Friday night saw three local hip-hop acts take over First Avenue to celebrate the release of the new Mixed Blood Majority record, Insane World. Alongside GRRRL PRTY and P.O.S, it was definitely a night to remember.
GRRRL PRTY gave a stellar stage performance, even without the presence of Lizzo, who was attending her grandmother's wake. Manchita, Sophia Eris, and Shannon Blowtorch powered through their opening set and proved capable of commanding the same attention as the group in its entirety. With additional percussion from Bionik (who produced the most recent GRRRL PRTY project), dancing from Lizzo's backup dancers, and stage chaos brought on by confetti guns and inflatable balls, the set was frenetic and captivating.
Manchita and Sophia Eris had each donned outfits touting their progressive leanings (featuring the slogans "Gender is Over! (If You Want It)" and "Black Lives Matter," respectively). Those visuals highlighted the politically and socially engaged lyrical content that floats within their party music, and they introduced "Can I Live?" with an anecdote regarding their most recent interview with the Pioneer Press.
Fielding a softball question from an interviewer regarding what they wanted for Christmas this year, the MCs stated they wanted "justice," which sparked a larger conversation about Jamar Clark and the recent protests at the Minneapolis Police Department's 4th Precinct. Manchita went on to say their answers went unpublished for being "too politicized."
"Taxes are political," she said fervently to the rapt audience. "Human rights are not." It was a powerful moment that gave the music that followed greater weight, framing the arc of the night as one that combined ass-shaking with direct, intentional engagement.
Mixed Blood Majority — the trio consisting of Crescent Moon of Kill The Vultures, Joe Horton of No Bird Sing, and DJ Lazerbeak of Doomtree — opted to play second, mostly highlighting songs from their new record Insane World. The record is a fitting follow-up to their 2013 self-titled debut that expands the group's sound and tightens their collaborative strengths. Riding high off the power of the album seeing the light of day and the hugeness of the event as a whole, the group brought an undercurrent of effervescence to their pensive and intricate brand of hip-hop.
The pair of MCs exchanged bars with an infectious, effectively utilizing the variety of increasingly smooth, club-friendly lavabangers Lazerbeak contributed to their latest record. As a duo, the rappers play off each other impeccably, unveiling different shades of performance intensity and swagger, depending on the tone of the track. Lazerbeak is consistently in joyous maestro mode, pounding out the beats' gigantic drum sections on his MPC while vibing along. Joe Horton's exploratory flow was accentuated thanks to his movements and crowd interactions, while Crescent Moon's presence among a like-minded collective imbued him with a spirit that felt akin to his Oddjobs days.
Prior to exploding into "Foxes Den," he praised the stage below his feet as sacred, recalling his days opening for Eyedea and Abilities and Atmosphere, and recounting the power of Minneapolis' years of support. Andrew Broder, another Crescent Moon collaborator from earlier this year, came to the stage with No Bird Sing drummer and producer Graham O'Brien for their finale, contributing vinyl scratches and extra percussion to mark an exuberant and fitting end to their strong set.
When P.O.S took to the stage for the show's final performance, he made sure to highlight Marijuana Deathsquads (also featuring Andrew Broder) and Crescent Moon immediately, giving them a chance to own the stage before the his own set began. Despite himself being the closing act, P.O.S instilled in the crowd the notion this was Mixed Blood Majority's night.
In many ways, this curation was aptly chosen: Crescent Moon has been a staple in the Twin Cities rap scene since it began truly taking off, and his work specifically inspired that of a young Stef Alexander (who featured the storied MC on a pair of tracks on his debut Ipecac Neat). Having come full circle, it is the Doomtree ethic of arena-sized personally reflective rap that seemingly helped inspire Mixed Blood Majority's movement of crowd-pleasing contemplative music.
It is not easy in the current wave of hip-hop to simultaneously appeal to the desire for escapist detachment and for thoughtful, reflective poetics. And Doomtree in particular has helped model what successful underground rap looks like, thanks in no small part to P.O.S' energy-focused heart-on-the-sleeve intensity. It's hard to overstate how important Lazerbeak's magnetic beats are to the propulsion of Crescent Moon and Joe Horton's heavy subject matter into dance territory, but collectively they've risen to the challenge of finding where the center of the Venn diagram lies.
As P.O.S ran through his string of new classics, which pull from his longtime blueprint of Crescent Moon-inspired personal fare filtered through beats and cadences built for stadiums, he reiterated why the ongoing conversation between writing approaches are so important.
P.O.S played a number of new songs, all of which felt remarkably adventurous and meticulously crafted. The grooves were strong enough that the audience was able to vibe without having ever heard the songs, but it was the familiar tracks ("Drumroll", "Optimist", "Purexed") that really set the place ablaze. Requests for older tracks were shrugged off ("I was 19 when I wrote that," P.O.S responded to an audience member's plea for a song off Ipecac Neat. "I'm 34; my brain doesn't even work like that anymore"), but a challenge to a thumb war was met with an enthusiastic acceptance, and eventual victory. ("Undefeated on four continents, you sons of bitches!" he proclaimed, tightly grasping his opponent's withered thumb triumphantly for all to see.)
P.O.S was clearly having an immense amount of fun onstage, this being his first solo performance at First Avenue since the release of We Don't Even Live Here (and the subsequent cancellation of his tour due to his kidney transplant). Everyone who touched the stage that night beamed with a similar glow.