Welcome to MN with Atmosphere at First Avenue, 3/5/13
Photo by Erik Hess
Welcome to MN Tour 2013
Atmosphere and Brother Ali
with Get Cryphy, Carnage and Haphduzn
First Avenue Mainroom, Minneapolis
Tuesday, March 5, 2013
Starting back in 2011, the reigning lords of MN hip-hop decided that 'burbs, exurbs and townships of our fair kingdom were getting left out. While hamlets like Bemidji, Mankato and St. Cloud had long been staunch supporters of Atmosphere and the Rhymesayers brand, they were often omitted from major tour schedules and forced to commute down to TwinCitiesland for shows of this caliber. But then, it came, like a glittering sunrise over the frozen North Shore, shining culture throughout the blighted tundra: The Welcome to MN tour.
By 2013, it's become something of a victory lap for our town's biggest names in rap -- a chance to rile up the fanbase and introduce them to some more underground names that probably wouldn't have otherwise discovered. Last night, they landed back home in Minneapolis for the tour's closing date and proved why they remain Minnesota royalty.
Openers Haphduzn and Carnage the Executioner formed the "names you should know" portion of the show that, in years past, has had a great effect on breaking promising young talent. Haphduzn was definitely the greenest MC on the bill, but you'd have a hard time telling that by watching him rap. Cutting around the stage with the presence (and prodigious height) of a power forward, the newcomer definitely made a case that he belonged in the Mainroom. With a confident flow that never lapsed into cocky swagger, Haphduzn was a blast to watch, and his relatively short set definitely left the crowd eager for more.
Photos by Erik Hess
While St. Paul's Carnage was only the second opener and seemed somewhat unfamiliar to the packed crowd, close followers of the local hip-hop community know him as something of an underground legend. Blessed with a supernatural beatboxing ability and a rapid-fire flow that would make Twista jealous, the Executioner live is a force to be feared and respected. Who needs a DJ when you can create your own beats with nothing but your own voice and a few stomps of a loop pedal? He took the room hostage, spitting every line with utter conviction and hunger. A standout track "Save My People" ruminated on the rapper's lack of acceptance by his African-American fans, and the artistic statement was distinctly brave, well-worded and necessary. While I'll admit to being a Carnage skeptic in the past, the MC shattered my expectations and brought his A-game.
Kicking things off with a riff on "Whatcha' Got," MN's street-prophet-laureate Brother Ali dived headfirst into a set that would also defy preconceived notions. The scratchy boom-bap beats and laid-back melodic flow of Undisputed Truth and Shadows on the Sun-era Ali were nowhere to be found at Welcome to MN, as nearly every song was given a Jake-One style banger-remix update. While it was a little jarring at first to hear clothing rattling bass and crisp, modern drums on Shadows era classics like "Bitchslap!" the king-sized beats seemed to finally match Ali's commanding stage presence. His set started a bit breathless, but the good Brother took control of the show during a decisive moment in the climax of "Mourning in America." Standing in a cloud of red-hued smoke on a darkened stage, the Ali made a deadly-serious salute and uttered the words "RIP Hugo Chavez" with utter conviction.
Not content to let the night be merely a party, Ali drop a trainload of knowledge about the intersections of white privilege and oppression in hip-hop during an early and spirited speech. Far from soapboxing, the comments were both incredibly eloquent and undeniably relevant to the amassed crowd, and followed up with a knocking take on "Truth Is" to make the message easier to swallow. Another sober moment came in the form of an acapella rendition of "Stop the Presses," a highly personal standout from Mourning. Nearly breaking into tears during the lyrics that mentioned the untimely death of Ali's father and our tragic loss of Micheal "Eyedea" Larsen, the Brother masterfully held his composure as he opened his life to the sold-out crowd.
Photos by Erik Hess
DJ crew Get Cryphy definitely got the biggest workout of the night, spinning choice cuts between rappers and headlining their own set as a warm-up for Atmosphere. Assisted by Welcome to MN 2012 standout Mally, Team Cryphy (sans Fundo, who's on tour with Prof) showcased their pioneering quick-mix style and tore the roof off. One of my favorite blends involved a combination of the beat from POS' "Get Down" with the Clipse classic "When the Last Time," and Last Word even got out from behind the decks to help Mally with hype duties.
During the close of Cryphy's set, a familiar swarthy individual with a moustache and pony-tail jumped behind a pair of turntables to seamlessly transition the night into the main event. Climbing onstage totally bundled up in a parka and gloves, Slug dropped a verse before kicking things off with "Smart Went Crazy," which made a great start to a set full of fan favorites. Bouncing from song to song with a playful energy, dour-and-depressed Sean was apparently not in the building, because the MC onstage for this Atmosphere show was all smiles and ironic jokes.
As they've aged, Slug and Ant have taken some flack from the local scene, but Welcome to MN seems to have energized the duo. Slug paced the stage, spitting his well-worn lines with a world-weary charisma and a healthy confidence earned by years in the trenches. Newer material like "Millennium Dodo" and "The Loser Wins" rubbed up comfortably against time-honed gems like "God Loves Ugly." Pausing several times to earnestly (well, as earnest as Slug gets) thank the crowd for their continued patronage, Atmosphere also busted out a couple of deep cuts including "God's Bathroom Floor," introduced as "the oldest song we know."
Photos by Erik Hess
During "Bam," Slug jumped behind Last Word's turntables to help Plain Ole Bill and Ant with a dizzying showcase of scratching prowess, and the two-part set-closer of hometown pride anthems brought the night to a heartfelt finish. During the encore, Atmosphere brought up each of the night's openers for a short feature before closing with their Welcome to MN 2013 official song "It Ain't the Prettiest." The onstage gang-up was a great cap-off to the night, as Haphduzn and Carnage got another chance to showcase their talents, while Ali and Slug seemed to be having the time of their lives rapping with their tour-mates. As with any great representation of our hip-hop community, the end of Welcome to MN 2013 was all love, and left me wishing that we could share this kind of unity and hometown pride with the entire world.
Critic's Bias:Twin Cities baby, born and raised!
The Crowd:Probably 80-90 percent Atmosphere fans who were pretty good sports overall about watching the rest of the acts.
Random Notebook Dump: I inadvertently stood next to a Haphduzn for a few minutes during Carnage's set and DAMN that dude is tall.
Brother Ali Set List:
Need a Knot
Mourning in America
Only life I know
Stop the Presses
Freedom Ain't Free
Uncle Sam Goddamn
Atmosphere Set List:
Smart Went Crazy
Bird Sings Why the Cage I Know
God Loves Ugly
Between the Lines
The Loser Wins
Cut You Down
God's Bathroom Floor
Always Coming Back Home to You
It Ain't the Prettiest
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