Show Review: RL Grime w/ Speakerfoxxx + Taste Tester – 5/8 – The Basement
Collard greens, cornbread, and oxtails. Sweltering summer days, and long reckless nights. Feast and famine. High riding Impalas and hoopties. Glitz, glamour, and grit. Phillie cigars, malt liquor forties, and crack cocaine. Relentless high hats, big, boisterous brass, and 808 bounce.
If you grew up anywhere in the area bounded by Houston, Memphis, New Orleans, and Atlanta, these are sights, sounds, and sentiments that have always been there. We all came up around deeply rooted culture, cuisine, and common courtesies whose vibrancy was always more closely linked to a shadowy subculture than we’d like to admit, even though certain members of that society were held in public esteem and respect. They were the mayors and diplomats of a world we couldn’t relate to, but was always lurking close by like a shoddily chained junk yard dog.
This seclusion, tension, and the need for recognition eventually spawned some of the most memorable mouth pieces of hip hop, backed by producers and beat freaks who just plain ‘got it’. Tales from the ‘trap’, where drugs, violence, and survival were themes faced on a daily basis were thrust into mainstream culture by groups such as Three 6 Mafia, the Cash Money Records crew, E-40 and UGK. The albums they put forth not only became collections of anthems for an urban subculture, they were also full of gems audiophiles could drool over. These tracks were in your face, aggressive, and meant to be played LOUD.
Flash forward ten years, and Atlanta has become the undisputed capital of ‘Trap Music’. With talent such as T.I, Young Jeezy, Lil Jon, Gucci Mane, OJ da Juiceman, and Waka Flocka Flame carrying the torch for southern gangster rap, it only made sense that local DJ’s and producers would see the genre’s potential for fusion with dance music, and run with it.
I like to fancy that I witnessed the birth of the EDM/Trap hybrid movement at a monthly known as ‘Heavy’, held at The Graveyard Tavern, a self proclaimed sunny place for shady people, in the gritty hamlet of East Atlanta Village.
To this day, I have struggled as a promoter and talent buyer to come up with a name for my events that was as perfect and encapsulating as the name ‘Heavy’ was for this series of soirees. Behind a literal wall of subwoofers, you could find local heavyweights like Daniel Disaster (then known as DJ Megan Foxxx, now as one half of Heroes x Villains) and Anthony ‘Mayhem’ Rotella mixing everything from T.I. to Rick Ross with the full throttle bass driven sounds of the UK born dubstep that was quickly permeating the local underground dance culture. The dubstep we were exposed to at these shows wasn’t your modern mass produced, laser synth laden ‘brostep’, but the tightly coiled, LFO lambasted rhythms of those like Trolley Snatcha, Caspa, Rusko, Funtcase, Reso, and Benga. The pairing of vocals detailing the success and struggles associated with the shadier side of life and the deep, tense vibes of UK bass made good sense from the DJ side of things, both melodically and metaphorically. From the dance floor, many of us had no idea what we were being subjected to, but it just felt right.
Though the sound of the trap scene has long since left the underground, it managed to retain a good helping of its ‘all black everything’ ghetto-glam-goth vibe, though not without a generous smattering of pastel polos and high socks for youthful flavor. Though many older scenesters may sneer at the pop notoriety of the most recent incarnation of the genre, and its accompanying crowd, at the end of the day its a testament to the success and approachability of the music. Sure, deep down we like it grimy and a bit dark, but we also know how to have a good time without taking ourselves or surroundings too seriously.
This mentality and progression of the genre was prevalent at my most recent venture into East Atlanta to see trap big shot RL Grime with local support from Speakerfoxxx and Taste Tester.
Held in the Graveyard Tavern’s newish venue space, the Basement, the atmosphere was decidedly different than the days of Heavy. Minimalistic house lighting, bars tended by tattoo emblazoned ‘not to be messed with’ types, and ominous back drops of classic silent horror movies were replaced with playful LED rigs, scantily clad girls pouring Red Bull and vodkas, and murals that fell somewhere between skate punk graffiti and Sailor Jerry imagery.
The crowd was different than I remembered encountering on this side of town as well. For one, the outfits around me were no longer contained to a monochromatic palate, and instead of fashion statements made with studs and inverted crucifixes, flat bills, high socks, and trainers abounded. Again, I’m not being high and mighty or the least bit hipsterish about the new emerging support system for our decidedly southern sounds. Change is good. It fosters growth within the genre and those like it, and shows that there is indeed a future for all forms of EDM.
Speaking of new faces, the opener for the night, Taste Tester, is one of the youngest players in Atlanta’s trap music scene. His recent productions have been seeing a lot of Soundcloud traffic, and even support from big whigs in the scene such as Baauer, who played out his tracks at Coachella this year, and RL Grime, who featured his remix of Jeremih’s ‘Gurlz Gon Wyld’ in a recent mix hosted by Diplo on BBC Radio 1. That’s pretty big moves for a youngster with only around 1700 fans on Facebook. True to the tunes you can find on his Soundcloud, his set was full of different takes on the trap sound, ranging from minimalist and atmospheric dubby cuts, to full on hat and snare driven juke/footwork tracks. Considering myself a somewhat educated listener, I could really appreciate his song selection, and the fact that he was able to play that ever crucial opener role of keeping the pot at a simmer and no more. However, I felt that as such a fast rising figure in his arena his delivery would have been a bit more assertive and confidence a bit higher. But whatever, dude is young, talented, and doesn’t come off as cocky. That being said, it should be fun to watch him progress, as he already has been working with major local players MUST DIE!, HPNTK, and HYDRABADD. Apparently all caps is the new thing. I don’t know.
Having never seen Speakerfoxxx spin, but having heard the legend, my guests and myself were anxious to see how her attitude of street-hardened female empowerment put forth in her sophomore mixtape release , Dopegirl Anthems, would translate to a live setting. Taste Tester’s set came to a close with little gusto, and following a lengthy swap of gear, Speakerfoxxx began to put on one of the most impressive performances I’ve seen in a long time. Though Taste Tester’s set kept the crowd interested, it didn’t quite engage them. What was once a crowd of all colors, shapes and sizes nodding along in rhythmic appreciation, had become a mob encroaching upon the stage and Speakerfoxxx’s personal space.
I’d heard of her ability to read and move a room, but the effect was striking. She dove into a medley of Birdman tunes, “I Need a Dime”, “Choppa Style”, and other street level classics blended with the occasional thugged out banger or trap gem. As people began actually climbing on stage to dance, and not only girls, mind you, I turned to my right and saw a middle aged black couple in full business attire grinding like they were back in high school. Well. That escalated quickly. Speakerfoxxx, you have our attention. Her overall demeanor was calm and collected, working the mic only occasionally, but effectively. Though she did delve a bit into the modern versions of instrumental and sample driven trap, I was more impressed with her decision to play mostly rap and hip hop from all corners of the genre. It made her set stand out from the others, and drew a clear division between the opener and headliner, who both were to be playing EDM driven sets. Professional without being uptight, impressive without upstaging the headliner. Well played.
RL Grime is one of the artists who reminds you that although the roots of trap run deep in the south, it is most certainly a coast to coast musical phenomenon. Based out of LA, but having spent his college years in New York, RL Grime brings a lot of different cultural influences and approaches to his brand of music production and live selection. Clad in all black, exuding playful confidence and appreciation from the crowd, Grime pulled no punches during his set. Every hood and trap house was represented, as he wound his way through original and remixed versions of everything from Ace Hood to Chief Keef to The Diplomats, much to the excitement of my yankee friends from Jersey. Admittedly, I spend a lot of time crawling forums and blogs trying to find the newest sounds and reworked classics, but even so, Grime played a multitude of tracks originally cut by trap standards like Flosstradamus, Luminox, Baauer, and others, that had been altered and presented in ways different than any I’d heard. It seems the dubplate culture is strong in the world of trap, which is great. That implies lots of collaboration, growth, and a measure of exclusivity in a world of instant download gratification.
As his set blew past the previously planned time, Atlanta trap royalty Daniel Disaster joined him on stage for a surprise back to back tag set. This treat lasted nearly a full 90 minutes, all the while the two appeared to be having a blast playing off each other and manipulating the crowd, which was in full East Atlanta rage mode at this point. As one of the most well traveled and connected DJ’s based out of Atlanta, he’s worked as an engineer at Grand Hustle for years, Disaster has one of the nastiest collections of trapped out anthems and progressive club bangers in the game. As the night drew to a much later than expected close, the energy given off by these two stars was both inspiring and comforting. Trap and its roots have always been here, and although its venturing further from home everyday, it most certainly isn’t leaving us anytime soon.