Last Night: Lil Keke's Birthday Bash At House Of Blues

Lil Keke's Birthday Bash House of Blues March 30, 2011

9:51 p.m.: Got the tickets. Waiting outside to meet a guy that was supposed to be here 30 minutes ago. There's a white guy here dressed like he had auditioned for Reservoir Dogs and didn't get a part and never fully recovered. Neat. This is going to be a fun night.

9:58: Killa Kyleon just walked up. That guy knows everyone. Pay attention to him the next time you see him work a room. It's pretty remarkable, if only because the exchange is almost always exactly the same every time. He says, "What's good? You good, my nigga?"

Then the other person says whatever, then Killa immediately responds with something specifically crafty (usually a metaphor of some sort) that only someone as supernaturally cool as Killa could have come up with instantaneously. I hate my life.

10:02: Oh, a guy is carrying what may be his girlfriend out of House of Blues. She's either really drunk or really dead. Cool, cool.

10:16: Finally walking in. It's fairly packed in here. Excellent. We were worried how a Wednesday-evening show would fare. H-Kane is serving as the host tonight, with cohort GO DJ J-Boss DJing it up. Those two guys host all of the shows all of the time. We heard they were hosting a funeral earlier this evening. That shit was probably super-hype.

10:24: The lineup tonight is pretty tough: Pokey, Flip, J-Dawg, Ro, ESG, Slim, Bun, 'Ke. Curious to see how this plays out tonight. It will either go one of two ways: 1) Everyone will come out individually, perform a few of their more famous tracks, sprinkling in a couple of songs that they think should have been better received than they were, making it like several tiny concerts; or 2) They'll all come out at once and do one mega-concert. If it's the latter, we'll be out of here by 11:30. If it's the former, we'll be here 'til goddamn Friday afternoon.

10:34: Don 'Ke! Cool. A 400-word summation of the Keke Conundrum:

"Lil' Keke has been underrated for his entire career. Even when "Southside" made him a regional superhero back in 1997-98, it was the wrong type of fame. "Southside" managed to be both conventional (neighborhood-specific shout outs, car talk, etc.) and unconventional (minimal trunk rattling capabilities, high-pitched piano work) at the same time. It was incredibly instinctive.

You didn't want to dance when it came on; you had to dance. And it caught fire so fast that a lot of people who didn't normally listen to "that" type of music were listening to it. So when the immediate charm of it wore off (before it settled into the "this song should be universally respected and recognized as a watershed moment in Houston rap" category a few years later), those people seemed to automatically disregard the rest of the album. That's the wrong type of fame.

At any rate, Keke is not underrated in the same sense that someone like AZ or Masta Ace is underrated. His lyricism, delivery and general production have been rated justly for the duration of his career. He's pretty good at all most of the time, stellar at one or two occasionally, and off the charts with all three every so often (this happened again with 2007's "I'm A G"). If you put some numbers to it, he'd almost certainly have a higher Good Song to Bad Song percentage rate than a lot of artists that are heavy on the radio now.

But he's very John Everyman in his essence. His flow doesn't rumble under your feet like Z-Ro's, or rat-a-tat at your eardrum like Bun B's; it sits right in the middle, which is where a lot of unimportant rappers fall, so he's lumped in with them. However, Keke manages to sustain a feeling of importance despite this, which makes him subtly imposing, and that might be more impressive than being overtly imposing.

Remember Eddie Johnson from those late '90s Rockets teams? He played 17 seasons in the NBA, was No. 22 on the All-time NBA Scorers list at the time of his retirement, and had one of the best "I just ripped your heart out" moments in Rockets playoff history against the Jazz in 1997.

But Johnson wasn't terribly athletic, so when you watched him play you never got the feeling that he was doing anything you probably couldn't do yourself (until you actually got out there and tried to do it). And you can't lionize somebody that you don't think is more talented than you are. It's counterintuitive. That's how it is with Keke. That's why he's underrated."

Now you're all caught up.

10:34:30: "Pimp The Pen"! This place is already bozo.

10:37: Bun! What the shit? "Draped Up." Splendid. Just want to take a second and point out that it's very likely Bun was teaching at one of the most prestigious schools in the country earlier today and now he's performing in front of about 1,500 people who love him. Crazy.

10:40: J-Dawg! Man, they're burning through this thing. We'll be out of here quick. This is like a live version of a bootleg mixtape. Lots of fun.

10:41: Oh, hey, look, a woman is wearing a dress that lets the bottom half of her butt hang out. What kind of terrible friends do you have that let you walk out of the house like that? Who's answering, "Wait, let me check the back of my dress. Is my behind hanging out of the back of my dress?" with, "It sure is, girl. And you look good!"? Jesus.

10:43: "First 48." That song is so, so, so good. One of the neatest lines: "Now he's being smart. I guess he wanna live." How awful has your upbringing been that your observations on whether or not someone wants to continue breathing are preceded with "I guess..."? You know what the last sentence that we started with "I guess..." was: "I guess I'll eat a Kit-Kat right now." So lame.

10:45: THHHUUUUGGGAAAA! He's likeable even from afar.

10:47: Roel Osteen! Did you know that he's a gangster from his head to his shoes? And that he's so goddamn clean he's giving haters the blues?

10:49: So, Ro is very likely lip-syncing. Sigh.

10:50: "These Days."

10:51: Keke's back on it. "Southside." If you are ever in a conversation that you don't want to be in, and you want to get out of it immediately, just start doing the "Southside" dance. Give it a go. That shit always works.

10:54: You know how they do that thing at rap concerts where whoever is on stage is like, "All the independent ladies scream!"? Tonight, the key phrase has been "All the real niggas," like "All the real niggas put your H's up," "All the real niggas throw yo' fo's up," "All the real niggas get sexy wit' it." Okay, nobody's said that last one, but it'd be funny as shit if someone did. We mean, what do you do if Keke barks at you to get sexy wit' it? You pretty much have to do it, right?

10:55: "Heart of a hustla, mind of a G." Playa-hatin' niggas can't fuck with me." Man, H.A.W.K.

10:56: ESG and Pokey! "Man!" Love that.

11:00: Hey, EZ from the EZ Access TV show just walked by, as did Yung Quis and Mac from Undergravity just walked by. Like those guys. Have you heard either of the last two's new albums? They're good. Check 'em out.

11:04: Flip! "The Way We Ball," "I Can Do That." Cool, cool, cool. He has to do "Game Over," right? Excellent. It'd be nice if they slowed down a bit, but all in all this show is pretty entertaining.

11:06: "Sunshine"? What the shit. Never mind. Not cool, Flip.

11:09: Keke: "We gon' do one for Pimp C." Cue "Knockin' Doors Down." Neat moment.

11:11: You know what's a little embarrassing? When you're at a show and a woman taller than you ends up directly in front of you. If it's a dude, we're usually like, "Hey, can you slide to the side a bit?" and everything is cool. But there's just something emasculating about having to say that to a woman.

It's like she's gonna turn and be like, "Sure, sure, tiny man. Awww, aren't you cute. You want me to get your binky? Maybe make you a warm bottle of milk too?" Ack. We're moving.

11:13: Is Keke trying to pull the "The fire marshal is shutting us down" bit?

11:13:15: Yep, yep he sure is. He's finishing off with "I'm A G." Nobody seems terribly upset by this. Might've actually been a good move since this show is on a Wednesday. Still, we imagine at least a couple of people will be disappointed in dropping $80 or so on a pair of balcony tickets and getting less than an hour of music.

11:16: Oh snap. A freestyle cipher has broken out. Keke, Flip and Pokey are all having a go at it. Alright, that might've made up for the shortness of the show. Very cool.

Personal Bias: We still listen to Ke's most famous album pretty regularly.

The Crowd: Was into the show.

Overheard In the Crowd: "Man, fuck that bitch!" We don't know who said it or whom they were referencing. It's a great mystery. Or it's not.

Random Notebook Dump: The girl that had her butt hanging out of her dress, we saw her outside pressuring a guy to take a picture of her. Of course she turned around to flash her ham at the camera.

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Shea Serrano