Local acts Scrub and Mathias & the Pirates opened the night, followed by Buffalo emcee Mad Dukez with producer and MPC phenom Fresh Kils, and was wrapped up by Rhymesayers' veteran Blueprint, headlining the show. Each act included elements of live production along with potent lyrical flows, a true delight for the fan of modern, independent hip-hop.
The Always Support Locals series is a monthly highlight of Missouri's expanding hip-hop scene, well established in Kansas City, but relatively new to St. Louis. November's installment featured Scrub kicking things off. His act included mostly funk-based production, jammed out with Rob Bass on a vintage Rhodes, and fast paced, clever lyrics, poking fun at society and mainstream culture. He was followed by emerging act Mathias & the Pirates that featured former Earthworms' emcee Mathias with former Grea Tones vocalist and emcee Ms. Vizion, joined by Grover Stewart on the drumset. They performed with all the flair you'd expect from these budding local legends, despite Ms. Vizion's terribly coarse throat and a minor technical issue. The set included their lead single "South City Livin'," and a couple chill grooved tracks to balance the performance.
After the local segment, Blueprint's Deleted Scenes tour continued the night with Mad Dukez and Fresh Kils. Relatively unknown outside the New York state underground scene, this Buffalo-based emcee is no stranger to the microphone. He crafted his set to build from what he called "small songs" to the "big ones," bringing up the intensity and energy as the set progressed. He was teamed up with MPC based producer Fresh Kils, half of Canadian production-DJ duo, the Extremities. Already well known for intelligently juggled beats and samples, he didn't fail to impress with combinations of speed, timing, and dexterity, all with an amusingly light stage presence. After building to their current single "Monsters," they both demonstrated their immense skill and precision in a quickly accelerating piece, and Fresh Kils rounded out the set with his award-winning "Price Is Right" routine.
Blueprint concluded the night with another well crafted line-up of tracks from across his deep and expanding discography. He's touring to support his most recent release, "Deleted Scenes," but the Columbus native tactfully offered only a taste of the new tracks, using his experience as veteran performer to manicure his set to offer something simultaneously novel and familiar. He was joined by DJ Rare Groove, who has accompanied Blueprint on many tours before.
The set started with a low-key, down tempo piece that included a drawn out instrumental segment and clearly punctuated lyrics. He continued to demonstrate his ability to come hard to the microphone with passion and meticulous articulation without the use of traditional, crowd-pleasing bangers. That is certainly not to say he didn't have any more energetic songs. He used the largely instrumental track "Body Moving" from the new album to add a bit more liveliness to the set, including the first appearance of his small keytar that has become a popular element in his performances. As the set closed, he added the humorous "Neighborhood Weed Man" to lighten the mood, and finished off the crowd with the highly danceable "Fly Away," from his prized 2011 release, "Adventures in Counter Culture."
Despite competition from underground moguls, the People Under the Stairs, the Firebird was filled with St. Louis' dedicated hip-hop fans. In a testament to the quality of all of the performers, the headliners didn't retreat to the comfort of the green room and remained engaged with the music on-stage, and even the smokers' porch was notably sparse. From the drop of the first beat, this was a thoroughly impressive and enjoyable night of music.
All photos by Wil Wander.