The album's collaborations with Minnesotan artists Psymun, Art Vandelay, and K. Raydio helped introduce the 17-year old talent to a local audience, who hung to his every word Thursday at Kitty Cat Klub. A night centered on the young rapper's signature chilled sound helped solidify Chester Watson's place as an impactful up-and-comer and put his work squarely in context of a new sound bubbling up in hip-hop.
Prime.cut began the night, filling in for Psymun who had flown to London to play alongside Corbin, the local hitmaker formerly known as Spooky Black. Dusty, melodic, and downtempo vibes Prime.cut struck fit with the Kitty Cat Klub's decor and set the tone for the evening. This was a fairly turned-down rap show, highlighting the current slowed wave of boom-bap inspired groove music that has been making strides locally with some key producers. Fans soaked in the smokey tunes with head nods and moderate movement, connecting to the crackle and the low-end of the instrumentals.
Producer Art Vandelay continued in a similar direction but brought along organist Javi Santiago and guitarist Jack Davis to add some improvised, live elements to his drum-and-sample beats. In replicating hip-hop production with a jazz tinge of unpredictability, the trio locked in some unique grooves as they built crescendos and broke down sections with a fairly tight chemistry. Beats were given a distinct focus off the bat, and this helped set the stage for the upcoming vocalists, both known to sink into the sonic space of their work.
K. Raydio's set pulled from her latest One Drop with O.D., who backed her up on the post-boom-bap backing tracks. Letting the airy harmonies lift the tightly poetic lyrics, K. Raydio captured audiences attention with a powerfully contained stage presence. Tracks like "Underdog" and "Endure" provided some funk uplift while the slinky "First Name" brought a fiery swagger, powerfully tempered by a relaxed performance. K. Raydio was perfectly suited as an opener for Chester Watson, prepping audiences for the mellow that was to follow.
There are some clear allusions to rap's mush-mouthed tongue-twister standard bearers like MF Doom and Earl Sweatshirt in his recordings, but Chester Watson's acutely technical and distinctly understated style proved unique in concert. Watson is the rare MC who can let the bars do the work, keeping his antics to a minimum and letting the strength of the wordplay and execution carry the performance. His rapping was consistently impressive, showcasing a talent well beyond his years that many bigger name artists have yet to reach.
The night overcame a slight tinge of stage awkwardness that cropped up when there was time to kill during gear set-up and when Watson switched songs midway through because he wasn't feeling them. It only added to the impression that the performer was working his way through intricately complicated lines with relative ease. The crowd remained stunned by the precision but tempered by the constrained energy, creating a laid-back yet vibrant air to the room. Watson worked through a number of songs stretching from his YouTube hits to never-before-heard material, and seemed excited to unveil his new work.
Rap has teetered between pulsating trap sounds and more ambient inflections in recent years, but Watson's music is as left-field as you're likely to hear nowadays, forgoing the turn up entirely for an all-out, molasses-slow groove template. He's a step ahead of the curve by focusing so intently on deconstructionist boom-bap beats and near-whispered internal rhymes, and it was gratifying to witness a show so focused on cultivating an atmosphere. Art Vandelay manned beats behind Watson, who repeatedly shouted out the original producer of tracks he was about to do and touted that they "killed it."
After an excellent rendition of "Sycamore" with his guest K. Raydio, he gave her a big hug and was clearly enthralled to be sharing the stage. Here was a young musician stoked on his own material, excited to be working over this caliber of beats and entirely confident of his ability to complete them. An avid producer himself, Watson was particularly proud when announcing his own beats. His youth makes his grasp of craft especially remarkable, but it also contributes to his connection with the cutting edge and his creative buoyancy. The intimate setting made for a perfect place to step close and truly partake in the glitchy, sinuous soundscape, but like K. Raydio mentioned during her set, this may be the last chance we get before Chester Watson blows up and plays larger venues.
Personal Bias: I tend to prefer more lively performances but Watson proved a powerful performer simply by displaying his abilities.
The Crowd: A compact group of excitable fans, eager to see one of the favorites for the first time.
Overheard In The Crowd: "He's like, super lyrical!"
Random Notebook Dump: Chester felt guilty people his age couldn't come to the show.
Camels And Cranes
Sir Metal Wig
GIMME NOISE'S GREATEST HITS
The 10 Most Underrated Guitarists in the History of Rock
The Best New Minnesota Musicians of 2014
53 things you might not know about Prince
73 things you might not know about Bob Dylan