Lyric Michelle Lifts a Live Crowd at Walters

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Lyric Michelle, Kyle Hubbard, Corbin Dallas
Walters Downtown
January 28, 2016

By the time I got to Walters last night, most of the coolest, sharpest people in Houston’s underground hip-hop scene were already inside. Quite a few of them were scheduled to take the stage at some point, but plenty more just came to hang out, smoke a little and support one of their own best and brightest in particular. Lyric Michelle, the Nigerian-American MC who has made a home in Houston by way of Chicago, was releasing her most personal and polished album yet, and everybody was buzzing to hear her new tunes performed with a live band.

It certainly didn’t hurt that the release party’s lineup was pretty damn stacked. The first artist of the night was Corbin Dallas, who unleashed a very fine voice on a couple of dreamy R&B lullabies from outer space to start. He was backed by Avery Davis of –Us on the sequencer and drum pad, as well as a guitarist whose name I didn’t catch. They sounded great together, with just the right depth of reverb applied to Dallas’ sweet vocals. The house beats of “Red Hot” got the blood moving in the crowd, and then the singer brought out his Twenty Eleven group mates Brad Gilmore and Tre Yancy to deliver some slick rhymes. It was a terrific opener.

Kyle Hubbard was up next, and while the local rapper didn’t bring a band with him, he did bring a slew of guests through. Accompanied by the scratches of DJ Discipline, Hubbard was joined by the likes of Full Metal, Raymond A. and Chase Hamblin as he delivered the tracks from last year’s dope Majestic Hotel album. I still can’t quite tell if my favorite song from his new set is the jazzy, stylish “Rip the Page” or the bittersweet, psychedelic “Not Without a Scar.” Hamblin killed his choruses on the latter, audibly impressing the ladies in the crowd in particular. Hubbard kinda had to close with that one — it’s pretty hard to top.

“Make some noise, goddammit,” Hubbard ordered the crowd. “You don’t hear shit like this every day!” And people did, because they don’t.

While the stage was primed for Lyric, folks chatted up fellow scenesters outside on the loading dock, passing a blunt or two and networking furiously. It was a happy crowd, buoyed by the impressive turnout and performances so far. Once the band started tuning up, though, people put a pin in their conversations and headed indoors to get a good spot. This was Lyric Michelle’s night, and considering the creative energy crackling through the place, there was little doubt among us that she was about to bring it.

The guitars and drums lent a much-needed weight to Michelle’s MissDirection “Intro,” literally hammering home her poetic lyrics. The live band was an outstanding choice, but all eyes were on the headliner as she delivered heartfelt, personal rhymes. The pretty MC’s enormous hair and charming smile were lit almost solely by the colorful, staticky video projections that provided her backdrop for the evening. There was a dark, cozy and intimate feel inside Walters as Michelle started us on our journey through her pain and triumph.

MissDirection, her second LP, tells the story of Lyric Michelle’s struggle for purpose as a child of immigrants pursuing a passion that her family will never fully understand. An early highlight of the set was the jazzy, funky “Weekend (Ladi Dadi),” exploring Lyric’s search for love and truth in all the wrong places (and, one suspects, men). Ashley Toman sounded terrific on backing vocals all night, but Michelle brought up a couple of ringers to shine on my favorite jams of the night. Suffers singer Kam Franklin’s easy star power rubbed off on the rapper beautifully on “Berries,” and Suraiye’s soulful, vulnerable voice had couples swaying and nuzzling together in the dark on “Empathy.”

As righteous self-awareness flowed out of Lyric Michelle, the healing was evident in her words and body language. Though she’d dealt in some weighty subject matter in her rhymes, she was all smiles by the time set-closer “Missdirection” rolled around, dancing and rapping with plain joy. There would be an encore to come, even though she didn’t need one. Michelle had already proven her status as one of the H-Town underground’s brightest talents. But when it’s your night and you find yourself rocking a large percentage of the dopest cats in town, hell…who can stop you?

Personal Bias: Typically more well-versed in barely conscious rap.

The Crowd: Thick and sociable.

Overheard in the Crowd: “Yo, I’m a producer, too!”

Random Notebook Dump: I haven’t seen a lot of hip-hop shows at Walters, which is more frequently the home of Houston’s hardcore scene. But when one pops up, it’s always a really good one. Nice job as usual by soundman Terry Nunn.

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