Darlene's response to the performers summed up the audience's reaction to the entire rap showcase that took place earlier this month in Space (Jam) City as part of the first ever Third Coast Music Conference. The whole point of the event was to show that black-oriented music is brimming out of the South, more specifically, out of Houston. And it was also a good chance to sample some local-based R&B, rap and hip-hop talent. The rap showcase was held on the second day of the three-day conference, which was supposed to be four days but was shortened because of ever-popular scheduling conflicts. The first day kicked off with a party at Just Joking Comedy Cafe. But the bulk of the happening was to unfold the following days at assorted clubs.
Many of the rappers, however good or bad they were, weren't getting any love from audiences. Most of the males were too cool to get into it (some of them were schmoozers looking to network, others were getting drunk off the Hennessy at the bar), while most of the women were too tipsy from drinking Zima to be bothered. As for the performers themselves, they tried to stand out among the throng but ended up sounding a little plastered themselves. Rich Peasants, a trio of Oakland homeboys, performed a set that basically consisted of announcing who they were ("We Rich Peasants / Rich Peasants") over and over again. And its spin-off band, Rich Peasants South, three sharp-dressed men who were just as rowdy as their non-South brothers, asked the crowd, "Can we give y'all one more song?" before all three of them were ordered to leave the stage. The audience barely gave a damn.
And then there were others whose inability to raise the roof was plain. Big Boo, a behemoth probably looking to be the darker-skinned version of Big Pun, was sandwiched on stage by two honeys who could sing and dance. But as Boo stalked around stage doing his thing, you could see there was something peculiar about his set. When you looked and listened closer, it became evident. The man was lip-synching. Yes! Was the brother so out of shape that he was worried he'd run out of breath before the end of the tune? Overall, the show was a downer.
However, the next day, the last of the conference, proved to be consistently entertaining. The day was composed of two things: a seminar on the black-music industry and an R&B showcase. Assorted industry folk, musicians, artists and people who just wanna be in the music biz convened at swanky Club Ambiance.
After a couple hours of meetin'-n'-greetin', it was time for the music to begin, but not before a few rappers, those who had been delinquent at the previous rap show, showed up to bust some rhymes. The triptych of rap acts, Distant Souls, 4th Dimension and Youngstreet Hustlaz, were all from El Paso and were all amazingly good. 4th Dimension was the best. Taking the stage to the opening strains of Carl Douglas's "Kung Fu Fighting" -- complete with a member smashing a sheet of wood with a bat (what, no hands?) -- the rap trio unleashed music that had audience members up-and-center and bouncing like b-balls.
The trio was cheeky, rambunctious and ironic all at the same time, a Bart Simpson with verbal skills. One more rapper hit the stage, an underage dude named T-Roll, and like many of the money-grubbing rappers he's probably influenced by, T-Roll rhymed about being a hustler. "I'm just a balla / Trying to make a dolla. / I'm looking for a record deal / I'm trying to get rich."
At this point, it was time for the R&B showcase, which was full of some weird but decent stuff. The first performer, local gospel artist Derek Larkin, actually rolled out in a coffin $agrave; la Screamin' Jay Hawkins. Accompanied by his own background sound (all of the performers used canned instrumental music), Larkin proceeded to climb out of the coffin (in his silk pajamas, mind you) and perform some smooth inspirational tunes. He ended his three-song set by addressing, or more like preaching to, the young audience. "I'm here to tell you until you're out in that casket," he said, "it ain't over." After an a cappella group from Prairie View called The Elements performed "The Star Spangled Banner," a young lady named Nikki sang one song. And she, like everyone after her, had microphone trouble.
Being a show-must-go-on trooper, Nikki sang while distancing the mike six inches or so from her face to avert feedback. After Nikki, Johnny Andrey came out and sexed up the crowd. Decked out in a black suit, a gambler hat and snakeskin boots, Andrey made all the conservative-looking white women, who were there just to see Larkin perform, quiver and shiver. "We're doing more than a bump and grind," he sang to a middle-aged white lady. The best part was when he broke out into an old-school number and went out of his way to make a plump black lady, probably around her early forties, feel like the most desired woman in the room. Andrey took off his coat, sat on her lap, whispered sweet nothings, the whole deal. "I'll see you later on tonight," he told the lady. He finished his set and left the stage.
And just when all the women had cooled down from Andrey's performance, Deep Threat took the stage. Let's just say they looked like the boys from H-Town, if they lifted weights. These three brothers had practically every woman, and maybe even a few men, ready to take the next cab to the nearest hotel. They were bumping, grinding, dropping to the floor and doing those suggestive push-ups Bobby Brown used to do before he got fat and bitter. And once again, the plump black lady was elated.
Too bad the last group, L.A.W., a collection of testosterone-filled troubadours, was more concerned with what they sang than how they sang it. The group's set consisted of one song, which is okay when it's good, but when it's something originally performed by Dru Hill, who everybody knows is practically a carbon copy of Jodeci, it can be anything but.
Like L.A.W.'s set, the entire Third Coast Music Conference was uneven. But for as amateurish as it was, the conference was full of surprises. Who would've thought some of the best up-and-coming rappers in Texas were from El Paso? Or that there are so many good R&B performers in this town? Or that women can actually get drunk off Zima? It's almost enough to make you anticipate the next Third Coast Music Conference.
If there ever is another.