If you've passively decided you don't belong at a Madison hip hop show, you're both mistaken and missing out on the richest lyrical experiences you'll hear. Those who put their dependents to bed after seizing the 9-5 day in order to seize the night as well were rewarded with an inspiring lineup of Midwestern-bred social critics.
Laying messages in spoken beats on the Annex stage in front of DJ Turbo Nemisis (hailed in a strained falsetto), the collection of rhymers incited a simultaneously cerebrally-challenging and emotionally-energetic evening.
First on stage leapt the lively local lyricist El Guante with a microphone wrapped so tightly around his fist that his legs bounced with the energy of excess oxygen. Challenging the audience's convention through a request to refrain from responding to his hip with hop (though immediately expecting a reaction to "who knows what I'm talking about?"), he turned his back, dropped each shoulder one by one, and busted out an a capella aria that turned backpack stiffs into liquid-legged ravers.
Throughout the theatrics, El Guante focused on his lyrics, which remained not only thoughtful, but constantly demanding thought -- even from the agreeable nodders who he reminded were welcome to disagree. The set and his voice eventually began to break apart, but he retired by hurling one last rasp attacking the regret of a successful life built on company-sponsored waste cast meaningless in hindsight.
Next, Doomtree's emcee Sims emerged onto the stage in a dark-shadowed hood. He slurred a much more discordant tune over grinding sampled guitar and a manic drum machine, but passion was powerfully asserted with a presence that suggested the very weight of his steps were driving the pulse.
Mac Lethal made an appearance, looking more like a Kansas-mulleted Elijah Wood than a self-proclaimed Avril Lavigne, but sounding like neither. He quickly addressed the race politics inherent in a crowd of rigidly-pulsing, frat-capped white boys by yelling at his shoe (a.k.a. Rolling Stone) that, of course, he sounds white, because he is white. Demonstrating the integral point of his anti-corporate lyrics, Lethal proceeded to rap over an accidentally skipping iPod track and launched into an impromptu freestyle that would send any mainstream rapper back to his corporate-sponsored trailer.
A pained P.O.S. finally surfaced, obviously reeling from an extracted wisdom tooth. Backed by the grandiosity of a big-band brass track, he shook aggressively and barked a bassy, vivifying barrage. His bald head and week-old beard were lit blaze red from the left and unequivocally right from the raised palms. His tenacity led to a mid-song victory in an impromptu thumb war with a member of the rowdy crowd, but exhaustion eventually compromised authenticity enough to drip a thin freestyle better fit for a living room than a stage.
However, the vulnerability uniquely marinated the lyrics "I'm not waving, I'm drowning" and set a beautiful mood for a piece about a cherished and flawed father. Trying to resurrect energy and literally spitting blood, P.O.S ripped into a riotous refrain of his new album's single, and a strong night faded away with the weakening chorus: "So worn out, So worn out."