It's not often a good hip-hop act comes to the area (Ja Rule does not count).
Monday's show at Cat's Cradle offered three: the Arsonists, DJ Swamp and Swollen Members, yet the Cradle was less than half full.
Oddly enough, although all the artists had unique stage presence, they shared one common, bizarre characteristic -- a fixation with hard rock.
Swollen Members rocked the show to a start with an angry set complete with much more headbanging than head nodding.
DJ Swamp scratched and sampled everything from Nirvana to Muddy Waters and was aptly described by the emcee of the evening as "the Gene Simmons of DJ-ing" after periodically blowing fire and igniting everything from his fingers to his turntables. What the Arsonists lacked in pyrotechnics, they made up for in energy, and the show ended with a full-scale mosh pit.
The maddening thing about these antics was that each failed to ignite the crowd. The Arsonists finally won over the crowd with better known joints like "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?" and "Language Arts," but for the majority of the show, the performers looked lost on the stage as they vainly attempted to get the crowd to jump or at least raise their hands. It follows the Chapel Hill audience tradition -- "if they just stand there, that means they like you."
Each group reacted differently to the general malaise of the crowd. Swollen Members became progressively more hostile and out of control. It all culminated in Madchild falling onto his DJ's turntables, which forced the group to start over their best song, "Lady Venom."
Swamp stunned the crowd into silence punctuated by "oohs" and "ahhs" with his turntable skills. Unfortunately, he followed up the turntable intro with several tracks off his new album where he raps. Though DJ Swamp is undoubtedly one of the world's most talented DJs, he is no rapper. There was a collective sigh of relief every time he put down the mic.
The Arsonists have been around in one form of another since 1993, and their experience showed throughout the show as they slowly won over the crowd with their infectiously goofy stage presence.
Whether they were doing a Run DMC impression complete with choreographed dance numbers or hyping the crowd up by actually performing from within the crowd, everything Q-Unique, Jise and Swel 79 did drew the crowd closer.
At the moment, few underground hip hoppers would consider going out of their way to come to the Triangle, but if someone had stumbled into the Cradle during the last 20 minutes of Monday's show, they would think that time might not be far off.
The Arts & Entertainment Editor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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