I Self Devine at 7th Street Entry: The Culture Series Part 1, January 22

I Self Divine's LA State of Mind EP Release Party
With Brother Ali, Muja Messiah, and Alicia Steele & the Endevours
7th Street Entry, Minneapolis
Sunday, January 22, 2012

Better than: The sounds of high-class America.

Three of arguably the top five local rappers were on the bill at 7th Street Entry last night, and the packed and lively crowd suggested the lineup appealed to a number of people. The tight venue proved a powerful locale for each Doomtree member in December, and it seems I Self Devine took to heart the power of such an intimate venue to display his latest material. The night marked the premiere of the live portion of his four-part Culture Series, a monthly set of shows and mixtapes which precede the release of his sophomore solo effort The Sounds of Low Class America.It's been nearly seven years since his first solo record, Self Destruction, and the promise of all this new music shows that the pioneering hip-hop icon hasn't lost any of his hunger or run out of things to say. The rapper's name -- he's known by his government as Chaka Mkali -- is known in a number of circles, and his impact is not to be underestimated. Big Zach of Kanser asserts in his recent book that had I Self Devine not relocated from Los Angeles, "there is a chance Minnesota would not have a hip-hop scene." He was equally pivotal to local rap's burgeoning beginnings (check his work with Dynospectrum) as he is to its current growth, aiding the craft of a number of the newer names through his work at Hope Community Center. If it seems YouTube commenters haven't quite done the knowledge, it was clear last night that local heads still appreciate and show out for a true MC.

After a DJ set from King Otto, Alicia Steele and the Endeavors warmed up the crowd with some jazz and soul stylings that got heads used to nodding. Theirs was a classic-sounding songstress vibe, featuring sax, Rhodes, bass, drums and some crooning and sultry vocals. When Muja Messiah stepped up afterwards, the stage was set for the rest of the evening: Politically-minded real talk with an eye to the streets and an ear for hard-edged boom-bap. The set focused on newer material, with some Villa Rosa material, a few joints from M-16's, and some brand new songs including an economically-minded song talking straight about the oldest profession ("I know the difference between hoes and women... Hoes are gettin' money"). Guests like Maria Isa, Real Spit Rick and Mike the Martyr joined him at various points to drop verses. The set was tight and showcased Muja's skills with internal rhyme and unique perspective. 

Next was Brother Ali, whose set seemed somewhat more hit-focused than what he played for Sims' Blowout. Classics like "Room With A View" and "The Puzzle" kept hands raised, and some of the newer material played remarkably well. "Sweet (Potato Pie)" was a personal highlight, as Ali is one of few artists that can pull of braggadocio even in tracks about dessert recipes, but heavier track "Writer's Block", concerning suicide and the struggle of artistry, was just as powerful on a different end of the spectrum ("If I don't do this is one take, I'll quit rapping,"). 

Hearing both Ali and Muja in the context of an I Self Devine show put a lot of their style and the local scene as a whole in perspective. You can hear the no-frills realism that passed from The Micranots into the veins of Minneapolis rap clearly in these two, who've built careers spitting about their respective takes on how the personal and political collide. I Self Devine inhabits this space better than most lyricists I've heard, and his latest mixtape LA State of Mind, which he played through in its entirety last night, focuses on the political and social turmoil of his West Coast origins that made him who he is today.

Backed by I.B.E. and Akrite, I Self slammed through his tracks with little pause. His style has the lyrical precision of a knife and the impact of a shotgun. He's a real presence onstage, booming hard-hitting lyrics at a steady pace and bringing energy levels up and down as need be. The new tracks sounded excellent live, though they lacked some of the immediate punch of standards like "Ice Cold" or older Micranots joints like "Illegal Busyness", which got some play later in the set. For how long he's been in the game and how long it's been since his last musical output, it's especially striking how consistently on point I Self Devine remains.

This show and mixtape are the beginning of what stands to be an impressive set of music. 

Critic's Notebook

By the way: If you missed this time around, I Self Devine will be doing it all over again next month, this time with Carnage and Desdamona, in celebration of his next chapter, The Upliftment Struggle.

I Self Divine's Setlist: 

Dream Crusher
Zero to 5ive
Death In The Air
Diamond Movement
Sweat Equity
Illegal Busyness
Bastards Of The Party
Had To Go Never Leave
Ice Cold

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