Optimo Radio 4th Annual B-Day Bash Last Concert Café October 26, 2013
For hip-hop heads looking to jam underground Houston records 24/7 in 2013, there's only one radio station to turn to, and it damn sure ain't 97.9 The Box. Optimo Radio, the streaming Internet radio station that has been championing Houston rap artists old and new for a solid Olympiad now, celebrated its fourth year of reality-based broadcasting at Last Concert Café on Saturday night by bringing in a slew of artists to essentially recreate a few hours of its typical programming live onstage.
The bill was stacked with both underground legends and virtual unknowns, all mixed in together and delivering short, sharp sets with no headliner and no hype. The master of ceremonies for the night was Optimo fixture Justice Allah, backed up on the decks by DJ Chill, the tenured local turntablist who's worked with a who's-who of Houston hip-hop icons over the years.
Running around behind the scenes all night in an effort to make sure things ran as smoothly as possible was Optimo Ram, the station's host/mastermind. The sheer volume of props and shout-outs aimed his way from the stage throughout the evening served as ample testimony that Ram is about as central a figure in the city's hip-hop landscape as there is these days.
The music began just after 10 p.m., with Rap-A-Lot artist P.O.P. jerking the curtain, followed up by Kyle Hubbard. One of these days, Hubbard's going to find the audience to match his local critical acclaim behind cuts like "Along For the Ride," a particularly strong track featured on the brand-new Optimo Radio mixtape, La Flama Blanca.
The procession of guys and gals trickling in steadily from the street were loathe to crowd the stage, lest their Jordans and pumps fill with Last Concert's trademark white sands. Nevertheless, they bobbed their heads gamely to the likes of Screwed Up affiliate Renegade and Big Pup, who brought out partner Dougie D for "Murder," another good one from La Flama Blanca.
As the clock ticked toward 11, a palpable buzz went through the crowd as the towering K-Rino, confident and unassuming as ever, could be seen moving through the crowd. The general feeling seemed to be that shit was about to get real.
The old-school portion of the night was kicked off by the Terrorists, emcee Dope E and turntablist Egypt E, who were the first South Park Coalition artists to sign with Rap-A-Lot back in 1991. Dope E looked and sounded fierce on his revolutionary raps, brandishing a staff and offering nothing but malice toward all forms of authority. Egypt E lived up to Justice Allah's high praise as the city's greatest producer, scratching furiously behind the decks on skull-crushing early-'90s beats.
In one of the more intimidating hip-hop history lessons I've ever witnessed, the Terrorists blasted through incendiary covers of "Fuck the Police" and "Criminal Minded," a couple of classics whose hardcore messages proved a potent fit for Dope E's delivery. Suddenly, I was very aware of my whiteness.
When K-Rino took the stage next, folks stopped giving a fuck about the sand and packed in down front, hoisting cameras and phones to capture Houston's custodian of the real spitting the truth. The absurdly prolific street poet proved typically indomitable with his fast, flawless flow on the Book Number 7 intro before favoring the audience with his beloved "Ghetto ABCs." When the song was over, he rapped an a cappella update for 2013, and his bit about "'T' is for the Texans, Schaub done fucked us out the playoffs" had fans howling.
Never one to rest on past glories, the S.P.C. founder let loose last with "I'm Not," an anti-fakery screed from this year's The Maven contrasting his shades-and-sweatpants style with the blinged-out fantasy pose put forth by some of the city's more image-obsessed stars. It was real, it was relatable and it was right in the wheelhouse of everything that Optimo Radio is about.
As if that weren't new enough, K-Rino reminded us that he put two new albums out just last month, putting to rest any worry about the Southside icon slowing down after nearly 30 years in the game.
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After an energetic set by the young rap crew Certified, highlighted by the shout-along "Money Hungry," S.P.C. hard-hitter Point Blank appeared. Dope E was down front and center, taking a puff or two of something passed to him and enjoying himself thoroughly during "High With the Blanksta," Blank's ultra-crucial collaboration with DJ Screw that stands out as one of the Originator's towering essentials. With a deep gaggle of older heads rapping along with every word, it was a major highlight on the night.
The artists kept coming through fast and furious until the bar shut down, with Cl'Che, Dem Dayum Twinz, the Hongree Records Crew and Ronnie Spencer all taking a turn. It was an intriguing mish-mash of old and young with no distinction given toward status or notoriety. It was clear that its principals envision Optimo Radio as a truly collectivist endeavor, designed to allow the rising tide of talent to lift all boats.
If Ram and the gang can keep it going, there's no reason why we can't have the whole city floating before too long. Here's to another four years of the station's solemn pledge: "If it ain't local, it ain't live!"
Personal Bias: White liberal-media elite.
The Crowd: Urban. A good bit darker than the Last Concert Café's typical crowd, but flying just as high.
Overheard in the Crowd: "You're one of, like, four white people I've seen tonight. Why are you here?"
Random Notebook Dump: Cl'Che looked to be in tremendous shape for having just had a baby a month ago. "Throwed lil' mama," indeed.
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