As I sip on my freebie, the crowd at Thermal (1601 Commerce) -- mainly white indie rockers, but also a few dozen hard-core throwback-clad black hip-hop fans -- begins to swell. Celebrated Hollertronix DJ Diplo takes to the ones and twos and threes!? Has he really got three turntables up there? He begins playing New Order!? Hip-hop heads nod to the ancient Mancunian rhythms. Welcome to the new hip-hop, where rules are pissed on, lips are curled with a passionate sneer and fists are raised.
A few years ago, when he was unbeatable, Tiger Woods was the next Michael Jordan -- forget Kobe and Iverson. In a similar paradigm, Southern independent and underground rap is the next phase of punk rock. That's right, punk rock.
For hip-hop, it's rock and roll's 1975 all over again. Just as bands like the Ramones arose in opposition to the bloated budgets and soaring pretensions of bands like Boston and Yes, creative hip-hop artists are sick of the Top 40 pop crossover rap -- in fact, they call that stuff dick-hop. Major-label deals be damned -- these people are bucking the system to put out their own gritty albums, content to create their own sounds on equipment they teach themselves how to use. Even though they'll tell you all night long that they're "all about gettin' paid," their material is less focused on coin than on expression -- chopped, screwed and shrouded in white-people-perplexing Southern-fried ghetto-speak as it is. This music screams for the masses to be damned -- let them play catch-up. Or slow down, as is most often the case in the Dirty South.
In Houston, KPFT's Damage Control is the punkest hip-hop radio show around, and the show's co-host Matt Sonzala organized this RJD2 afterparty starring Diplo. Sonzala also has enlisted the help of Red Stripe, everyone's favorite Jamaican stubby, to co-sponsor the event, and Sonzala stands near the door handing out vouchers for the social lubricant. Issues of rap mags Murder Dog and Ozone are strewn around tables tucked a few paces from the dance floor. Postcard-size flyers for upcoming events featuring graffiti duo Aerosol Warfare are scattered around the bar. Posters of Presidential Records recording artist Cl'Che' (that's "klee-SHAY" to you, beeyotch) line the walls. You see, today's punk rocker is more organized than his father.
It helps that today's "punk" has the support of local and regional radio. Anytime during the day one can flip it to the Boxx or Party 104.9 and hear some of the work of these artists, or tune in to Damage Control for a heaping helping Wednesdays at midnight. This exposure has greased the wheels for these punk-hoppers in no small way. Rather than piling into a van for a sweaty trek around the country to sell 30 records, they're able to sell 30,000 "out da trunk" at a couple of nearby car shows if even one hot track is carried by the wind into the stratosphere. And now, even though there's rarely a guitar-blazed block chord in their mixes, David Banner is the Sex Pistols, UGK is the Dead Kennedys, and Lil' Flip is the Ramones. It's all in their lyrics and their approach to the business.
Musically, you can hear this fusion most obviously in the mixes of white DJs such as Diplo. During his set, he mashes Snoop's masterfully minimalist Neptunes collabo "Drop It Like It's Hot" with the Cure's "Love Cats." He sets Dizzee Rascal's squawking London rhymes to Lil Jon's crunk-as-fuck four-note synth accompaniment to Usher's "Yeah." The crowd shows its approval by going berserk.
Just before Diplo threatens to tear the roof off the place, there's a detour. Sonzala welcomes Ms. Cl'tothemuthafuckin'Che' to the stage. She's clad in vintage punk-style tattered white jeans and an orange tank top. Two female backup dancers accompany her. They too are in matching orange wife-beaters. Cl'Che' asks the rowdy crowd if we're ready to get crunk. Then she asks if we're horny. She also wants to know if we could "make some muthafuckin' noiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiise!!!!"
She's an inquisitive girl, but once the interrogation is put to bed, this four-foot-ten, 95-pound ball of boundless energy springs off the stage and rips into songs from her album Off da Chain. She's got some rare skills -- the kind that could break the dick off an elephant and headline in Bangkok. During her song "Jiggle It," she bounces her ass to the floor like she's picking up spare change with her butt cheeks, and what's more, she manages to pull off this move about ten times in five seconds. Strippers would kill for this stunt; Olympic gymnasts couldn't make it happen. The men in the crowd are slack-jawed in disbelief.
As for me, I find myself yelling, "Go, Cl'Che'! Go, Cl'Che'!" The lady takes notice of my cheerleading. Between songs she asks, "What's my muthafuckin' name?" and holds the mike to my lager-soaked lips. "Cllllllllllllllllll' CCCCCChhhhhhhhheeeeeeee'!" I yell in inebriated response. Because that's just the type of mick I am.
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After Cl'Che' leaves, Diplo gets back on stage. What could top Cl'Che'? Diplo spins Peter Gabriel's "In Your Eyes." Peter fucking Gabriel!? Okay, maybe the new punk rock needs some boundaries.
But it's a good mushy love song, so I stagger over to Sonzala and profess my undying admiration for Cl'. I win an introduction. We exchange numbers after a quick conversation. I begin to wonder how I'm going to explain to my girlfriend that I'm leaving her for a tiny rapper that I outweigh by 150 pounds.
By now, the night is drawing to a close. The houselights are on and people are crowding the bar to close out their tabs. As for me, I need to jot down some notes and write my Dear Jane letter. I head through the club's kitchen doors for a quieter place to collect my thoughts.
Once there, I stand hypnotized by the room's contents. There are graham crackers, two toasters, a colander, a few cutting boards and a stock pot, among other things. Just as I start thinking about making Cl'Che' the best goddamn toasted Oreo, olive, Hunt's tomato sauce and canned tuna sandwich she's ever eaten, a barback walks in, and I flee to avoid any trouble. As I stroll out the door, I look down at my notes. All I've written is "Throwback jerseys are the new safety pins."