In typical hip-hop fashion, the finals of the Hip-Hop at the Rock competition, held on August 18 on a makeshift stage set up outside of the Rock Hall, started an hour and a half late and ran a half-hour over. But if you ignored the shortcomings and glitches, the event offered a good showcase of some of the best local hip-hop artists.
The contestants who participated in the finals had all won previous competitions, which started on June 9 and were held every Friday. Big Vic and Indica didn't show up, but Lady Daye and MB, H20, Unorthodox, I Dog and Dank, the Ponzi Party, and Raw Elements were all present, and once the order in which they would perform was sorted out, the event progressed with few problems. Winners were decided by audience response, "Apollo-style," as the promoters put it, and a crowd of close to 100 was on hand.
Lady Daye and MB started the competition with a flashy, well-choreographed performance. A sister/brother duo, the twosome wore matching silver outfits and performed two songs that will be on Hip-Hop for Life, a film that local director David Velo Stewart is making. Stewart, who was in attendance, said his film, about an aspiring rapper, is two-thirds complete, and he is awaiting a distribution deal and word from rapper KRS-One, who has expressed an interest in having some role in the production of it. While they weren't always in sync, Lady Daye and MB's set was well received by the crowd -- some patrons even held posters up to show their support. Most of the subsequent performers didn't generate as much enthusiasm.
Rapper H20 opened his set by saying, "We are all from the same place, and we are all trying to make it to the top, so it matters not who wins." While his message was positive, his reliance on water metaphors (sample lyric: "What would you do if you woke up one day and couldn't take a shower or have a glass of water?") detracted from his performance. Young rappers I Dog and Dank encouraged the crowd to "bounce, bounce, bounce," but their songs were too slow to inspire such a response.
The Ponzi Party might not have had the most fans, but it had the loudest. Their fans broke into chants of "Where da party at?" after its performance and couldn't be silenced during the judging portion of the event.
The Ponzi Party and Lady Daye and MB ended up in a tie for first place and won several hours of studio time.
The competition was capped off with a performance by national artist Jahari, who didn't arrive onstage when announced and then had to be told to stop cursing when he finally started performing. While he might have a bigger reputation than any of the artists before him, Jahari, who was promoting a new album that features guest appearances by Too Short and Eightball and MG, was out of line with his thug-oriented gangsta rap, which found him boasting about how he was "bulletproof." Bulletproof or not, getting upstaged by a group of locals doesn't bode well for his career.
San Francisco-based singer-songwriter Austin Willacy grew up in Shaker Heights, but has returned to Northeast Ohio to perform only once in the mid-'90s -- when he played at Peabody's DownUnder with his old group the House Jacks, an a cappella rock band that included a vocal percussionist and vocal bassist. His show on August 25 at the Grog Shop with Jimmy Spider & the Vacancies and the Crackhouse Jazz Quartet represents the first time Willacy, who graduated from Shaker High, will play solo in Cleveland. With influences ranging from Tom Waits to Stevie Wonder and Led Zeppelin, Willacy, who just released American Pi, his first solo album, plays a style of music that, like that of Ben Harper or Lenny Kravitz, has roots in soul and R&B, but reaches out to alternative rock audiences because of its eclectic nature.
"I don't have any hang-ups about writing songs that don't sound like me," he says. "I just pursue the song to its logical conclusion and how it's supposed to feel. I like a lot of different types of music and am influenced by lots of different stuff. Rather than try to make everything sound very similar, I enjoy letting that stuff play together."
Because he's in town just to visit his parents, Willacy, who regularly plays with his own band or as a trio, will be playing solo, but says he'll bring his band the next time he's in town. The Grog Shop show starts at 10 p.m. and tickets are $5. For more information, call 216-321-5588.
The Wombats haven't played the club circuit regularly in over 15 years. But the Cleveland band, which was once signed to the respectable indie imprint Homestead, has been recording new tracks at Interzone Studios and will play a rare live show when it opens for locals St. Jayne on August 26 at the Beachland. Evasive singer-guitarist Victor Halm turned down our request for an interview because he was "too shy" to talk about his band, but a demo of rough mixes of the new material finds the band exploring the same mixture of jangly pop and raw rock that it has on earlier records, such as 1984's Zontar Must Die and 1986's Mudpuddles. "Voluptuous Vivacious," one of the new songs, mixes the kid-like sensibilities of Daniel Johnston with the post-punk of the Meat Puppets, and other tracks such as "Numb as a Crumb" and an untitled instrumental sound just as sharp. The show at the Beachland starts at 10 p.m., and tickets are $5.