Who: Jean Grae, Abstract Giants, Psalm One, Diverse & Longshot
When: January 19th, 2005
Where: The Abbey Pub, Chicago, IL

By: Pete Nickeas

IllHiphop.org 2004© All Rights Reserved®

Underground Hip-hop shows get a bad rep for being held in shady venues in seedy neighborhoods. White-kids flock to these places with back-packs in a cult-like fashion. There aren’t really rappers on the come up who disprove this theory, because these shows are typically as described.

Abbey Pub, also known as “The Abbey,” is a grimy-ass little bar with a small elevated horizontal surface resembling a stage. There’s a small balcony that wraps around the miniature dance floor with a low ceiling, so the only way you can see from the upper level is if you’re sitting next to the railing. The bar in the back is maybe twelve feet long, maybe. You can see the street from the dirty glass windows, tinted at places and completely opaque at others.

The Abbey is just one of those venues. You can feel the vibe of the club before you even get inside. There’s no grandeur entrance, just a single door that takes you through a small hallway and into the main room.

The bill was stacked, with the headlining act being the only one that didn’t hail from Chicago. The Windy City was definitely repping hard, and there was not one performer that didn’t acknowledge the enthusiasm the mass of fans had for their home-city.

Psalm One, the opening act of the night, didn’t let the crowd’s initial lack of enthusiasm dampen her performance. Clad in a gray-hoodie and a pair of jeans, she didn’t need to doll herself up in bondage gear or lingerie to get the gathering of heads moving like her more mainstream counterparts. Not everyone was receptive at first, but what she supplied was something that all heads can find common ground in: dope music.

*Editors Note: Psalm One Pictures Here: http://www.illhiphop.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=460#460 *

Spontaneous of the Vinyl Addicts crew was spinning for her. There’s something charismatic about a DJ who can rock two records and juggle beats in front of a crowd, and an assumption that the DJ knows what he/she is doing follows the charisma. The stocky young man in a modified Krispy Kremes t-shirt delivered on both.

The crowd, who came ready for a show, went along with Psalm’s call-and-response routines reluctantly at first. By the end of her set, however, she had won over at least half of the crowd, who would have stood on their heads to spit nickels if she had asked.

Shortly thereafter, Abstract Giants entered the stage. As a Hip-hop band whose influences range from Radiohead to The Roots, their musical style is very original and eclectic. This was reflected throughout the performance, as each song utilized a violin, bass, guitar, drums, a keyboard, and three emcees.

AG performed passionately, finishing off each other’s lines like the Beastie Boys have been doing since 86. It was not at all tacky, it was not a typical show where there’s a hype-man finishing the emcee’s freestyles for him. This was just an example of three emcees and a live band, all of whom really know how to get down.

*Editor's Note: Abstract Giants Pictures Here: http://www.illhiphop.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=218 *

Continuing the marathon of Hip-hop music that was going on for about an hour and a half by that point was Longshot and Diverse, two of Chicago’s more well-known artists who are on tour with Grae. Though they lacked the stage presence that the first two acts possessed, they were the best recognized among the openers.

DJ Rude One, spinning for Diverse and Longshot, kept things moving with a few solos in between verses. They kept it moving for about 45 minutes, and both of the talented emcees and the proficient DJ put it down for the hometown crowd.

*Editor's Note: Diverse, Longshot, and DJ Rude One pictures here:
http://www.illhiphop.org/forum/viewtopic.php?t=219 *

After well over two hours of openers, the varied assembly of fans was ready for Jean Grae. Not ten minutes after Diverse, Longshot, and Rude One left the stage, Grae came on in quick fashion.

Not wasting any time, she swiftly won over the crowd that had been waiting on her for three hours. With a mix of conversations with the crowd and call-and-response tactics throughout her performance, she didn’t have to really try to get the crowd moving. They were ready to move for her.

There were a few things that were surprising about this concert. First, and most noticeably, women were plentiful. There were far more women at this show than you would find at any other underground artist’s show. Since Lauryn Hill, a lady to which Grae is undoubtedly compared, there hasn’t been a rapper that had the respect of both men and women.

Secondly, the fans were knowledgeable. Not the “Hey, I bought the new album” type of loyalty. The people that were there knew their music, they knew of her unreleased and bootlegged material, they knew of her albums, guest spots, production, everything.

About halfway through her set, she brought a bigger guy out of the crowd to beat box an impromptu cipher. He was a big, ?uestlove-looking man with lighter skin and about an extra hundred pounds. He kept up a beat for well over five minutes so Diverse, Longshot, and Grae could all bring it back to where rap started – coming off top over a simple beat.

She performed a great selection of tracks…from This Week, the heavily bootlegged Jeanius album, Bootleg of the Bootleg, and The Attack of the Attacking Things. There didn’t seem to be a reason for the ordering of the tracks, but it was a very well-picked list. There wasn’t too many off of her new album to forget her old fans and there wasn’t too many off her older offerings to alienate the new ones.

As the night came to an end, Grae inadvertently showed the crowd something. The only quality Grae has in common with a Lil’ Kim or a Foxy Brown is two X chromosomes. As a performer, she entered the stage with an intimidating balance of social humility and self confidence. Her wardrobe was attractive but not revealing, and her level of poise was almost scary.

There was no exclamation of female dominance or any references of pop cans being swallowed. There weren’t even any sexual innuendos or mentions of emasculation. She embodied what feminists should probably try to – a strong female that can step with the best of the males, and doesn’t have to scream “I’m a woman” to be heard.

Raw lyricism and a knack for conversing with the crowd made her performance both credible and enjoyable. She didn’t get props from the crowd for being a woman and being good, she got props because she’s dope.

* Editor's Note: Jean Grae pictures available here: http://www.illhiphop.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=463#463 *
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