On Saturday night, indie rap heads traversed the post-blizzard snow drifts surrounding Union Square and packed Irving Plaza from merch booth to balcony for Aesop Rock’s second NYC gig in the past six months.
Juggaknots, a New York hip hop crew in existence since the mid-90′s, were a surprise late addition to the lineup. Emcees Breeze Brewin and Buddy Slim split the crowd down the middle for some 90s’ style call-and-response interspersed with old tracks from the Clear Blue Skies days and newer material such as the unreleased “Road Rage.” Breeze Brewin ran through his verse from Company Flow’s “The Fire in Which You Burn” and rapped about Molly Shannon’s Superstar (yes, an ecstasy reference) before Juggaknots’ 30-minute set was up.
Los Angeles underground hero Busdriver kicked off his set, oddly enough, with “NoBlacksNoJewsNoAsians” from last year’s Beaus$Eros record. While he is a rapper prone to abstraction and obscure references that can generally be deciphered after a couple listens, “NoBlacksNoJewsNoAsians” is a song I could listen to for the rest of my life and still have no clue what the hell it’s about. Right off the bat, you could see Busdriver was happy to be in New York. He appeared far more animated than he was at his marginally attended summer performance at Santos Party House, while diving into songs from his Anti- releases Roadkill Overcoat and Jhelli Beam. “The Troglodyte Wins” poured from the speakers as a paint-like psychedelic backdrop danced across the projection screen.
“I’m so ill that I’m more than often ill-received,” Busdriver spit on the glitchy, punchline-heavy “Fire Hydrant.”
If his tongue wasn’t so firmly in his cheek, you might mistake some of his one-liners as misogynistic. Though his Flash Bang Grenada track “Moisturizer” does encourage one to rub lotion on their buttcheeks, it’s all metaphors and giggles at the end of the day.
Busdriver’s experimental post-rap catalogue continues to evolve and get weirder, with love-it-or-leave-it results. Downtempo tracks like “Take This Step with Me and Never Come Back,” from Arguments with Dreams, pay dividends on the risks being taken, and “Werner Herzog” is downright hilarious. The acoustic guitar of “Unemployed Black Astronaut” and “Split Seconds” highlighted a diverse, high-octane performance from Busdriver. His blistering, machine gun cadence on “Me Time” wowed the audience before he closed his set with the flute bounce of “Imaginary Places.”
One of the dopest album intros in recent memory, the misanthropic “Leisureforce,” announced the arrival of Aesop Rock, Rob Sonic and DJ Big Wiz. A lively crowd obliged the SF emcee’s request for crow SFX at the end of “Crows 2” and one brave individual submitted his dome to Busdriver’s electric clippers during “Racing Stripes,” now a staple at Aesop gigs. Speaking of bad haircuts, Aesop came through New York sporting an unapologetic art school mullet, which he noted his mother has given him grief for. He traded bars with Rob Sonic on “Dokken Rules,” a Skelethon b-side set to lo-fi funk with rap’s first (and hopefully last) Guy Fieri reference. “Nickel Plated Pockets” and “None Shall Pass” were welcome additions, as attested to by pretty drunk girls rapping along while sitting on dudes’ shoulders like Spring Break ‘97.
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