Carnage's beat and his manic rhyme patterns, and she experiments with vocal distortions as well via megaphone. These two are remarkably talented and are definitely required viewing.
The final opener was Maria Isa, complete with stripped down backing band consisting of hand drums and keys, which I've always preferred to her full band which can take away from the overall sound. Isa's strength is her multiplicity of styles filtered through a rapper's energy. She works the same space that someone like Neneh Cherry once did, combining the puzzle pieces of rap, r'n'b, soul, salsa and rock and managing to glide between them. There were some Villa Rosa pieces performed when Muja Messiah came onstage, and the two together have a similar duo chemistry to Carnage and Desdamona. Her set really connected with the audience and her addition rounded the bill out nicely.
Finally, the man who made it all happen came out swinging with another booming set of fresh material. Brother Ali recently called I Self Devine Minneapolis' Afrika Bambaataa on his Twitter, which is pretty much spot on. Here's an artist that is not only musically and politically on point, but he can bring together a crowd of individuals from all walks of life. He called 7th Street his "living room" early on in the show. The performance felt like that, tailored to a receptive crowd who felt close to the person on stage.
The sounds of his latest, The Upliftment Struggle, were powerful and full of life. Backing him up once again were I.B.E. and Akrite, who brought a lot to every word. I Self Devine alone brings a quality worth the ticket price, but taken as a whole picture, the night he created was on another level. You will rarely see a stage show so perfectly cast or an audience so broadly defined. It's a moment that holds down the local rap scene and really showcases the strength.