Midnight Pub

Impromptu Hip Hop Performance


I was waiting for the bus today. It was hot, but not excruciatingly so, the sun was beating down at around 85 degrees and there was a placid lull over the street, the sort you only really witness when the midday traffic is ambling along at a consistent pace and pedestrians are light. The bus stop is in front of this stone medieval-looking Presbyterian church, which was closed for the time being, whereas across the street there was a strip mall and a plaza. Directly in front of me was a department store.

I didn't think that much when these 5 people walked across the parking lot of the department store, even if three of them were carrying buckets. I guess it was partially the boredom of waiting for the bus to arrive that hindered my observational abilities, although in about three minutes they had set themselves up on a grassy median. They had a blanket, two microphones on stands, and, I kid you not, a fully operational portable speaker system. But I didn't notice them set any of it up.

The quality of the speaker system was so good that at first I just thought someone was pumping some music from their car, in fact the sound quality may have been a little better than a high-end car stereo. But then I look over, and I realize that two of the five are actually singing over these intricately crafted beats, and the other three are going around with the buckets, taking donations from any passing motorists. It was kind of surreal to see unfold in front of my eyes, this entirely sporadic performance. But man, these beats were really kicking, and the flow they had- it was great. Honestly, it sounded as good as something recorded in a studio, and the bus stop was about half a block away from where they stood.

The lead female vocalist really brought the heat. They were all dressed to the nines, I remember that in particular she was wearing this flowing purple shirt and dreads that extended as far down as her shoulders. As for her vocal style, I can only describe it as being akin to Lauryn Hill, while at the same time being completely distinct- this bluesy, layered vocal technique. It was really fantastic, her chords were sharp and her and the guy just hung out effortlessly on the blanket, mics in hand, delivering bar upon bar to the entire street, even though none of the cars stopped and the traffic didn't slow any.

I didn't have any money to donate, having spent all my money for the day on bus fare, so I decided to give them a $1 off coupon for some of my comics instead. I had cut a few out and put them in my wallet a couple weeks ago, and I'm glad I did, because they really come in handy in a scenario such as this. You never know when something like this will happen. I was hesitant to approach either of them, they were so lost in this epic routine, but the bus still showed no signs of coming and it would be a while. It was now or never, I figured. They had to be compensated somehow, their rap skills were too phenomenal not to be.

As I neared them, this guy in his 60s rounded the corner. He was wearing a blue tank top and sports jacket, looked every bit like some kind of extra from a Martin Scorsese movie. Maybe he attended the church, he had a metal dog tag on with a crucifix engraved in the middle. He was probably Italian, carried himself with a sort of bitter gait, hair was starting to gray, folds in the face. I didn't notice he was asking me a question because I was so lost in the music, but he stops me as I'm making my way toward the center of the action, and he's walking away from the action with this look of disdain on his face. I ask, "What'd you say?"

"Get a load of this," he says. "I thought I'd seen everything. I mean, I really thought I had seen everything. But if this don't beat all." I wasn't sure what he was talking about, but he shook his head and continued on. "I guess," I muttered.

I slipped one of the guys with the buckets one of my coupons and the female lead turned around and smiled, and then without pausing they went right back into the melody. I caught a glimpse of their sound system, it was a portable standing apparatus with a lot of switches and mixers on it. They had definitely come prepared. I gave them a big thumbs up for their fantastic bravado and resumed my place on the bus stop.

The Italian guy was waiting for a bus too, in the other direction, was screaming obscenities from the opposite side of the street around every five seconds, punctuated by "Hey! Why don't you get a real job!" and other such incoherent ramblings. I guess that's what he meant when he said he hadn't seen everything, that somehow due to his angry and bitter mindset the thought of a sporadic rap performance irked him. He was a frail guy, and the more he shouted at the group the less they seemed to pay any attention to him, in fact I don't think they paid him any attention. They just kept going, it was as if they were an unstoppable force.

I didn't ultimately see what happened because that was when the bus came, but I definitely think the guy with the blue coat could use some therapy or something. How anyone could diss on such an exciting sound for no reason is really beyond me. This hip hop bunch had an excellent delivery and they carried themselves with such professionalism, such confidence in the face of the oncoming cars. Such poise.

I guess what really scares me about the whole ordeal is that I saw a little of myself in the Italian, in that around 5 years ago I was equally apprehensive about rap. I didn't listen to any rap, my musical tastes were pretty bland, and I thought rock was cooler. But since then I've come a long way. I've listened to a lot of rap, and I've learned just how diverse a genre it is, and how much potential it has. It is, without a doubt, the most innovative genre today. I look back on my irrational avoidance of rap and I can't help but feel awful about it. There are probably a lot of local rappers just like the ones I saw today, who barely get any recognition on a national scale. I can't imagine making it here in Denver is easy. On the one hand, the market is oversaturated. On the other, getting a positive reception and decent exposure must be tough.

While there are some rappers who I still don't enjoy- Lil' Pump, Lil' Xan, Machine Gun Kelly, 6ix9ine, and so on- I've realized that there are so many talented contemporary rappers, like Kid Cudi and Kendrick Lamar and Tyler The Creator and Childish Gambino. I listened to Kendrick Lamar's album "Mr. Morale And the Big Steppers" all the way through when it came out, and it was fantastic, a veritable orchestra of emotion. I can definitely understand why, in a modern setting, hip hop has outperformed rock. It makes complete sense. Most rock seems repetitive and predictable by comparison. Rap really makes a lot of strides forward and pushes a fresh new sound. It's a fantastic genre, and I guess the only thing holding me back from listening to more was that I thought it was just Lil' Pump and a hundred Lil' Pump imitators. There's so much more to it, so many subgenres and techniques. I have no idea what I was thinking.

Anyway, I certainly wish this rap group the best of luck, wherever they are out there. Their performance may not go down in history, in fact I may have been one of the only spectators of it, but I was witness to an unbelievable display of fortitude and determination out there on the street today, and I think it was a valuable learning experience, not only in terms of the backlash musicians in today's climate tend to face, but also in the application of one's skills to improve the lives of those around them by the means of fantastic novel entertainment. It really was one for the ages.


That sounds amazing! It seems like today bandcamp is the easiest/best way to throw money at independent musicians. Maybe they should have been handing out cards with a URL/QR code as they passed the bucket around...