Monday, January 14, 2008

Hip hop comes to the Four Corners

A slow, sluggish morning. But it's not often a middle-aged country-fried guy like me gets to stay out 'til 2 a.m. bopping at a hip hop show. That's right: Last night Durango was blessed with a visit from the world-famous MC Guru, and his latest sidekick, "super producer" Solar. Warming up the rap duo was the mash-up artist DJ Vajra.

The show was outstanding. A big, happy, loud, sold-out crowd of 250 or so packed the dance floor at the Abbey Theatre, first bouncing to the hour-and-a-half-long turntable show from DJ Vajra, then turning it up a couple of notches for the thumping and bumping beats of Guru and Solar, backed by a Brooklyn DJ (whose name escapes my groggy mind this morning).

Hip hop in Durango? That's right -- and thanks to the good folks at the Abbey Theatre, our local art-film and alternative-music venue, our humble little mini-meto-area finally seems to find itself a stop for relatively major city-like acts. Even hip hop. Recent acts popping up at the Abbey have included the Crown City Rockers, Aesop Rock, and even RZA, from Wu Tang Clan fame.

And I think this is very, very good thing when even a little hick town can get to experience something like a New York City-style hip hop show (although I must point out that Guru is from Boston!), and when a hilliblly backcountry guy like me -- on the surface much more of a hick-hopper than hip-hopper -- can get to see something like this just a few blocks from my humble little mountain-town home.

Because I myself love hip hop. Not all of it, for sure -- but I don't like all classic rock or bluegrass or jazz, either. But in particular I have grown in my middle years to be a faithful follower of what is sometimes called "conscious hip hop" -- more thoughtful, positive, melodic rap, in the vein of rappers like Blackalicious, Common, de la Soul, Roots, Tribe Called Quest ... and Guru (and his former group, GangStarr). Guru in particular I admire and enjoy for his brilliant and addictive four-album jazz-hip hop fusion series called Jazzmatazz.

In ths vein of hip hop -- embodied by Guru and others -- I love the rhythms, the beats, the poetic lyrics, and the explorations of both cosnciousness and rebellion. And I admire the attitude of, let's call it compassionate arrogance that runs through both the music and the trail-blazing self-promotion strategies that many of these artists have taken with their work, leaving the corporate music industry to use new technologies to control both their creativity and distribution. (Guru and Solar recently launched 7 Grand Records.)

As an artist myself -- albeit a rural, white, older, literary kind of artist -- I find myself inspired and motivated by these hip hop artists. I believe in my fifteeen years of listening to hip hop (which, it should be noted, I first got turned on to by listening to our college radio station, KDUR, here at Fort Lewis College), that rap's lyricism and spirit has spilled over into both my writing, and where and how I have chosen to take my writing to get it out into the world. I believe even this distant and pretty different subculture has managed to affect even me, even here. And I believe this is a good thing.

And I'm thankful for the chance to see these types of acts right here in Durango. And so is my 14-year-old son, who joined us for our late-night of hip hopping. I'm also thankful for the chance to share this kind of rare cultural experience with him. I just hope he's suffering as much as I am -- it's only fair.

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