Atmosphere and more at Day of Dignity, 10/7/12

Atmosphere and more at Day of Dignity, 10/7/12
Photo by Anna Gulbrandsen

Day of Dignity
With Atmosphere, Stalley, Brother Ali, MaLLy, Sims, Y.N. Rich Kids and more
Masjid An-Nur, Minneapolis
Sunday, October 7, 2012

Day of Dignity returned for its second year with a cross-section of the greater Twin Cities hip hop community, and a combination of both performances and community outreach. In between listening to some of the city's brightest rap stars, attendees could scarf a free meal, learn how to file a civil rights complaint, swing by the barber for a free haircut, or check out other services and resources. Or they could stop in at Masjid An-Nur, the mosque where Brother Ali worships, and ask Ali himself where to stow their shoes before prayers.

These worlds were pleasantly colliding all day at the free festival, which Ali, the day's host, promises to make an annual event.

See also:
- Slideshow: Day of Dignity 2012
- Atmosphere tops Day of Dignity 2012 lineup
- Happy 40th birthday, Atmosphere's Slug: Seven of his lesser-known songs

In late afternoon, Ali captured everyone's mood -- and some of those collisions. "At the end of the day, this is a day of service," he said to the crowd. "But it's also a block party. Party, not show."

The artist on stage just before this declaration had been a member of the mosque, singing the Muslim call to prayer. The artists Ali was introducing were nearly the opposite: Sims, Toki Wright, IBE, Prof, MaLLy and others. This series of guest appearances by "my friends," as Ali described them, was the best part of a six-hour day that was lively, varied, and surprising.

Anyone hanging out next to the mosque for 12 hours would have seen the Day of Dignity audience turn over several times. In the morning, starting at 7, it was just the performers (including Ali, fresh from Friday and Saturday shows at First Ave) and the volunteers, building the stage and setting up the sound equipment (all donated).

The event itself kicked off at noon with a greeting from the mosque's imam. DJ Plain Ole Bill took the stage for the next 90 minutes, providing the background music for the people receiving services or greeting neighbors in the parking lot. The Mad Dads truck was parked on the street, and families checked out produce stands, clothing donations, voter registration, and other booths.

By 1:30, more people started milling around by the stage, and the teenage rapper 50 Tyson opened up the day's live music. But the audience really started moving 15 minutes later, when 50 Tyson finished his set and some familiar-looking kids got on after him.

When one of the young emcees took the mic, a similarly-aged crowd started running over from the parking lot, dragging their parents behind them. They were ahead of everyone else in recognizing the Y.N.RichKids, the rappers behind summer's snacks smash, "Hot Cheetos and Takis."

The Y.N.RichKids performing "Hot Cheetos and Takis" live.
The Y.N.RichKids performing "Hot Cheetos and Takis" live.
Anna Gulbrandsen

Anna Gulbrandsen
The Y.N.RichKids performing "Hot Cheetos and Takis" live.

After the Y.N.RichKids ran through a few other songs in their arsenal -- "Gin and Juice," "Doo-Wop (That Thing)" -- the "Hot Cheetos and Takis" beat came on. It was only 2 p.m., but the crowd started bouncing, and the kids on stage were working them. "Clap, clap, clap," one said, "we're about to perform the song all y'all have been waiting for."

While the Y.N.RichKids lived up to their YouTube promise, some young guys on bicycles pulled up to the stage, mouthing all the words and nodding along, and the rest of the audience followed the kids' dance interludes.

After their set, Brother Ali got on stage and announced, "That's the most hip hop thing you might see all day." He introduced the next act, storyteller Nothando Zulu, who started talking about how when she was growing up, kids didn't have Takis, they had biscuits with mayonnaise.
By this point in the afternoon, much of the audience was still people who had wandered over from the services and resources area; there were maybe 100 people on the music field, including the ones checking out the bouncing castle at the left of the stage.  

The crowd seemed to agree that including musicians like 50 Tyson and the Y.N.RichKids added to the day's community spirit. "This year, there's more local talent that people recognize from the neighborhood," said Kenya McKnight, a former City Council candidate. "Last year it was Rhymesayers, but this year it's Rhymesayers plus the community. It's more recognizing people you know."

The next few hours included Ali talking about the foreclosure crisis, addressing everyone in the crowd like a neighbor, and Occupy Homes MN taking a turn on stage (there was a shout-out to that time Ali joined them in jail).

But then, around 3:30, the day started shifting. When Ali got on stage to introduce the next act, it was clear the mood was starting to move away from the activism portion of things, and into pure entertainment. "Take out your phones," Ali told the crowd. "Text ten friends and tell them to get down here. We're just getting started."

Brother Ali, the day's master of ceremonies.
Brother Ali, the day's master of ceremonies.
Anna Gulbrandsen

Couple-duo the Reminders were on next, and while their voices bounced off each other and echoed under the blue sky, the audience doubled. People were getting excited, and Aja Black, the duo's female half, stoked them, saying, "This is the most diverse crowd we've seen, and we're all together." It was true: Looking around, there was a big, grizzled old guy jamming, next to a couple passing a baby back-and-forth, next to a girl in knee-high boots with a feather headband across her forehead.

After the Reminders, a guest came on stage to sing the call to prayer, and the crowd -- who had been dancing and singing just a few minutes ago -- went silent, captivated by the sudden change. Before he left to head into the mosque, Ali dropped some exciting news. "My friends are coming on," he said. As Ali told it, he didn't know what was in store next. He had just seen some of his friends walking around and asked if they would perform.

While Ali was talking, recognizable faces started lining the small stage behind him: Toki Wright, Sims, Prof, Homeboy Sandman, MaLLy, IBE. For the next hour, they passed the mic between them, each taking a turn at a song before stepping back to listen to what the next rapper would do. It felt collaborative, spontaneous, and electric.

By the time the guest appearances were through, one of the night's two headliners was ready to get on stage. First though, DJ Bandcamp hyped him up -- "Maybach Music," he played over and over, as Stalley walked out. The set was solid, though brief -- just a half hour of beats.

After Stalley wrapped up and headed into the mosque to hang with some of the volunteers, Ali got back on stage. It was time to bring up the energy, and Ali started riling the crowd, and then talking with them.

Anna Gulbrandsen

Anna Gulbrandsen

Atmosphere was supposed to go on next, but while Slug was held up looking for his "ears," Ali had some time to kill. So he started rhyming. "I don't have my music," he warned the crowd, as he launched into favorites from

Mourning in America and Dreaming in Color

. "I started rhyming just to be somebody," he sang, unaccompanied, to the rapt crowd.

After a few songs, Ali started a chant of "Love," and then kept talking. "Who do you guys want next year?" he asked, before floating Immortal Technique. "Though we don't need him here, I already have a homeland security file," Ali said. "You're all hanging out at my mosque with me, watch out."

Atmosphere finally arrived, sporting his local pride with a Nicollet Park jacket and a bright blue Vote No shirt. He started out by taking a picture of the crowd, and then launched into a duet with Ali, both men rapping "Cats Van Bags." Then Ali left the stage, and for the next hour, it was all Atmosphere.

For the next dozen-plus songs, including a few throwbacks, Slug and the band poured out love for the audience, the city, the day. "You're an easy crowd," he told his listeners.

Before his last song, "The Best Day," Slug got serious, and started telling the crowd about a conversation he had been having with Sims about death. "Death is the only truth," he said, "and we all have different coping mechanisms. But mine is that I love today. Thank you for being part of my best day ever."

Critic's Notebook:

Personal bias: There were points in the day where I wished for more consistency, but I left glad that I had heard both a storyteller spinning fables and Rhymesayers spinning beats.

The Crowd: 1/4 people who wandered over from the resources parking lot or the Cub across the street, 1/4 hipsters, 1/2 Atmosphere fans; all Ali fans.

Overheard in the Crowd: In the middle of the late afternoon call to prayer, some guy shouted to his friends, "Hey, did you know there's free food across the street?" He was quickly quieted.

Random Notebook Dump: Ali has big plans for next year. "I want it to be like Soundset, the State Fair, and then Day of Dignity," he told the crowd.

Atmosphere's Setlist:
Cats Vans Bags, with Brother Ali
Trying to Find a Balance
Modern Man's Hustle
The Woman with the Tattooed Hands

Happy Mess
She's Enough
Just for Show
Little Man
The Best Day

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