Marcus K. Dowling
In order for a scene to revitalize itself, that scene must undergo a systematic change in approach in order to achieve a unique outcome. If thinking about were DC’s now nationally relevant rap scene is headed, it’s in considering that the lifestyle, ratchet and hipster-friendly songs that defined the rise of a group of emcees including Wale, Goldlink, Shy Glizzy, Logic, and Fat Trel may be passe is where the conversation begins. In getting past that though, taking one look at the stage at Rock and Roll Hotel on Friday evening to see Cane, Awthentik, Nature Boi, Brain Rapp and Jon Doe, and the link between them that’s tied to where DC’s rap scene is headed may not be apparent. However, if you closed your eyes and listened intently, it’s in the unique bar-for-bar lyrical dexterity of the five emcees mentioned that there’s the appearance of what lies beyond for rap in the Nation’s Capital.
It’s apropos that Cane wears a suit and sock-less Cole Haan loafers while performing. As well, it’s important that Awthentik looks like he hopped out of his car, walked in the club and ripped the microphone with a stentorian flow. Also, Jon Doe’s trappy swag raps falling between the breaks and oozing into the melody is key, too. Finally, Brain Rapp’s too long red beard and Nature Boi’s dreads flopping in the wind as he turns up the party are key to note. Those are the surface ingredients that bring people into the room to watch these craftsmen. However, when you dig beneath these disparate exteriors and hear clearly stated raps that force people to think more about themselves as well as re-gaining an appreciation for the classic artistry of rhyming over beats is where DC rap’s something more actually exists.
It’s intriguing that XXL just released their most rhymer-light Freshman list of all time for 2016. That should inform us in the DC Metropolitan area that moments like Brain Rapp and Nature Boi’s “Jada and Styles,” any of the material from Awthentik’s 2014 Bandcamp project Popular Misconception that features a desiccated and cremated Trinidad James as the cover art, or Cane sweating through his suit in a marathon performance of what felt like the best of his art-t0-date (which includes having the good common sense to feature the magnificent Ace Ono on his latest single) are *just* a bit ahead of the curve.
DC seeing this evolve before the world gets to take a look is actually great. Cane’s performance is about 15 minutes too long right now, and might benefit from more inclusion of the gimmick of the suit instead of being a showcase of bar-heavy lyrical slaughter. Nature Boi and Brain Rapp need some sort of non-rap and more conversational way to convey their charisma to the crowd as they’re our area’s corollary to Run The Jewels. Awthentik must always perform with a live band as he’s best presented as a “true school” rap savior in the vein of a J. Cole or Kendrick Lamar. And Jon Doe would be 1,000 times more entertaining if connected in some way to the Nature Boi/Brain Rapp stage presentation as his fanciful trap delivery would break up the energy of that set and provide an entryway to the raucous close of that duo’s set.
Ultimately, critiques aside, there were a lot of people in a space that adequately held them who had a LOT of fun on Friday night. And that should be the goal right now for the sextet of rappers who performed. Having fun and getting better at their craft. There were glimpses and snatches of superstardom onstage at Rock and Roll Hotel on Friday night. The production in the area is tighter than ever before. In some cases, the presentation of rap for rapping’s sake made the show incredibly entertaining. However, it’s when we saw these artists pull back the curtain from the performers they present to the world and saw them as unique and ultimately very human and gifted artists is when this hit another level. If the likes of Cane, Nature Boi, Brain Rapp, Awthentik and Jon Doe figure out how to harness their brilliance and evolve the art of their craft, this was easily an event that in retrospect could be a highlighted moment on the road to seeing the creation of legendary legacies.