SAN FRANCISCO Del tha Funky Homosapien and Blackalicious stopped by the Maritime Hall on Friday night to give Bay Area hip-hop fans something to be proud of.
As an added bonus, the Oakland, Calif., artists brought out their crews, Hieroglyphics and Quannum, making the evening a spectacle of independent hip-hop collectives.
Los Angeles' Blood of Abraham started off the evening, getting heads nodding throughout the packed house. The duo of Benyad and Mazik introduced songs from their second album, Eyedollartree, including their call-to-action single, "Calling All Citizens" (RealAudio excerpt).
The house DJ got the crowd into a call-and-response mood, using such popular techniques as Pharcyde's "Passing Me By" (from 1998's Bizarre Ride II The Pharcyde).
Blackalicious soon dominated the stage to the excitement of the diverse Maritime audience. Gift of Gab, Blackalicious' Master of Ceremonies, quickly got formalities out of the way, introducing DJ Chief Xcel, Blackalicous' other half, as well as fellow Quannum MC Lateef the Truth Speaker, Versatile from Portland, Ore.'s Lifesavas crew and backup singer Joyo Velarde.
After a couple of opening numbers, including "Clockwork," off last year's A2G EP, Lateef asked the crowd to shout "Me!" when he asked "Who heard that?" Versatile added another element to the call-and-response by asking the crowd to shout "You!" when he asked "Who's rockin' it?" Gab got to finish it by having the audience just get plain loud as he bellowed "Speak to me!" It wasn't long before the trio of MCs began trading freestyles and using the well-rehearsed audience to echo their call-and-response lines.
Blackalicious offered variety in their set, pulling such songs as "Swan Lake," from their 1995 Melodica EP, along with more soulful tunes off their latest epic, Nia. Posed in front of a large Blackalicious banner with a half DJ/half lyricist figure, Chief Xcel dropped one bass-heavy 808 beat after another into the hall. Gift of Gab's thought-provoking verses, although hard to hear, weaved seamlessly with the beats.
San Francisco native Eric Cook, 27, said Gab is "one of the best MCs out there." During the group's performance of the hit single "Deception" (RealAudio excerpt), Gab passed some nuggets of wisdom to the crowd: "Money makes the inner vision crumble, so if you're blessed with a talent, utilize it to the fullest be true to yourself and stay humble."
Lyrics Born, the third and final Quannum MC, came out toward the end of the set sporting an impressive midsized afro. Lateef and Lyrics Born, known together as Latyrx, whipped out "Lady Don't Tek No" off the pair's 1998 Muzappers Remixes EP.
The only member of the Quannum crew that was missing was DJ Shadow, but the four that represented that night kept the audience captivated. The energy was high during Blackalicious' performance, and at one point the show stopped while the crew got the audience members to raise their arms and make as much noise as possible.
Gift of Gab used the energy to launch into the final song, "Alphabet Aerobics," in which Gab lyrically wrecks every letter of the alphabet as the beat gets faster. "By the time I get to Z," Gab said, "I'm gonna be rhyming at the speed of light." As Gab reached Z, the crowd erupted.
Del tha Funky Homosapien took to the stage like a seasoned hip-hop veteran. With Jaybiz behind the DJ booth, Del performed several new songs off his recently released solo album, Both Sides of the Brain, which includes the singles "Phoney Phranchise" and "If You Must."
It became clear that Del was intent on promoting his new masterpiece. The album is the first full-length by Del since he was dropped by Elektra. But most of the crowd wasn't familiar with the disc, which has been in stores only since mid-April. The crowd was pleased to hear something familiar when Del performed "Boo Boo Heads" (RealAudio excerpt) off 1994's No Need For Alarm.
But Del still felt he had to give the audience a lesson about the perils of a major-label contract. "We're gettin' no money for that s---," Del said. "Go out and buy the new s---." Del also chastised the video-game company Sega for not giving him a dime to use his song "Proto Culture" (from Both Sides of the Brain).
Perhaps it was the political message he was delivering, or the unfamiliarity with the material, but the crowd didn't respond so well to Del. He didn't interact with the crew as much as the Quannum performers did, and toward the back of the Maritime, the crowd began to disperse.
"Blackalicious was just better," Oakland resident Mandy Ruiz, 22, said.
When asked about Del's performance, Cook said it was "Ah'ight."
It wasn't until the entire Hieroglyphics crew came out that the audience got re-energized. "It felt like things turned around when Souls [of Mischief] came out and did 'You Never Knew,' " said Cook, referring to a track on Hieroglyphics' 1998 album, Third Eye Vision.
With none of its members tied to any major-label contracts, Hieroglyphics started their own label Hieroglyphics Imperium and have released a collective album as well as Del's solo album.
Del exclaimed toward the end of his set that he hopes more people will go the independent route. "Start thinking for yourself," he said.