Hip-hop’s overall artistic climate, like many others, has been increasingly hybridized in recent years. People are now more than ever resisting the staunch segregation of rappers into “gangsta” and “conscious” factions. This resistance, which to be clear has always existed, is being galvanized in my opinion by an increasing awareness that the division of rappers in this way is corny, arbitrary, and largely imposed by external forces (y’all know which ones).
This leads me to Squad Season. Broken in its initial inception into two parts, “The Party” and “The Show,” Squad Season is a homegrown, scene-specific, music-centered, event series that just launched on April 15th.The Party, held on the 15th, was thrown with the intention to generate hype for The Show to be held one week later on the 22nd.
This decision was more rhetorical than anything, the benefits of which are more clearly illuminated in hindsight. Not only did the party generate hype as intended, but it generated community. The people in attendance mingled, talked, danced, and ultimately forged a sort of nanoculture that persisted until The Show next week.
The bill for The Show consisted of eleven different rappers: john.AVERAGE, P.U.R.E., Kaedus Hines., Shalom Little, Rhonnie O’Neal, Bias laRose, Glenn Saddler, Nihlus, Yani Mo, Jamee Cornelia, and Eriiic J. In an effort to avoid both the stereotype of the preachy “conscious” rapper and that of the myopic “gangsta” rapper, all simply presented their authentic selves, which like most people, occupied spaces both between and beyond the two categories. The eleven emcees rapped about topics ranging from racism and police brutality to the type of sex, drugs, and rock and roll lifestyle often attributed to modern hip-hop, peppering each with references to sports, history, current events, video games, anime and more. By creating such idiosyncratic music (each artist told a different story in a different way), these performers managed to establish a more tangible connection with an audience that may not have known them before their performance.
The Show itself took place in a venue called RowdyDowdy that more typically hosts rock bands than rappers. The aesthetic itself was more than revealing of this fact as the venue was full of art that was just… weird. Partially dressed mannequins, poorly made paint and paper mache projects, and clearly secondhand odds and ends were scattered throughout the venue, which itself seemed to be a barely renovated warehouse that people were clearly living in. There was even a full kitchen for the guys at Kaiju Catering to get down in during the show. Speaking of which, their performance was among the best: they served almond butter and ginger jam sandwiches for two dollars and red beans and rice with chicken for five dollars. The whole event screamed indie, and that was part of the charm. The choice of hosting a concert in a space away from more traditionally established spaces for hip-hop music provided room for these artists to defy premature labelling from the culture and reputation of the space itself.
The performers are all close associates, both professionally and personally, the Squad in Squad Season, and the audience (some old friends, many complete strangers) as a result of The Party from the week before were able to feel like a part of the fun. And trust, there was fun. At several points during the show, the structural integrity of the stage became a real concern (well at least for me) as other members of the Squad stormed the stage at particularly hype parts of each person’s set, jumping on and hanging from furnishings and decorations that were clearly not meant for such abuse. All of this culminated in the final performer of the night, P.U.R.E., whose raw energy and complete willingness to jump in and out of the crowd at will led the audience to call for the only encore I’ve ever seen at an indie show.
The first two installations of Squad Season were observable successes, but if the decision-making process of this group of creative (and highly rhetorical) individuals continues as it has, these events were mere setups to bigger and better things. So if you see a flyer with any of those eleven names on it, come show love. You’re sure to have a good time.