The first two nights of Rifflandia delivered a full slate of top-shelf hip hop. Thursday night, warmed up by Numero Group (which is really just two label owners playing tracks from their impressive eponymous label), saw the rise of the Rappers with Broken Dental as the crowd behind Phillips Brewery was treated to an wildly entertaining performance from grimy New York hip-hop trio RatKing, featuring MC Wiki’s missing chompers and Detroit’s trap-loving, tooth-missing Danny Brown.
RatKing was especially spectacular this night. As DJ Sporting Life pounded out the beats manually on a synthetic drum box while working his faders and mixers, MC Wiki danced around the stage like some kind of Shakespearean imp with his partner Hak singing the hooks and being a sort of storm’s eye of calm. Playing songs from their debut So It Goes, the group drops moody, grimy East Coast hip hop that is highly rewarding on headphones, where the nuances in the music and rhymes can be heard, but it hit far harder than expected in a live setting.
It’s a strange thing to walk from the front of a crowd to the back and literally see the crowd age as you move away from the stage. That’s exactly what happened during Danny Brown as I sojourned to the back. The youngest people in the audience were the ones closest to the stage and the ones dancing the most furiously. Brown was full of energy and commanded the stage, but it just wasn’t my thing. Jokingly or not, I have a hard time getting behind a brother who has lyrics like “Fuck a bitch mouth until her fucking face cave in / Hidden cams in her house, I caught her masturbating” (from “Outer Space”). I guess I’ve just passed the age where I can legitimately “get” Danny Brown.
The second of the night saw a very different kind of hip hop. With a trio of rap legends—the Beatnuts, Del the Funky Homosapien, and Kool Keith—Rifflandia gave another capacity crowd the good, good hip-hop business. The Beatnuts were on-point their whole set, running through career-spanning tracks that even my non-hip-hop-loving friends couldn’t help but bob and shimmy to. Hip hop can be hard enough for someone with an untrained ear to pick up in a live setting but even rapping in Spanish didn’t deter the crowd from getting down. It was the perfect precursor to the hero of the West Coast, Deltron himself, Del the Funky Homosapien.
The West Coast hip hop world belongs to Del and Friday night at Rifflandia was no different. Flanked by his trusty DJ (and Victoria fixture) DJ Zac Hendrix, Del’s set was an extra funky slice of patented Del weirdness. Old songs like “Catch a Bad One” and “Dr. Bombay” held up as strongly as ever, the latter amply helped by the voices in the crowd singing along to the hook. The crowd really woke up each time Del and Hendrix brought tastes of the legendary debut Deltron 3030 album. “Mastermind” and “Virus” were both greeted with such overwhelming love. Del brought each track with the effortless cool of an all-time great, with Jay-Z levels of easy swag.
Because of an unannounced scheduling glitch, Del played before Kool Keith, a legend in his own right, which was highly unfortunate because a majority of the crowd vacated the premises right after Del and dropped the energy level into the basement for the original Ultramagnetic MC. Keith was assured and cool, never seeming to take notice of the lack of patrons for his performance. Those aware enough to stay were treated to a big helping of classic East Coast rap, a precursor to much of the gangsta sound that would come to define the region. And while Keith could also be accused of misogyny and disrespect, his tunes never have the sinister feel or overly graphic language that much of Brown’s stuff does. In any case, it was a tremendous duo of nights that celebrated where hip hop has been and where it seems to be headed.