Tomorrow at 8 pm WKCR Offbeat is holding a pretty exciting concert at Shea Stadium (no, not that one) in Brooklyn. Beat bopper Alexandra Svokos sat down with Concert Coordinator Thuto Somo to learn more.
Bwog: What was the the Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito show on WKCR in the 1990s like? Has KCR had other concerts like this?
Thuto: There has never been a hip-hop concert organized by WKCR. The Stretch Armstrong & Bobbito show was an unprecedented broadcast in the realm of hip-hop radio. Rap had been on the radio before, and other shows were hosted by bigger stars, but they had more independence in their broadcast; non-commercial rap radio didn’t exist at the time. The show was on from 1-5 in the morning, and a lot of the listeners were night workers–janitors, security guards, taxi drivers, and prison inmates. It managed to become internationally known through the hip-hop circuit, and is probably most famous for the guests, and freestyles that occurred. The show featured Nas, Notorious B.I.G., El-P, Jay-Z, Big L, Wu-Tang, The Pharcyde, Souls of Mischief, Big Pun, Mobb Deep, Large Professor, Krs-One, and all before most of those artists were signed. The Stretch & Bob show was where a lot of artists came to gain initial, large recognition, and broke artists that are now legends of hip-hop.
B: What kind of music should we be expecting at the concert?
T: The music will be soulful, sample-heavy, head-nodding. A mix of rough rap vocals, and bizarre, outer space sounding production. The unquantized technique of these artists causes the beats to have a strong, syncopated swing. It will not be a run through current pop hits, and will probably surprise underground hip-hop fans. I’ve heard these artists play Mr. Oizo to Dennis Brown, so it’ll definitely be an educational experience.
B: Who will be performing?
T: Still Weavens and vhvl are both from New York, and part of a small collective which goes by the name Dim Sum. They make beats, and have supported Offbeat for the past few months. My favorite track of vhvl’s is only 38 seconds long, but short tracks seem to be the norm for most of these guys. VHVL is one of the few female beat artists I know of, which is unfortunately not that surprising considering the larger crowd of hip-hop musicians. I played a track of Still Weavens on air, and was amazed when he announced on twitter that he was listening. I think New York beat artists have really tuned in to what we play because we play their full tracks, and I can’t think of one other radio station that plays songs without rap on their hip-hop shows.
Stainless Steele, who raps and produces, is a fantastic artist in hip-hop currently, because he has combined a lot of the sounds and tracks of the beat scene with lyrics for his albums. Rap shouldn’t need to justify beat music, and Stainless has brought out the dynamics of using music of beat scene artists in combination with his rhymes. Swarvy is still a student and has unleashed three albums this year which are all great exhibitions of changing time-structures with heavily chopped samples. Swarvy and Josh Hey can make some eerie, funky, distorted, neckbreaking tracks. Josh Hey also has some fantastic remixes of R&B songs that pull a bizarre romance out of those melodramatic vocals. Stainless, Swarvy, and Josh Hey all worked on a project titled Blasphemous Jazz. All the artists involved remixed Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew, and Stainless Steele provided the vocals.
B: How did this concert come about? Did KCR organize it all by yourselves?
T: At the end of spring semester there was the idea of gathering beat artists which the hip-hop show had been in contact with, or that we were just strong fans of. It was around the NBA finals, because a lot of the artists we were in touch with were having debates on Twitter. In early June we were asked by Swarvy if we knew venues he could perform at in New York. Swarvy had been on the hip-hop show in April, but is from Philadelphia, and had done some free shows at the MEZZ.
Swarvy’s inquiry about possible venues fell in line with our quest to gather more of these artists, and the chance for us to host a concert became a consideration. Dylan, a KCR programmer, was really big in initially contacting other artists, and venues. Shea Stadium was the most receptive. The concert was brought about entirely through WKCR staff. Most of the artists don’t have a manager, so we were emailing the artists to set dates, and travel expenses. The art for the poster was also done by a student, though not KCR member.
B: Why did you decide to have a concert now?
T: I think the music of the beat-scene, as it has been termed, has finally become an established world within hip-hop. Los Angeles collective Brainfeeder and Stones Throw Records were essential in creating releases, and events for hip-hop artists who were not rapping, and were not scratching records in a traditional fashion. I first began hearing this music around 2006. The beat music coming out of Los Angeles was filled with rhythm changes, orchestral space sounds, video game samples, long unfiltered record samples. I think these artists are now the most innovative in hip-hop, rapping or not, because they’re continuing to change the way the music is listened to. They are not making instrumentals missing vocals. The space for artists to create beats as individual songs, or concept albums is growing in hip-hop.
B: What is the venue like? What kind of scene should we be expecting? Is it only open to Columbia students?
T: Shea Stadium is all ages. The concert is open to the public, but you will find a lot of KCR in attendance, and we’d love for more students to attend. Concerts for these artists occur in New York, but not regularly, nor do they get much attention in the mainstream hip-hop coverage of the city. A lot of rock, and experimental shows happen at Shea Stadium, but I’m hoping the crowd will be dedicated hip-hop fans, students, and those open-minded who just came to hang out. It’ll be a four hour party, so show up on time. This is not one of those two hour late affairs.
Interview has been edited for brevity