Gallery: Rhymesayers European Tour in Paris
Note: Be sure to peep this French review of the show at Concert & Co!
What a whirlwind. Last week, Chicagoland and Madison and this back to the haphazard graffiti streets of Paris. Some of it is clever, such as a new fella who does diamonds akin to Space Invader, another is just ingenious-mannequins with their heads between their knees 20 feet up a wall, fully clothed. But hey, Wednesday night felt a bit like home when Rhymesayers rolled into the City of Lights with the most electrifying sets I’ve yet seen from the Minnesota, Columbus, Seattle and L.A. natives.
DJ Rare Groove spun the start of the night on stage, which started late but the short set changes showed how much in control Rhymesayers could be even thousands of miles from home. Grieves & Budo definitely saw a boost when they opened for Brother Ali last year at Nouveau Casino, as the already large crowd lit up like Christmas lights as Grieves busted into “Bloody Poetry”. The set emphasized Together/Apart, and you wouldn’t have known they hadn’t had a break since touching down in the UK a few days earlier with the energy they exuded on stage. The French loved Budo and his 300 instruments, cheering the loudest during the guitar solo towards the end of the set. If they had busted into “Speak Easy”, I’m sure the roof would’ve torn off the building. Example? “Lock Down” when Grieves started it off with a soul clap before urging the crowd on for Budo, “That’s not gonna do it! It’s not loud enough!” (Check the video, sorry for the audio quality. I’m open to any DSLR mic donations to fix that! ha) Other songs included “No Matter What”, “Tragic”, “Lightspeed” and “On The Rocks” with the slower end covering “Boogie Man”. “Gwenevieve” ended the set, bringing Budo out from behind to the edge of the stage as Paris shouted back the excellent “burn it down” call back.
Blueprint was up next with his Paris debut. Of anyone on the bill, Blueprint has smallest following but regardless put on a solid, hard set. I wasn’t sure if people knew his work with RJD2 as Soul Position (they would’ve eaten up “Drugs, Sex, Alcohol, Rock-n-Roll” otherwise) with the set promoting Adventures in Counter Culture. “Automatic” was the highlight, getting the best response along from the crowd. “The Rise & Fall” sounded better than in Madison, Wisconsin with much more strength behind the voice when he started singing. People liked the beats and bounced, but weren’t so sure what was going on it seemed with the recent shift towards more danceable beats in underground hip-hop production. We may be used to it, but Europeans seemed still hooked on harder beats. For that, they were hugely receptive to “Radio-Inactive” when Print bit into each lyric, staring compellingly into the audience.
The biggest surprise of the night was seeing how much France absolutely loves Brother Ali. Turns out, most people came out for him and Evidence (and Atmosphere of course). But when he took to the stage, people went absolutely crazy. It was as crazy as when they announced the return of hockey to Minnesota-as if it had been forced into exile across the ocean. Ravenous for the rapper, and Ali did not disappoint with quite possibly the best performance I’ve seen. Brother Ali had the crowd in the palm of his hand, offering us song after song of our heart’s desire with an astonishing clairvoyance on what the audience wanted to hear. “The Preacher” and “Fresh Air” were some of the supports from Us, dipping back with “Good Lord”. All the while, Ant was on the turntables-making the night extra special as if you had dipped back years and years. “Truth Is” got la Machine moving, satisfying the cravings given the year before, just a hair short of a hometown crowd’s intensity. What really ratcheted up the night was “Uncle Sam Goddamn”, the perfect pairing to a European night with an American artist. Not much got lost in translation, especially with the similar disgust of French politicians (it’ll be election time here next year). The rest of the evening saw “Walkin’ Away”, “Take Me Home”, and “Forest Whitiker”.
Evidence was the artist I was least familiar with outside of his work with Dilated Peoples. But even a French coworker knew who he was and was shocked to hear he was in town. The rapper was tossing up arms gauche à droit to “It Wasn’t Me”, opening the evening. Each time “Evidence” was sung, the crowd lit up. Following up the soulful sounds of Ali, Evidence was perfectly placed in the lineup with the harder production, such when he did “Mr. Slow Flow”. “Falling Down” and “You” served up the best from Cats & Dogs, while personally “Frame of Mind” stole the set even with mic problems. It didn’t matter we couldn’t hear a couple rhymes when it cut out, the sheer strength of the production behind him and his sheer determination (and familiarity of The Beatles lyrics) was all that was needed.
Atmosphere’s set, however, was quite possibly the best I had seen, even more so than in Minnesota. Being the European tour, surely the setlist had a little more weight to crowd pleasers, almost as if it was a greatest hits, and it worked. Slug, Ant and company found the perfect equilibrium, kicking off with “Trying to Find a Balance” before the fist-pounding “Shoulda Known”. Donning a trademark Minnesota hat, Atmosphere had no qualms dipping quickly back into “Between the Lines” off of Lucy Ford. The Family Sign was there, although it merely seemed to pepper the lineup instead of showcasing the new songs; “Just For Show”, “Became”, and “She’s Enough.”
Yet in all honesty, the night was made when Ali stepped out after the latter for “Cats Van Bags”. The audience responded the most to the hardest or most soulful songs that night, and the song was perfectly placed in the palm of their hands. The night’s closer, without an encore since it ended near 2 AM, was “Shrapnel” which, over time has come to grow on me as a the concert finale. But wait, they had one more surprise in store as every rapper was invited back on stage to perform a collective freestyle. Exhilarating, attesting to the community and supportive nature behind those who help them, the night could not have had a better ending. France stunned, attesting to the strong hip-hop following in the country despite not being all that well known outside its borders. And Rhymesayers delivered.
Trying to Find a Balance
Between The Lines
Just For Show
The Woman With The Tattooed Hands
Cats Vans Bags
Until the Nipples Gone