Hip Hop Call-And-Response: Are You Inspired or Conditioned?

This past weekend indie rap duo Eyedea and Abilities wrapped up their recent tour in support of their latest album By The Throat. And while memories of the tour are still fresh in fan’s minds, we’re going to revisit E&A’s Chicago show and experiment with hip hop’s call-and-response culture.

Part One: Total Recall From Reggie’s Rock Club

To start things off I’d like to say that I’m excited to share with you another guest review by Moira McCormick who’s also contributed to the previous Saul Williams Dual Review and Community of Groove experiments.

And in Part One of this new Call-And-Response Experiment Moira’s Eyedea and Abilities review will take us back to their Reggie’s Rock Club show in December and set the stage for the second phase the Experiment.

Part Two:  An Inspired Response

In Part Two, we’ll see the show through the eyes of  Talib, a fellow hip hop fan and friend of Moira.

When Moira told me about Talib’s experience, I asked if he would share his thoughts and feelings from the concert and he graciously accepted the invitation.

Talib’s story is unique in that it both recounts his E&A experience and lets us see live hip hop culture through his perspective as a life-long fan.  And I see his story as a new and inspired version of the call-and-response. (More on that in a minute.)

I’m also honored that Talib decided to share his story because he does a great job of explaining how emcee/poet Doseone — who followed E&A’s performance — took Talib down an unexpected emotional path when Doseone made a few questionable comments to the crowd about Chicago rapper/emcee Rhymefest.

And once you read his response in Part Two’s post, you’ll see that his response is not just directed at the artist. Talib’s story is also an open invitation addressed to his fellow hip hop fans who love the culture just as much as he does. And you’re welcome to keep the conversation going by responding back to Talib in the comments.

Why Do This Experiment?

In a way, this Experiment reminds me of a key element of live hip hop culture that both amazes and confuses me: the call-and-response between the fans and the DJ or Emcee.

Call-and-response has a long history that goes back hundreds of years, but for our purposes here I’m talking about the call-and-response as we know it in 2010 in hip hop concert culture.

We’re used to the call-and-response being live and instantaneous. But instead of the exchange happening verbally during the concert in real-time, I curiously combined my amazement and confusion to create this experimental call-and-response that flips the script and expands on what we’re used to.

Sure, we engage in call-and-responses at hip hop concerts for different reasons.

But for me, I’ve always felt that they can be a strange thing to experience when, as fans, we’re forced into responding or “throwing our hands in the air” when the DJ or the Emcee hasn’t really earned our emotional or physical response.

And for some reason, in those “un-earned” moments, we respond anyways like conditioned lab mice or even Pavlov’s salivating dog. Why? I think in most cases, it’s because we don’t want to disrupt the flow of the show or damage the ego of the artist.

And I don’t think that type of trained and conditioned behavior is a good thing for live hip hop — fans or artists.

So, since Live Fix is all about exploring the fan experience, you can consider the combination of Moira’s review and Talib’s story as a new type of call-and-response that’s been extended over time — and one that empowers the hearts, minds and memories of hip hop fans.

That said, I see this Experiment as an ongoing and organic test to see if we can better understand the real purpose of the call-and-response by taking it out of the usual context of the live concert and seeing it in a new context — and that’s exactly what Moira’s review and Talib’s story will do.

And their stories will certainly challenge us to rethink how we respond to an artist’s onstage comments or live performance.

Something You’re Not Used To

Before we get to Moira’s review here’s one final reason for the Experiment.

I’m used to writing –  and you’re used to reading — concert reviews a few days after the concert. With that in mind you might think it’s a bit odd to post a review of, or explore a concert that took place a few months ago.

But this Experiment isn’t bound by time or place.

In essence, what we’re doing is acknowledging the truth that our hearts and minds don’t always store our concert memories with an expiration date.

Yes, timely concert reviews are important. But being on time isn’t our goal here.

Our goal is to push the limits and explore beyond what we’re used to and see what we can find.

Okay, I’m done explaining.

Ya ready…?

Good. I am too.

Let’s get things started with Moira’s review.

Eyedea and Abilities — Reggie’s Rock Club, Chicago 12.3.09

“See, you thought that was rehearsed – but our whole life is freestyle, man.”

Thus spake Michael Larsen – code name Eyedea, and the verbal half of indie hip-hop duo Eyedea and Abilities – midway through E&A’s recent set at Reggie’s Rock Club, on Chicago’s Near South Side.

The plaid-clad MC had just been relating the experience of driving the tour van through a snowstorm on a previous tour – not an unheard-of scenario for the Minnesota-based pair. His freestyle-is-our-life remark could refer not only to Eyedea’s own extemporaneous essence – a laurelled freestyler who’s aced Scribble Jam and Blaze Battle, Eyedea also fronts freestyle/jazz group Face Candy – but to E&A’s career arc in general. It’s liberally dotted with Eyedea’s off-the-beaten-path sidetracks, including a solo hip-hop album (under the nom du disque Oliver Hart), a Face Candy CD, a printed poetry/art collaboration, a rock band called Carbon Carousel, and a Twin Cities indie label, Crushkill Recordings.

Thus it’s not hard to see why, even though Eyedea paired off with wizardly DJ Abilities, aka Gregory (Max) Keltgren, a decade ago, they only have three full-length albums to their conjoined credit (all of them on Rhymesayers Entertainment, the pioneering independent label owned by venerable underground-rap act Atmosphere.) In fact, fans awaited the duo’s latest opus, By the Throat, for five years.

At Reggie’s, Eyedea and Abilities were opening for another popular indie duo, Doseone and Jel (whose set would prove diverting, in a sophomoric way, up to a point, but was decidedly outclassed by E&A’s.)

By the Throat is a sonic dreadnought, an unstoppable alloy of rap and rock – one that can convey Eyedea’s wound-licking worldview even while thus armored – and it was as deeply satisfying in concert.

With black-garbed Abilities as a rear-guard eminence noire, looming over his turntables and synths, sparkplug front-man Eyedea let fly with rococo scrolls of lyrical angst. “There’s a fine line between your wit and your whining,” he snarled over Abilities’mecha-punk beats, carving up a poseur’s pose with corrosive prose: “It’s funny how some people have a way of making the Milky Way look tiny…You’re so hip-hop, you’re so punk rock, you’re so so so fuckin’ cliché.”

While E&A’s set – as economical in its own way as their 29-minute, no-dross CD – mostly focused on By the Throat, the duo also dusted off “Now,” a nugget from E&A (their 2004 CD), along with a couple intriguing new tunes. Plus, Eyedea proffered “Play Dead Til They Kill You,” reprising his guest appearance on a 2006 release by MN collective Saturday Morning Soundtrack.

“Did you guys get a chance to steal our record?” Eyedea cracked, as his partner eased into the woozy lysergic strains of “Sky Diver,” an étude of opposing energies. “Genius by day, junkie by night/By the grace of breeze, I never scraped a knee that didn’t help me see bleeding isn’t what it seems,” Eyedea spat, machine-gunning his lyrics over Abilities’ languid psychedelic dreamscape.

Headliner Donseone made a brief cameo appearance at that point, messing around with the synthesizers (Jel may have joined in, too; I’m not tall enough to have been able to make a positive ID at the time.) Recess over, Eyedea and Abilities churned up a compellingly sinuous version of “Spin Cycle,” a relationships-suck screed with a pounding, astringent-harmonied chorus: “You won’t spin my head around/You won’t take this one from me…”

“Speaking of ‘sorry,’ do we have any couples in the house?” quipped Eyedea at the song’s end. “Boyfriend-girlfriend? Darvocet-Vicodin?”

Eyedea then segued into a contemplative spoken-word intro (that prefaced “Now,” the set-closer), containing within it quite an elegant distillation of the eternal male-female road hazard: “Avoiding your soft spots is so hard.” Yes, sometimes it really is just that simple.

Okay, that’s the end of Part One.

Stay tuned for Talib’s story in Part Two as we continue to question and explore hip hop’s call-and-response culture.

Were you at the Eyedea and Abilities show in Chicago, or did you see them on their recent tour?  What did you feel or experience?



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