"Is that The Company Man right there!?"
Slightly startled as I faux swagged out the cab - caught off guard by the sound of my moniker - I look up urgently to see who's shouting me out.
You see, most people call me J Hunte. Or Justin, as I'm known to my family and the government. And, although I'm accustomed to seeing The Company Man written in emails and all over The-Quotable, hearing it audibly and unexpectedly is something I'm not used to.
"Huh? What?...Who?" I muttered to myself, scanning the scattered faces littered outside of Williamsburg's Public Assembly. Its a beautiful Brooklyn night. Slightly cooler than the nights to follow. The type of night where people feel obligated to step outside for a quick nicotine fix. The type of night where non-smokers don't mind chilling with the fiends. Towering above a small collective stood the six-foot-five-inch Homeboy Sandman looking over at me with a welcoming mug.
Cooling in an early 90s purple Lakers Starter jacket draped over a black T-shirt fresh with a Murakami-esque cartoon face sporting a Louis-rag masking its mouth hanging on top of his marine-green cargo pants, Homeboy Sandman has become somewhat of a mayor of NYCs underground Hip Hop scene. His gregarious personality and passion for The Culture, along with his envious work ethic and lyrical ferocity, has garnered the respect of fellow Emcees, fans, industry-types, and the like.
Its impossible not to gravitate towards him. You want to like him.
Who else would shout The Company Man out?
We politic for a few as 'Boy Sand splits time texting and chatting it up with a slender cat rocking Malcolm X glasses, Brooklyn Emcee Fresh Daily, and a naturally beautiful brown skinned woman to be named later. The cue comes through his hand held - Mr Beatz is about to hit the stage. Brooklyn Bodega's April "Show and Prove" is about to jump off. Time to go in.
Husband and wife tag-team, Wes and Ebonie Jackson are the founders of Brooklyn Bodega, an online blogazine carrying the torch for Hip Hop since its 2006 inception. Brooklyn Bodega is the mind share behind the beautifully expanding Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival. The 5th Annual BHF takes place June 18th through June 20th. The Main Day is held annually at Empire Fulton Ferry State Park in BK's Dumbo section. Ghostface Killah, KRS-One, Lupe Fiasco, Big Daddy Kane, Blue & Exile, Homeboy Sandman, Little Brother, Kidz in the Hall, CL Smooth, Chubb Rock, DJ Premier, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera have all graced the BHF stage years past. This night's event is the second leg of the Bodega's "Show And Prove" series taking place at Williamsburg's Public Assembly on March 19th, April 16th, and May 21st. Each night's winner becomes a finalist for the right to rock as the opening act in this year's BHF. Westchester Emcee Mr. Beatz, Fat Beat's own Brown Bag All-Stars, and UK Born Cymarshall Law are competing for the crown tonight. Stakes are high.
So the five of us traipse through the dark corridor leading into the spot. Theres a five dollar cover charge tonight but the doorman stamps us through without question. Obviously, since The Tall Man is performing later, they are exempt from paying the toll. Me? I slide through with the crew and get stamped for free. What else would you expect? I'm walking with The Mayor.
We round the corner headed into Public Assembly's backroom just in time to catch Mr. Beatz at the beginning of one of his off-the-dome-live sets. He's decked more throwback than hipster (rocking a rather conservative white-T with a 'microphone + MPC = Mr. Beatz' image emblazoned across the front, black hat, and dark jeans in direct contrast to the colorful contingent filling the venue). Although this is The Company Man's first Mr. Beatz live show, judging by the crowd, the start could’ve been smoother.
But it was all love, still.
Beatz transitions into his crazy nostalgic single "Plain and Simple", immediately reclaiming the crowd. A Dope dope track (the video's cool too). He wraps with a trunk rattling, base-heavy cut that I can't seem to find online anywhere...But the hook goes "Mr Beatz is an Emcee / Movin' on the MPC" (or something close to that. Like I said, I can't seem to find it online to verify) in homage to his dual hat as both lyricist and beat maker. The track knocked. The crowd felt it. Neck snapping spread like subprime mortgages throughout the venue. The nastiest part was that last verse where he stumbles through the rhyme as if he forgot the lyrics then brings it back on time for the return of that ill hook..."Mr Beatz is an Emcee / Movin' on the MPC!" Dope shit.
Brown Bag Allstars
My homegirl Enid arrives just in time to man camera duty for the next contestants - Brown Bag Allstars. Hailing from different regions of the country, J57, Koncept, The Audible Doctor, Soul Khan, DeeJay Element, DJ E Holla, and DJ Goo all met through NYC’s ubiquitous Fat Beats record store (where the crew works). That’s right, these dudes run the shop by day, rock the mic by night.
4 Emcees. 3 DJs. Ample stage presence. Virulent energy.
BBAS bum rushed the audience almost instantly after hitting the stage. Set opener “Step down, we step up / You let down, we next up / Who the best now?? / Brown Bag, GET UP!” and the contagious “Gimme the Booze, Gimme the Booze (in a Brown Bag)!!” coerced the crowd crunk. I mean, these guys were all over the stage – weaving in and out of each other physically, sonically, lyrically, in sync, and on time. Impressive. Even their between track adlibs were dynamic enough to engage the crowd while guiding us into the next song. Unfortunately BBAS didn’t rock their anthemic “League of Intoxicated Gentlemen”, but so far they have to be the front runner for tonight’s competition. Their combination of energy, showmanship, lyricism, and crowd involvement is built for the live audience. And if I’m organizing a Hip Hop Festival, or any other live performance in any genre anywhere, that is the first thing I'm looking for.
The crowd thins briefly as BBAS exits the stage. Heads need to drink something. Heads need to smoke something. Heads need to step out into the tranquil evening and recap the first two-thirds of tonight’s semifinal. Enid and I snag the opportunity to slide stage right for an up close view of the third performance, England-born, NJ based, Cymarshall Law.
Cymarshall has been in the game for a minute. He's already released two full length LPs (Hip Hop in the Flesh, and Hip Hop in the Soul (review on the way)), toured the UK and the eastern US, and received Rookie of the Year honors from Sucio Smash over at WKCR's 89.9 Squeeze Radio (2004). For an artist as established as he, competing in "Show and Prove" seems a bit out of place. At the same time, its a signal of his love for the craft and hunger for The Culture. And that you MUST respect.
Decked in a black, red, and white Addidas jacket, jeans, and a black hat tilted to the left, Cymarshall opens his set by calling four women on stage for an acapella rendition of "A King With 4 Wives" - an ill extended metaphor about the four wives in all of our lives (Body, Possessions, Family, and Soul. Wife number 1? The naturally beautiful brown-skinned shortie chilling with 'Boy Sand before the show). Packed with energy and animation, this is clearly the night's most creative opening set. And to be honest, his entire set was packed with energy and animation. So much so that, by the time he reached the end, his Addidas jacket was tossed to the side, hat turned backwards, sweat pouring from his dome, and he's rocking with two mics! Cymarshall is a lyrically clever emcee - and his live show is a direct translation.
The Wrap Up
Tonight was a good night. The music was great. Each act brought its A game. The weather was the best its been in months. Brooklyn Bodega assembled a quality array of talent. Asking for more is straight Bernie Madoff (greedy).
Plain and Simple.
And although Mr. Beatz and Cymarshall Law all came tight, The Quotable's money is on Brown Bag Allstars. The crew's highly energetic live set and crowd command is bred for rocking live shows. Theirs is the type of show that the Brooklyn Hip Hop Festival is now known for.
A perfect fit.
And with that, I leave you as "Show and Prove" left us...with another hype performance from The Mayor, Homeboy Sandman.
****Editors Note: Brown Bag Allstars would go on to win the April 16th Show and Prove semifinal and will compete in the finals against Children of the Night and the winner of the May 21st semifinal. Congratulations to the crew.****