Hip-hop's pop culture appeal can be rather boring sometimes (OK, really most times). We sheepishly go with the typical cheesy fast food themes and gimmicks. But Gentleman Jack's Art, Beats + Lyrics (ABL) return engagement in Washington, DC gave a much needed break from the norm. The multimedia art exhibition infuses live entertainment with some of the most talented painters and photographers from around the country.
ABL presents hip-hop's essential four elements of DJing, MCing, graffiti writing, and break dancing. No slouch with previous shows, they've managed to feature up and coming hip-hop artists like Kendrick Lamar and veterans like 8Ball & MJG. I know what you're thinking -- a commercial brand that doesn't misrepresent the culture? -- it seems very hard to believe so I had to check it out for myself.
I caught the showcase at the Mellon Auditorium in Washington, D.C. And what I thought would be a night of watered down Jack Daniels and annoying promos turned out to be the complete opposite. I actually can say they put the art and music first. Vince Calanoc piqued my interest with Digi-Graff, an interactive installation with a LED spray can that allows the user to spray images on a transparent canvass. Photographer/graphic designer Eric 9's I'm a Beast collection was very imaginative with its horror themed images of vampires and werewolves. But painter Jeremy Worst stole the show with his portrait of the guitar god Jimi Hendrix.
DJ Lord provided a killer soundtrack to it all, staying clear of the mundane Top 40 hits and spinning classics including hits by Jay-Z and Ray Charles seamlessly. He even made room for reggae, Baltimore club music, and, yes, go-go for you DC Bouncers.
The only low point of the night was probably Melo-X. I wasn't sure what to make of him, whether he was a DJ or his own hype man. Whatever the case, dude just wasn't hitting it, but I'm sure the heavy flow of free Gentleman Jack made it a lot easier to bear. The seven-piece jazz band Snarky Puppy held their own, which didn't surprise me, especially considering the hyped crowd that jammed to Nirvana's "Smells Like Teen Spirit" and Bone Crusher's "I Aint Never Scared." I mean there was something for everyone, and if you couldn't at least dig the art, you probably didn't belong there in the first place.
Gentleman Jack's Art, Beats + Lyrics sets a new expectation for hip-hop in the 21st century, allowing the culture to stay true to its roots with plenty of room to expand.
[Photo: Nocturnal Charm]