I Self Devine at 7th St. Entry, 5/4/12

I Self Devine
7th St. Entry
Friday, May 4th, 2012

Midway through his set Friday night, I Self Devine lifted the cap off his head and wiped the sweat off his brow. "People have been coming up to me all day and asking, 'Hey Chaka, isn't tonight your release party?'" he said thoughtfully. "Well, you know," he added, pointing down at the stage, "it hasn't really sunk in until right now." And with that, the rapper launched straight into his next song.

Friday's show marked the first time in seven years that I Self Devine released a new album, and with The Sound of Low Class Amerika capping off the four-month run of "Culture Series" mixtapes, it promised to be a real celebration. Yet, the veteran MC, in typical fashion, was all business.

Being all business, of course, did mean that Devine brought a rousing show--while it lasted. He paced confidently around the stage, stopping periodically to lean a hand against the overhead PAs, or to high five some of the audience members; which is to say, he walked (or, better yet, swaggered) around like he owned the place. I.B.E. and Ak-Rite joined him onstage, with I.B.E. doing most the heavy lifting as a hype man, but in truth Devine could've held things down just fine on his own.

One might have expected, given the size of Devine's back catalog and how diverse his setlists tended to be for the recent mixtape releases, that this would a pretty eclectic show. As it was, however, his set, which followed up performances by Toki Wright, MaLLy, and Audio Perm, only lasted about 40 minutes, and it was almost entirely new material. In fact, aside from a few cuts off the "Shining Path" mixtape, it was almost entirely Amerika tracks--and for anyone familiar with the new album, those songs came off even better than on the record, their funkiness and raw energy accented perfectly by the bravado of Devine's delivery.

Naturally, it was clear that most the crowd wasn't familiar with these brand-new songs, but in the end that didn't matter much, either. A song like "Hold On," which kicked off the show, or the "Exist to Remain," the lead single off Amerika, were simply too irresistible not to get behind. And when he slowed things down to really drive his message home with a song like "As It Can Be"--which Devine called his "light at the end of the tunnel song"--no one seemed to have a problem following along.

Unfortunately, the night built up to something of an anticlimax. Devine got the crowd worked up to sing along on the chorus of "Cold Anger," a perfect song to round off the set before an encore. But, instead, when he walked off stage, it was for good. There was even a little confusion in the room as the crowd tried to figure out whether there would be an encore--and, indeed, the occasion seemed to call for one.

Then again, perhaps that, too, was typical of the man: He said what he needed to say, and left it at that.

Critics Bias: I recently did an interview with I Self Devine about The Sound of Low Class Amerika, so I was plenty familiar with what the new material was going to sound like. Somewhat fortuitously, it turns out.

The Crowd: Only about half-full right up through the opening sets, but the room seemed to fill up nicely for the headliner.

Overheard in the Crowd: "So, there isn't going to be an encore, right?"

Random Notebook Dump: A number of the artists on the bill either have releases coming up sometime this year or are working on new material. Next up will be MaLLy, who releases The Last Great at the Entry on May 18th.

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