Midway Felix Slow Cold EP Release at Cause, 1/11/13

Midway Felix Slow Cold EP Release at Cause, 1/11/13
Photo by Zach McCormick

Midway Felix
With Ashley Gold, The Lioness, Kaleem & Mastermind and Try Bishop
Cause Spirits and Soundbar, Minneapolis
Friday, January 11, 2013

What's the difference between St. Paul and Minneapolis? St. Paul doesn't crave validation like its twin across the river. Maybe that's why Midway Felix is so damn humble all the time. The MC's first solo outing at Cause on Friday almost had the vibe of an all-ages rap show (minus the turnt-up 21+ crowd) with a flurry of short performances from relative unknowns in the local hip-hop scene, only one DJ (Felix), and plenty of effusive fan praising from the microphone.

Without a little context, you might have never known you were witnessing opening night for the Heiruspecs' star quarterback, easily one of the greatest and definitely one of the most underrated rappers to roam these parts. Midway Felix is actually so humble that he started his show with a request for the crowd to critique his new material with a thumbs-up or down, as if we didn't already know we were gonna love it.

See Also:
Midway Felix flies solo: After 15 years with Heiruspecs, Felix charts new sounds with his solo EP, The Slow Cold

Felix and the Heiruspecs have always been known as a community-driven, grassroots type of rap group with an incredible amount pride in their neighborhood and city. In our recent interview, Felix mentioned that his vision of the TC hip-hop scene's future involves a lot more exposure for the more street-oriented rap coming out of communities like Minneapolis' North Side, or Rondo in St. Paul, and the MC seemed to tailor the night's lineup to demonstrate this point. Opener Try Bishop certainly made a strong case right off the bat, bounding around the stage with an explosive energy and a flair for showmanship, matching introspective lyrics with some rowdier ones to get a response from the indifferent bar crowd. In a memorable moment near the end of his set, Bishop, who had shouted himself nearly hoarse, collapsed into a chair onstage to deliver a few poignant bars before snapping to his feet for the hook, sending the chair flying. Dramatic? Of course. Entertaining? Hell yes!

Kaleem (left) and father Mastermind (right)
Kaleem (left) and father Mastermind (right)

Up next was Rondo-based son-and-father duo Kaleem and Mastermind, who made their set into something of a friendly contest between the bloodline to see whose songs got the crowd live-er. The "old-school vs. neo-school" conceit might have been a bit cliché from anyone else, but the two sold it with a winning mix of humor and impressive skills. Mastermind, the OG is originally from Mississippi and is probably best known up here as a member of the groups Guardians of Balance and Buildaberg, and laces his rhymes with a mixture of classic East Coast and Southern underground flows.

Midway Felix Slow Cold EP Release at Cause, 1/11/13
Photo by Zach McCormick

Kaleem, who I later learned is 15, made his pops' sweat with an energetic, positive take on a more modern trill sound, running literal circles around the older rapper while urging the crowd to cheer for his side. Mastermind doesn't seem to be the type to let his kid win though, and kept up a steady stream of hilarious banter throughout the set. After one particularly tiring song from Kaleem, the OG grumbled "Man, that's cheating...he got a Just Blaze beat an shit." Felix joined the duo for a tune as well, changing up his cadence slightly to match the beat's southern flavor.

If Kaleem and Mastermind were the night's surprise hit, then North Minneapolis' The Lioness was definitely the guest of honor. Finally garnering some buzz from local press in 2012 thanks to a Soundset, the criminally slept on MC showcased just what makes her so special during her short but sweet set. Effortlessly charismatic and a steely-eyed as her namesake, the Lioness' cool, relaxed demeanor was a nice break from the hyperactive energy of the last two acts. With stellar breath control, tough but poetic lyrics, and a flow that brings a young Missy Elliott to mind, she's definitely breakout material.

Midway Felix Slow Cold EP Release at Cause, 1/11/13
Photo by Zach McCormick

Ashley Gold's set hit a bit of a pothole when the by-now pretty rowdy crowd actually started to drown out her strumming and singing. The folksy R&B songwriter sports some seriously impressive pipes and a nice sense of melody, but seemed like she might be more comfortable performing for a coffeehouse than an uptown bar. I'm sure in a mellower setting her atmospheric loop-pedal wizardry would have killed, but at Cause she seemed a ways out of her element, and had a tough time holding the joint's attention.

Midway Felix Slow Cold EP Release at Cause, 1/11/13
Photo by Zach McCormick

The main course definitely brought the energy back up when he hit the stage however, running with Ashley's joke that he was the Heiruspecs' Beyonce, Felix took the stage with the practiced energy of an MC who has spent years fronting a band, immediately sending hands in the air to the sounds of his new tune "Dirt in Hand." Following with the infectious "Midway's Baby," which appears to be unreleased at the moment, the veteran rapper seemed to relish the new challenge performing alone presented. I was honestly a little worried about how our hero would fare without his Heiruspecs foil, singer/rapper/beatboxer Muad'Dib, but I shouldn't have been. Midway Felix was just as magnetic as ever, striding the stage confidently and peppering the show with witty, insightful patter. "I miss my band already," he said with a laugh at one point relatively early in the set. "It's getting mighty lonely up here."

Midway Felix Slow Cold EP Release at Cause, 1/11/13
Photo by Zach McCormick

But one of the most fun things about watching this solo outing was seeing an experienced performer deal with this scenario change. For Felix, that meant working the crowd extra hard for their participation, enlisting the extra voices to help on great call-and-response hooks like the ones in "Einstien" and his new EP's title track "The Slow Cold." Only occasionally showing his human weakness (such as forgetting he was being his own DJ for a minute), Midway's Beyonce kept the night moving along quickly, breezing through seven tracks before welcoming Kaleem and Mastermind back to the stage for "Walter White," a swaggy new banger that scheduled for release on an upcoming compilation.

The three rappers are a joy to watch onstage together, with great natural interplay and a familial bond that led to some adorable onstage hugs. The father-and-son duo stayed up to help with the set's closing portion, which also included a guest performance from Gold during the new video single "Away From Here". Ashley seemed to have a lot more fun performing with Felix and the boys onstage, and her brassy croon matched the song perfectly. Before closing with Slow Cold standout "Plates," Felix showed his humble side one more time, thanking practically everyone in attendance individually before climbing down to sell CDs.

Midway Felix Slow Cold EP Release at Cause, 1/11/13
Photo by Zach McCormick

Set List:
Dirt in Hand
Midway's Baby
Time Over Wrist
Feels Right
The Slow Cold
Using Me
Walter White
I Don't Care
Away From Here

Critic's Bias: I'm probably the biggest Heiruspecs fanboy on this side of the river.

The Crowd: Diverse, a few b-girls even showed up and did their thing for a while.

Random Notebook Dump: I don't think I've ever actually seen Felix perform without his trademark Midway cap. Think he has a rack of 'em at home?

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